Albert Libon, a friend of Camille Saint-Saëns, provided for his one funeral music by including in his will a bequest to the composer, on condition that he write a Requiem to be performed after Libon's death. Libon died in 1877. Early the next spring Saint-Saëns travelled to Switzerland, where he composed the Requiem in eight days.
Saint-Saëns did not follow the Romantic Era's tendency to write larger, more symphonic requiems. Saint-Saëns kept his composition in a size, length, and style that would make it completely appropriate for performance in an actual requiem mass in church. It is a sorrowful piece, without the theatricality some church leaders were finding in some Requiems of the period. It is cleanly, not lushly, scored, with particularly effective use of the harps.