Given the enormous and enduring popularity of Fauré's Requiem, it is curious to contemplate the sheer haphazardness by which this familiar masterpiece took shape. The initial version of 1887-1888 included but five movements, lacking the Offertorium and the Libera me, and was scored moreover for mixed choir and organ, harp, tympani, violas, and cellos divided, and double basses, with a boy soprano (for the Pie Jesu), and a solo violin for the Sanctus. This version was first heard at the Madeleine, where Fauré was choirmaster, on January 16, 1888, with children taking the soprano choral parts and the young Louis Aubert singing the Pie Jesu. These gentle prayers were found to be dangerous "novelties" by the Madeleine's vicar, and the composer was reprimanded for them immediately following the ceremony. By May, two trumpets and two horns had been added. And in June 1889, the Offertorium was composed and added with a Libera me dating from 1877. Parts for trombones, bassoons, and violins were sketched and may have been included in a performance at the Madeleine on January 21, 1893 -- the manuscripts are ambiguous. Likewise, it is not known whether the elision of several bars from the Kyrie was made before or after that performance. Attempts to reconstruct the intimate, "authentic" 1893 chamber ensemble version of the Requiem have yielded two editions: one by composer and choral director John Rutter, the other by Fauré scholar Jean-Michel Nectoux. Although similar, these editions differ in details of both scoring and text. Meanwhile, a third and final version of the Requiem with full orchestra was prepared in 1899, though it has been impossible to establish whether the instrumentation is Fauré's or that of his pupil, Jean Roger-Ducasse. This "symphonic" Requiem -- the version most often performed and recorded -- had its premiere at the Trocadéro, July 12, 1900, with a chorus of 250, a Torrès taking the Pie Jesu (a number that had to be encored), Eugène Gigout at the organ, and the orchestra and chorus of the Conservatoire under the direction of Paul Taffanel.
Throughout, the suggestion of Gregorian chant informed by modern measure and melos lends Fauré's idiom immediate appeal and an aura of timelessness at once. The Requiem's seven movements form an arch whose keystone and crown is the central Pie Jesu -- the lone voice petitioning its savior for eternal rest in long-breathed, classically balanced, tender, and infinitely moving phrases -- flanked by the serene lift of the Sanctus (over which an exquisite violin cantilena wafts) and the gently consoling Agnus Dei. Coming before and after, respectively, the somber Offertorium and Libera me are reminders of judgment, the more effective for being understated, with their baritone solos standing forth from the choral body to plead for deliverance and rest. At the extreme points, the opening darkly hued Introit and Kyrie are balanced by the sublime radiance of the final In Paradisum -- "There may the choir of angels receive thee, and, with Lazarus, once a beggar, mayst thou have eternal rest."