Classical Music: Fauré’s Canticle de Jean Racine

For many of us, music has profound evocative power.  I have written before of my fondness for classical music in particular, a taste for which my grandfather–and to a lesser degree, my father–imparted to me during my high school and college years.  

I have listened primarily to classical music for roughly three decades.  I have little musical training, so I have no talent for performance.  I have, however, a deep appreciation for it that has contributed significantly to my experience of life.  Indeed, I value my love for classical music as one of the most precious blessings ever bestowed upon me.

The immense tradition of Western orchestral music spans in time from the Renaissance to the present day, and it continually expands as musicologists and conductors rediscover composers and works from every era–particularly as composers who missed out on attention for not being white and male now receive fresh exposure and the canon becomes more inclusive.

In short, so much beautiful music exists that I continually hear pieces on the radio that I have never known of before.

And sometimes, perhaps due to my mood or the circumstances in which I find myself, maybe due to life’s events, an unfamiliar work strikes my ear and takes hold of my soul.

Some weeks before my father passed away, I was working in my office and heard a choral work so sublime that I had to stop working and surrender to its effect.  It lasted perhaps five minutes, and at its end, I heard the radio announcer reveal its title.  I had been familiar with Gabriel Fauré’s more famous works but had never heard his Canticle de Jean Racine.  And being only vaguely familiar with the French playwright named in the title, I looked up the work and learned that Racine had translated an ancient Latin hymn into exquisite, lyrical French, ultimately inspiring Fauré to set it to music.

While I had a Roman Catholic upbringing, I was not by that time particularly religious anymore.  Having studied French, however, I was enraptured by Racine’s poetic rendering of the hymn, and I began listening often to Fauré’s piece.  When my father passed away, it offered me a degree of comfort, but I also came to associate it with my father’s death and my subsequent grief.

Nearly four years have passed, and I suppose the grief is giving way to treasured memories.  This lovely work will always have significance for me.

Jean Racine’s lyrics:

Verbe égal au Très-Haut, notre unique espérance,
Jour éternel de la terre et des cieux,
De la paisible nuit nous rompons le silence:
Divin Sauveur, jette sur nous les yeux.

Répands sur nous le feu de Ta grâce puissante;
Que tout l'enfer fuie au son de Ta voix;
Dissipe le sommeil d'une âme languissante
Qui la conduit à l'oubli de Tes lois!

Ô Christ! sois favorable à ce peuple fidèle,
Pour Te bénir maintenant rassemblé;
Reçois les chants qu'il offre à Ta gloire immortelle,
Et de Tes dons qu'il retourne comblé.

(Word, one with the most-high one, our only hope
Eternal day of Earth and Heaven
Break the silence of the lovely night:
Divine Savior, cast your eyes upon us.

Cast upon us the fire of your potent grace;
May all damnation flee at the sound of your voice.
Rid our languishing souls of their slumber
That drives us to forget your law.

Oh, Christ, give favor to your faithful people
Gathered here now to praise you.
Receive the songs that they offer to your immortal glory,
And may they return filled with your gifts.)

Photo credit: AfroRomanzo of Pexels

I am participating in the Two Writing Teachers March 2023 Slice of Life Challenge.

7 thoughts on “Classical Music: Fauré’s Canticle de Jean Racine

  1. Thanks for the backstory and the video clip. I gave it a listen, and the combination of orchestral and vocal swells carried me away, too.

  2. How exquisite this is. Thank you for this- I will share it with my family classical music aficionados, but it captivated me as well. It seemed reminiscent of Nessun Dorma which still catches my breath and brings me to tears every time. Both pieces have that hypnotic waltzing tempo running behind the melody that keeps the emotion building. Just beautiful, Paul. Thank you for sharing your love of music in prose and performance. The filming was exquisite as well. Bravo!

    1. Thanks, Deb, for that validation. This piece by Faure is truly an overlooked gem. I know I have sentimental reasons for liking it, but the composition is masterful.

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