A very twentieth-century Requiem

I’ve just been watching the latest episode of Simon Russell Beale’s series Sacred Music,  on Fauré and Poulenc. UK residents can see it on iPlayer for the next 20 days.

The section on Fauré focused on his Requiem, and suggested the distinctive nature of this – its deeply personal nature and its avoidance of divine wrath (omitting the Dies Irae, for example) – had its roots in Fauré’s experience fighting in the 1870 war between France and Prussia.

Fauré was an agnostic, and his Requiem has become popular not only among Christians, but (perhaps even more so) among many of no religion. I wonder if this is partly because the Requiem was a very twentieth century work, with its emphasis on the personal and spiritual as opposed to the large canvas of divine judgment which has attracted other composers – just as the Franco-Prussian war was, in many ways, a harbinger (as well as underlying cause) of twentieth century wars, in particular the first world war, which did so much to shape twentieth century attitudes towards faith and human existence.

There’s a sense in which the people of France – and especially of Paris – were forced to experience the horrors of the twentieth century half a century before the rest of Europe. Perhaps this is one reason why Fauré’s Requiem has proven so attractive to people living after (and through) those horrors.

Of course, it could just be because it’s such gorgeous music.

Finally, for those unable to access iPlayer, I hope this can be some compensation: King’s College Choir singing the final movement from the Requiem, In Paradisum:

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