Firstly, I’d like to draw your attention to this week’s offertory and communion music from Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem in d minor. Fauré (1845-1924) premiered the requiem in Paris in 1888 at the Church of the Madeleine, where he was organist. Amusingly, the priest of the church called the work a novelty and asserted that it was unnecessary because the church had a rich enough repertoire already! Regardless, as director of the Paris Conservatoire (the most famous music school in France) and widely considered the most advanced French composer of his generation, Fauré had a long and fruitful career playing, teaching, and composing music in many diverse genres such as chamber music, opera, choral works, organ music, piano music, orchestral music, and more. Sunday, the choir will offer the Introit and Kyrie from Fauré’s Requiem, and our special guest violoncellist, Dr. Guo-Sheng Huang, will play the Pie Jesu during communion.
The history of the Mass for the Dead, also known as the Missa pro Defunctis and often as a Requiem Mass, is long and complex. However, it is sufficient for our purposes to understand that it is a service that commemorates a deceased person or persons and contains numerous prayers for the repose of their soul(s). The term “Requiem Mass” comes from the first Latin word of the introit antiphon, “Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine . . . “ Recalling last week’s music article, you may remember that I wrote about the Propers of the Mass – the antiphons and psalms that are appointed for the entrance, offertory, and communion portions of a given service. A setting of a Requiem Mass is in fact a setting of the Propers for that service, just like any other service. However, it is interesting to note how many more composers have set the Propers for the Dead to music versus Propers for other services. Our human fascination with death and the afterlife is indeed strong. We search for answers, and in doing so, we create. The text for Fauré’s setting of the entrance (introit) and Kyrie (Lord, have mercy) is a follows (translated into English): Grant them eternal rest, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. A hymn becomes you, O God, in Zion, and to you shall a vow be repaid in Jerusalem. Hear my prayer; to you all flesh shall come. Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Fauré himself said of his own work, “[The Requiem] is dominated from beginning to end by a very human feeling of faith in eternal rest. It has been said that my Requiem does not express the fear of death and someone has called it a lullaby of death. But it is thus that I see death: as a happy deliverance, an aspiration towards happiness above, rather than as a painful experience . . . As to my Requiem, perhaps I have also instinctively sought to escape from what is thought right and proper after all the years of accompanying burial services on the organ! I know it all by heart. I wanted to write something different."
On Sunday, in addition to Fauré’s Pie Jesu, we will hear the Pie Jesu by Andrew Lloyd Webber (b. 1948). As the composer of so many musicals such as The Phantom of the Opera, Cats, and Jesus Christ Superstar, Webber needs no introduction! However, I would like to share the English translation of the Latin text of this piece in the hope that it will aid your enjoyment. The translation is as follows: Faithful Jesus, who takes away the sins of the world, give them rest. Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, give them rest, everlasting rest.
Throughout history, musicians have composed music that strives to understand the meaning of life. While this may be a more interesting or pressing question for some than for others, we are all fortunate to have beautiful music with which to celebrate our faith and our striving toward heavenly mysteries. As we celebrate those gone before us we also celebrate our final goal: eternal rest in perpetual light.
Christopher W. Powell
Organist and Choir Master