Gabriel Urbain Fauré (May 12, 1845–November 4, 1924) was a French composer, organist, pianist and teacher, one of the foremost French composers of his generation with a musical style that influenced many 20th-century composers. Fauré was born into a cultured but not especially musical family at Pamiers, Ariège, Midi-Pyrénées, in the south of France, the fifth son and youngest of six children of Toussaint-Honoré Fauré (1810–85) and Marie-Antoinette-Hélène Lalène-Laprade (1809–87). He was the only one of the six children to display musical talent; his four brothers pursued careers in journalism, politics, the army and the civil service, and his sister had a traditional life as the wife of a public servant. The young Fauré was sent to live with a foster mother until he was four years old. When his father was appointed director of the École Normale d’Instituteurs, a teacher training college, at Montgauzy, near Foix, in 1849, Fauré returned to live with his family. There was a chapel attached to the school in which Gabriel would play the harmonium.
An old blind woman, who came to listen and give the boy advice, told his father of Fauré’s gift for music. In 1853 Simon-Lucien Dufaur de Saubiac, of the National Assembly, heard Fauré play and advised Toussaint-Honoré to send him to the École de Musique Classique et Religieuse (School of Classical and Religious Music), which Louis Niedermeyer was setting up in Paris. After reflecting for a year, Fauré’s father agreed and took the nine-year-old boy to Paris in October 1854. Helped by a scholarship from the bishop of his home diocese, Fauré boarded at the school for 11 years. Niedermeyer, whose goal was to produce qualified organists and choirmasters, focused on church music. Fauré’s tutors were Clément Loret for organ, Louis Dietsch for harmony, Xavier Wackenthaler for counterpoint and fugue, and Niedermeyer for piano, plainsong and composition. When Niedermeyer died in March 1861, Camille Saint-Saëns took charge of piano studies and introduced contemporary music. Fauré won many prizes while at the school, including a premier prix in composition for the Cantique de Jean Racine, Op. 11, the earliest of his choral works to enter the regular repertory. He left the school in July 1865, as a Laureat in organ, piano, harmony and composition, with a Maître de Chapelle diploma.
On leaving the École Niedermeyer, Fauré was appointed organist at the Church of Saint-Sauveur, at Rennes in Brittany and took up the post in January 1866. During his four years at Rennes he supplemented his income by taking private pupils, giving “countless piano lessons.” When he was asked to resign, almost immediately, with the discreet aid of Saint-Saëns, he secured the post of assistant organist at the church of Notre-Dame de Clignancourt, in the north of Paris. He remained there for only a few months. On the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870 he volunteered for military service, took part in the action to raise the Siege of Paris, and saw action at Le Bourget, Champigny and Créteil. He was awarded a Croix de Guerre. After France’s defeat by Prussia, there was a brief, bloody conflict within Paris from March to May 1871 during the Commune. Fauré escaped to Rambouillet where one of his brothers lived, and then travelled to Switzerland, where he took up a teaching post at the École Niedermeyer, which had temporarily relocated there to avoid the violence in Paris. His first pupil at the school was André Messager, who became a lifelong friend and occasional collaborator. Fauré’s compositions from this period included L’Absent, Seule! and La Chanson du pêcheur.”
When Fauré returned to Paris in October 1871, he was appointed choirmaster at the Église Saint-Sulpice under the composer and organist Charles-Marie Widor. In the course of his duties, he wrote several canticles and motets, few of which have survived. During some services, Widor and Fauré improvised simultaneously at the church’s two organs, trying to catch each other out with sudden changes of key. Fauré regularly attended Saint-Saëns’s musical salons and those of Pauline Viardot, to whom Saint-Saëns introduced him. Fauré was a founding member of the Société Nationale de Musique, formed in 1871 under the joint chairmanship of Romain Bussine and Saint-Saëns, to promote new French music. Other members included Georges Bizet, Emmanuel Chabrier, Vincent d’Indy, Henri Duparc, César Franck, Édouard Lalo and Jules Massenet.Fauré became secretary of the society in 1874. Many of his works were first presented at the society’s concerts. In 1874 Fauré moved from Saint-Sulpice to the Église de la Madeleine, acting as deputy for the principal organist, Saint-Saëns, during the latter’s many absences on tour.
Fauré preferred the piano to the organ, which he played only because it gave him a regular income. The year 1877 was significant for Fauré, both professionally and personally. In January his first violin sonata was performed at a Société Nationale concert with great success, marking a turning-point in his composing career at the age of 31. In March, Saint-Saëns retired from the Madeleine, succeeded as organist by Théodore Dubois, his choirmaster; Fauré was appointed to take over from Dubois. In November 1877, Saint-Saëns took him to Weimar and introduced him to Franz Liszt. From 1878, he and Messager made trips abroad to see Wagner operas. In 1883 Fauré married Marie Fremiet, the daughter of a leading sculptor, Emmanuel Fremiet. Fauré and his wife had two sons. The first, born in 1883, Emmanuel Fauré-Fremiet (Marie insisted on combining her family name with Fauré’s), became a biologist of international reputation. The second son, Philippe, born in 1889, became a writer; his works included histories, plays, and biographies of his father and grandfather. To support his family, Fauré spent most of his time in running the daily services at the Madeleine and giving piano and harmony lessons. During this period, he wrote several large-scale works, in addition to many piano pieces and songs, but he destroyed most of them after a few performances, only retaining a few movements in order to re-use motifs. Among the works surviving from this period is the Requiem, begun in 1887 and revised and expanded, over the years, until its final version dating from 1901.
