Rest in Peace

Precious in the sight of the LORD Is the death of His godly ones.
Psalm 116:15

The death a few days ago of my uncle and a few weeks ago of a friend made me recall the music of the Requiem. Not just any Requiem, though. One of the most amazing pieces of music, in my opinion, ever composed, Gabriel Faure’s Requiem, composed between 1887 and 1890.

Music is an intensely personal experience, what I love you may hate, and I’m far from articulate enough to review this work on the level that it should. I can only clumsily and briefly write what it means for me to listen as one whose heart has been touched by the grace of God.

Faure’s Requiem is different from others. Take Mozart’s Requiem, perhaps a more familiar work. But where Mozart’s composition is ugly, plodding, and way too lengthy, its main failing is that it depicts the terrors, the horrors of death, in its bombastic score. There is nothing of beauty, no loveliness, the focus seems to be on Death itself in all its corruptions. Certainly Mozart has given the world some of the most touching, soul stirring pieces of music, the Ave Verum Corpus for example, so we know he was capable of creating sublime beauty. But his Requiem seems more a dirge, emphasizing the death of the sinner on his way to Hell. [But in the interest of full disclosure, Mozart died before finishing this composition and it was only completed by committee, to put it harshly.]

Contrast the lofty, lovely, and majestic strains of Faure’s work. The sensation of elevation from this life to meet one’s Creator and Redeemer is repeated often in ascending lines; they transport you into that experience of entering the glory of rest granted the Believer. The entire work, even though the somber reality of death is the subject, focuses not on what is left behind, the pain and aftermath of one’s survivors, but of the bliss of shedding his mortal coil and the peace that passes all understanding.

To explain the reason for this difference in his Requiem from most others I should quote from the liner notes that came with one of the CD’s I purchased:

As he told the critic Louis Aguettant in July 1902, he saw death “as a welcome deliverance rather than a painful experience.” . . . . And as he told his son Philippe in 1908, “For me, the purpose of art, and especially music, is to elevate us as far as possible above everyday existence.” His Requiem comes as close, perhaps, as any of his mature compositions to transcending reality and expressing the inexpressible.

The timing of the performances of the seven pieces is perfect, not too slow, not to fast, phrasing of the orchestra is superb, and the vocals, soloist and choral, are sheer delight. As far as I’m concerned Faure is successful in capturing the feeling in the heart and soul of being elevated, of being transported, out this earthly oppression and into the glorious light of the presence of the Lord.

There are many versions of particular piece in stores, if you can still find a copy I highly recommend the version published by CBS/Odyssey, conducted by Andrew Davis with the Philharmonia Orchestra, with soloists Lucia Popp and Siegmund Nimsgern. I have it on cassette tape but it is out of print, however I see the vinyl is here on Amazon.

If friends convene upon my passing this is the recording I’d like played, to celebrate, finally, my going home to where I was always meant to be.

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