His times: Fauré lived through a changing France, born into an entrenched tradition but witnessing the arrival of new trends and the shifting of the creative vanguard from Vienna to Paris. Though these changes were largely realised by the generation after Fauré, in a sense he paved the way for them by radically overhauling the country’s musical education system as director of the influential Paris Conservatoire. An influx of compositional talent from around the world might have made Paris a cosmopolitan musical centre towards the end of Fauré’s life, but the man, his music, and the city never lost that je ne sais quoi that makes it quintessentially French.
His music: Delicacy, accuracy and precision are often cited as key elements in Fauré’s music. It can be understated – it’s always elegant – but it has passion, too. The composer’s propensity to gently ‘spike’ his ‘standard’ harmonies with sudden chromatic surprises and modal inflections has been called a ‘harmonic sleight of hand’. This was developed further in his middle-period works, albeit in the context of music that was stripped even more of unnecessary texture. Complexity and a degree of struggle came in the later works, whose passion is even more present but even more shrouded.
Himself: Fauré had a hectic and pressured life and suffered from migraines, but his biggest challenge came as his hearing began to malfunction in 1903, leading to eventual deafness. But the composer never lost sight of the perspective gifted him by a relatively ordinary upbringing, and refused to align his suffering with that of Beethoven’s despite the fact that, by the end of his life, he could hear nothing at all.