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French Flair

posted May 20, 2014, 6:39 PM by Bob Rudi   [ updated Sep 5, 2014, 2:41 PM by admin user ]
French Flair! presents two masterworks from turn-of-the-century Paris. With good reason, the REQUIEM setting of Gabriel Faure is one of the most well-loved works in all of the “oratorio” literature. Emphasizing peace, hope and eternal rest, Faure’s work is full of beautiful melodies and interesting harmonies. Gaining popularity each year, a lesser-known work is the SOLEMN MASS by Louis Vierne. Written for liturgical use, it is nevertheless a work of great power, drama and passion.

Both of these works had their “final” versions completed and first performances in Paris right at the turn of the century, in the years 1900 and 1901. Faure originally scored his REQUIEM for chorus, soprano and baritone soloists, organ and chamber orchestra and later re-worked it for full orchestra. Contemporary musical scholars have researched early manuscripts and sources to produce modern editions which convey Faure’s original, more intimate orchestration. Vierne originally composed his SOLEMN MASS for chorus, organ and orchestra and, on the advice of Ch. M. Widor, re-scored it for chorus and two organs.

The great Paris church of Saint-Sulpice links these composers together, as each spent time there working with Ch. M. Widor - Faure as choral director and Vierne as assistant organist. I have been to this wonderful edifice, attending mass and hearing the organ improvisation following mass on the magnificent Cavaille-Coll organ. As is typical in French cathedrals, the “main” organ is in a back balcony with no room for singers, while a smaller instrument accompanies the choir, located behind the altar in the front of the room. We will present the Vierne SOLEMN MASS at Market Square Church in this way, using the “grand orgue” in the back balcony as a foil to the chorus in the front, accompanied by our Hungarian portative organ. The Faure REQUIEM will be performed with the original “chamber” orchestra and organ.

As an interesting aside, both of these composers had to deal with diminished capacity, in terms of their sensory input. Louis Vierne was what we would call today “legally” blind from birth. Later in life, he had a number of successful operations which left him able to distinguish faces and see very large print. Gabriel Faure had to deal with increasing hearing loss as he aged, to the point of being completely deaf near the end of his life. Both overcame personal and professional tragedies to produce incredible bodies of work as composers, all of which express an undeniably French flair!
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