In 1890 Winnaretta de Scey-Montbéliard, always a good friend to Fauré, who was suffering a bout of depression, invited him to Venice, where she had a palazzo on the Grand Canal. He recovered his spirits and began to compose again, writing the first of his five Mélodies de Venise, to words by poet Paul Verlaine. During the 1890s Fauré’s fortunes improved. When Ernest Guiraud, professor of composition at the Paris Conservatoire, died in 1892, Saint-Saëns encouraged Fauré to apply for the vacant post. The faculty of the Conservatoire regarded Fauré as dangerously modern, and its head, Ambroise Thomas, blocked the appointment, declaring, “Fauré? Never! If he’s appointed, I resign.” However, Fauré was appointed to another of Guiraud’s posts, inspector of the music conservatories in the French provinces. He disliked the prolonged travelling around the country that the work entailed, but the post gave him a steady income and enabled him to give up teaching amateur pupils.
In 1896 Ambroise Thomas died, and Théodore Dubois took over as head of the Conservatoire. Fauré succeeded Dubois as chief organist of the Madeleine. Dubois’ move had further repercussions: Jules Massenet, professor of composition at the Conservatoire, had expected to succeed Thomas, but had overplayed his hand by insisting on being appointed for life. He was turned down, and when Dubois was appointed instead, Massenet resigned his professorship in fury. Fauré was appointed in his place. He taught many young composers, including Maurice Ravel, Florent Schmitt, Charles Koechlin, Louis Aubert, Jean Roger-Ducasse, George Enescu, Paul Ladmirault, Alfredo Casella and Nadia Boulanger. Fauré’s works of the last years of the century include incidental music for the English premiere of Maurice Maeterlinck’s Pelléas et Mélisande (1898) and Prométhée, a lyric tragedy composed for the amphitheatre at Béziers. Written for outdoor performance, the work is scored for huge instrumental and vocal forces. From 1903 to 1921, Fauré regularly wrote music criticism for Le Figaro, a role in which he was not at ease.
In 1905 a scandal erupted in French musical circles over the country’s top musical prize, the Prix de Rome. Fauré’s pupil, Maurice Ravel, had been eliminated prematurely in his sixth attempt for this award, and many believed that reactionary elements within the Conservatoire had played a part in it. Dubois, who became the subject of much censure, announced his retirement and stepped down at once. Appointed in his place, and with the support of the French government, Fauré radically changed the administration and curriculum. Fauré’s new position left him better off financially. However, while he also became much more widely known as a composer, running the Conservatoire left him with no more time for composition than when he was struggling to earn a living as an organist and piano teacher. As soon as the working year was over, in the last days of July, he would leave Paris and spend the two months until early October in a hotel, usually by one of the Swiss lakes, to concentrate on composition. His works from this period include his lyric opera, Pénélope (1913), and some of his most characteristic later songs (e.g., the cycle La chanson d’Ève, Op. 95, completed in 1910) and piano pieces (Nocturnes Nos. 9–11; Barcarolles Nos. 7–11, written between 1906 and 1914).
Fauré was elected to the Institut de France in 1909. In the same year a group of young composers led by Ravel and Koechlin broke with the Société Nationale de Musique, under the presidency of Vincent d’Indy, and formed a new group, the Société Musicale Indépendante. Fauré accepted the presidency of this society, but he also remained a member of the older one and continued on the best of terms with d’Indy. In 1911 he oversaw the Conservatoire’s move to new premises in the rue de Madrid. During this time, Fauré developed serious problems with his hearing. Not only did he start to go deaf, but sounds became distorted, so that high and low notes sounded painfully out of tune to him. The turn of the 20th century saw a rise in the popularity of Fauré’s music in Britain, and to a lesser extent in Germany, Spain and Russia. He visited England frequently, and an invitation to play at Buckingham Palace in 1908 opened many other doors in London and beyond. The outbreak of the First World War almost stranded Fauré in Germany, where he had gone for his annual composing retreat. He managed to get from Germany into Switzerland, and thence to Paris. He remained in France for the duration of the war.
In 1920, at the age of 75, Fauré retired from the Conservatoire because of his increasing deafness and frailty. In that year he received the Grand-Croix of the Légion d’honneur, an honor rare for a musician. In 1922 the president of the republic, Alexandre Millerand, led a public tribute to Fauré, a national homage.
Fauré suffered from poor health in his later years. Despite this, he remained available to young composers, including members of Les Six, most of whom were devoted to him. Fauré died in Paris from pneumonia on November 4, 1924 at the age of 79. He was given a state funeral at the Église de la Madeleine and is buried in the Passy Cemetery in Paris. Aaron Copland wrote that although Fauré’s works can be divided into the usual “early”, “middle” and “late” periods, there is no such radical difference between his first and last manners as is evident with many other composers. Influences on Fauré, particularly in his early work, included not only Chopin but Mozart and Schumann. Among his best-known works are his Pavane, Requiem, nocturnes for piano and the songs “Après un rêve” and “Clair de lune.” Fauré’s music has been described as linking the end of Romanticism with the modernism of the second quarter of the 20th century.
My collection includes the following works by Faure:
Ballade in f#m, for piano with orchestral accompaniment, op. 19 (1879).
Berceuse for violin (and orchestra), op. 116 (1879).
Dolly Suite, op. 56 (1897).
Masques et Bergamasques, op. 112 (1918).
The Merchant of Venice (1893): Shylock Suite, op 57.
Pelleas et Melisande, op. 80: selections (1898).