Gabriel Fauré (1845 - 1924)

Gabriel Fauré Gabriel Fauré was a gifted French composer. Out of financial necessity he spent much of his working life as an organist or music teacher, and it is clear that these occupations must have taken substantial time and effort, leaving less time available for his own composing. Nevertheless he created a considerable legacy of music over 70+ years. Important friendships and influences included Charles-Francois Gounod, his one-time teacher Camille Saint-Saëns, and the composer-organist Charles-Marie Widor, though he was also clearly influenced by the likes of Robert Schumann and Frederic Chopin some of whose musical forms he adopted for his own compositions. The overall impression is that Faure was a modest and unassuming man and his music seems to reflect that personality, yet with hidden depth. In 1896 he became the principle organist at the Église de la Madeleine (a church in Paris) and also a professor at the Paris Conservatory before later assuming the position as the institution's Director. Among his many music students were Maurice Ravel, Georges Enesco and Nadia Boulanger. Like Beethoven he became deaf, though in Faure's case his deafness started later in life and he was able to keep his condition secret to all but his closest friends.

Fauré's life

Gabriel Fauré: portrait by John Singer Sargent As a boy inspired by the local church organ, he gained a degree of proficiency which was recognised and then nurtured. His precocious talent was spotted and his father sought advice deciding to send the 9-year-old boy to a religious music school founded by Niedermeyer in Paris to study. Thus his initial studies concentrated on church music, and included organ, piano and various compositional skills. At the school he was later to study piano with Camille Saint-Saens who broadened his viewpoint, introducing him to the works of contemporary composers. Faure was a gifted student winning a number of prizes and, after his graduation, took up a variety of work opportunities as organist and music teacher, while keeping in regular touch with the music of a wide circle of friends and seeking out new contacts, new music and new performances across Europe. During this period, though busy with many other things and interrupted by the turbulence of the Franco-Prussian War, he was actively composing music and his output included a number of songs, religious works and his first Violin Sonata.

In 1883 Fauré married Marie Fremiet who was the daughter of a sculptor called Emmanuel Fremiet. By 1889 the couple had had two sons. Yet the marriage was not entirely a happy one, and Faure has a series of affairs including some long-lasting extra-marital relationahips. One of these was with the singer Emma Bardac whose Daughter Regina-Hélène was nicknamed "Dolly". Faure dedicated his "Dolly Suite" for Piano Duet to the daughter (see below for some sheet music) and his song cycle "La bonne chanson" to the mother. Emma Bardac was later to become the wife of Claude Debussy. Meanwhile Fauré had further relationships, including the English composer Adela Maddison and the pianist Marguerite Hasselmans.

Gabriel Fauré Over the years Faure held various posts as organist, initially at a church in Rennes in Brittany. He often taught piano and composition to supplement that income. Upon moving to Paris with the help of Saint-Saens he got the role of assistant organist at a church, and later he became choirmaster at the Église Saint-Sulpice working for composer/organist Widor. He later moved to become Saint-Saens' deputy organist at the Église de la Madeleine and much later he was promoted to principal organist at the church. It is a curious fact that despite his evident proficiency at the organ, he never composed a major work for that instrument, seemingly preferring piano as his keyboard instrument of choice. At the Paris Conservatoire Fauré's initial appointment was as inspector of the regional music conservatories across France, but soon became Professor of Composition. He held this post from 1896 to 1905 when he assumed the role as the Conservatoire's Director. However he increasingly suffered from hearing problems and started to go deaf. He retired as Director in 1920 and died in 1924. He received many honours for his music in his native France and in later life his music gained increasing recognition across Europe.

Fauré's Music

Faure lived through a period of substantial change in the world of classical music, in terms of the various music "schools" of thought and stylistic approaches which grew, diverged and matured during his lifetime. However the influence of these diverse styles of music on Faure's works was relatively minor, and at first sight his music seems to be stuck in the traditions of the past. His music wasn't on the same scale or indeed as loud or bombastic as some of Wagner's output for example but refined and elegant, and as a composer he seemed to be more comfortable as a miniaturist or at least as a composer of chamber dimensions with a strong lyrical sense and heart-felt emotions. That leaning towards elegance and economy might put him closer to the (French) Impressionists, but his technique could never be described as impressionist. Nevertheless there are some modern harmonies which creep into some of his compositions and give them something of an edge, and clearly Faure was an influence on some late impressionist and indeed modern composers since he taught them at the Paris Conservatoire. Perhaps Faure's early focus on church music brought out an innate conservatism and in later life his growing deafness helped to isolate him from the outside world during the 20th century. He is therefore best thought of as being a romantic era or at best a late romantic composer, albeit concentrating largely on the forms and structures of the classical period.

Another more detailed view of Fauré on mfiles can be found in this article: Gabriel Fauré, A Man of Musical Elegance.

Major works by Fauré

Here is a summary of Faure's major and best-known works:

  • 2 Piano Quartets, Op.15 in Cm & Op.45 in Gm
  • 2 Piano Quintets, Op.89 in Dm & Op.115 in Cm
  • Piano Trio, Op.120 in Dm
  • 2 Sonatas for Violin and Piano, Op.13 in A & Op.108 in Em written many years apart
  • 2 Sonatas for Cello and Piano, Op.109 in Dm & Op.117 in Gm
  • Sicilienne for Cello and Piano, Op.78
  • Piano works including many Nocturnes, Barcarolles, Preludes, Impromptus, Mazurkas and a few Valse-caprice
  • Dolly Suite for Piano Duet Op.56, written for his mistress' daughter nicknamed "Dolly", here is the 1st movement: Berceuse (as used on the radio show "Listen with Mother") and alternative arrangements are given below
  • Many Songs, including "Le papillon et la fleur", "Clair de Lune" and "Après un Rêve" (which works well also as an instrumental for cello and piano)
  • And several song cycles, including "Cinq Mélodies", "La Bonne Chanson" and "L'Horizon Chimérique"
  • Berceuse for violin and orchestra Op.16, originally for violin and piano
  • Ballade in F# for Piano and Orchestra Op.19, originally for piano solo
  • Fantasie in G for Piano and Orchestra Op.111
  • Elegie for cello and orchestra Op.24
  • Masques et Bergamasques (orchestral suite) Op.112
  • Pavane for orchestra Op.50
  • Pelleas et Melisande (incidental music for a play) Op.80, with the original "Sicilienne"
  • Requiem Op.48 (which notably avoids most of the text of the "Dies Irae")
  • Several other religous works, including the Messe basse, Cantique de Jean Racine & several Ave Marias
  • A choral arrangement of the traditional French Christmas Carol Il Est Né le Divin Enfant
  • Penelope (opera)

Music and Sheet Music by Fauré (or related works) on mfiles

Here is a list of Fauré-related sheet music on mfiles (with midi and mp3 files):

Gabriel Fauré: Recommendations

We suggest the following albums which provide a variety of important works by Faure:

  • Fauré great value 12-CD boxset (Piano Works, Chamber Music, Orchestral Works, Requiem, with Jean-Philippe Collard piano, Michel Plasson conductor) - from and
  • Fauré: Requiem on Hybrid SACD disc (with Cantique de Jean Racine & Messe Basse) - from and
  • The Best of Fauré (some complete works and selected movements) - from and
  • Fauré: Orchestral Music (Masques et Bergamasques, Dolly Suite, Shylock, Pelléas et Mélisande, Berceuse) - from and
  • Gabriel Faure: Complete Music for Cello and Piano (Steven Doane - cello, Barry Snyder - piano) - from only at the current time