Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924) was an influential French composer and head of the Paris Conservatoire for 15 years in the early 20th century. Although his own works were for the most part highly lyrical, he is thought to have spanned the gulf between the Romanticism that dominated the musical circles of his youth and the Modernism of his later years, in large part due to his role as head of the Conservatoire. He was revered by the French people and fellow composers even to the end of his life, which is all the more remarkable given that his last years came after tumultuous changes in the music world that left many more conservative composers out of favor.
Fauré wrote Chant Funéraire (Funeral Song) in 1921 on a commission from the French government to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Napoleon‘s death. He wrote it at age 75, after having retired from the Paris Conservatoire. Despite his ill health, he continued to compose, creating 2 cello sonatas and numerous other pieces that seemed to posses a youthful energy. He re-used the Chant Funéraire nearly verbatim as the second movement of the Second Cello Sonata, showing that he must have had some affection for the material. Fauré did not orchestrate the Chant Funeraire himself. He left that to Guillaume Balay, who conducted the premiere performance with the Gardé Republicaine Band. Myron “Mike” Moss created a new orchestration in 2003. Says Moss in his score notes:
Balay’s orchestration offers the power called for by the state occasion of the premiere, but it is weighed down by the band music conventions of its time. The scoring is thick throughout (a phenomenon found nowhere in Fauré’s own orchestrations), the score’s quiet moments are especially over-instrumented, and Fauré’s clean and sonorous voice leading is often obscured through inconsistent octave doublings. The present orchestration emulates the transparent and clear scoring of Fauré’s own style.
There are a bunch of great internet sources for Chant Funéraire (and the related cello sonata): the Wind Repertory Project, Hal Leonard, Classical Archives, the Trinity International University Concert Band, Naxos, a session from the 2008 Midwest Clinic, and a review of the First Cello Sonata. Fauré himself is featured on Wikipedia, a Facebook page, a YouTube artist page, Naxos, NPR, and the BBC.
There appears to be only one recording of Chant Funéraire on YouTube. Thankfully, it is a good one: Moss’s orchestration with Kevin Sedatole conducting a Texas regional honor band:
And here is the second movement of the Second Cello Sonata, which uses exactly the same material:
Finally, two early gems of Fauré’s work that have personal meaning for me. First, the Cantique de Jean Racine, which gave me one of my first profound experiences as a choral singer at Laurel Music Camp in between 9th and 10th grade:
Now the Chanson d’amour, which was sung during my wedding ceremony: