Cantique de Jean Racine - Gabriel Faure (1845 - 1924)

Perhaps because he was already renowned as an outstanding organist and teacher, Fauré only slowly gained recognition as a composer. Although he wrote several works involving a full orchestra, his particular talent lay within the more intimate musical forms – songs, piano music and chamber music. His somewhat austere style and highly individual, impressionistic harmonic language contrasts markedly with the music of the Austro-German tradition which dominated European music from the time of Beethoven until well into the twentieth century.
The subtlety of Fauré’s music, and his concentration on the small-scale, led many to criticise him for lacking depth, a judgement based on the mistaken premise that the bigger and bolder a composer’s music the more worthwhile it must be. Fauré deliberately avoided the grander kind of orchestral music that could easily have brought him fame and fortune. He preferred instead to embrace an elegant and subtle musical language that has won him increasing numbers of admirers.
The Cantique is a setting of words by the 17th century dramatist and poet Jean Racine. It was Fauré’s first significant composition, written in 1865 whilst he was in his final year at the École Niedermeyer, the ‘École de musique religieuse et classique’. He submitted the piece for the composition prize, and won, though it was only published eleven years later, with a full orchestral version following in 1906. Fauré went on to write a good deal of religious music – most notably the Requiem, written in 1888 – but of the shorter sacred pieces it is the Cantique that has particularly captured the affections of choirs and audiences.


John Bawden


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