The French creator of the soul-stirring Pie Jesu, Gabriel Fauré, was one of the premier composers and directors of the 19th/20th centuries though, surprisingly, he was not a man of deep faith. Yet, he must have had a mystical soul. The Pie Jesu is the centerpiece of Fauré’s Requiem, which he completed in 1890, and which is often considered his greatest composition. It is undoubtedly imbued with the deepest sentiments of devotion.
A requiem, as such, is a distinct musical genre and a Christian liturgical art form. In essence, it is a small symphony meant to provide deep solace to mourners at the loss of a loved one, although it is rarely played at funerals. Full requiems are generally too long for that! Nonetheless, all the great composers from the 15th century onward created their own requiems.
It is believed that Fauré composed this piece in honor of his own father a few years after the elder Fauré’s death, but the composer never revealed his motive. This Requiem was, fittingly, performed at Fauré’s own funeral in 1924.
Fauré’s Requiem has seven sections, and the Pie Jesu (Merciful Jesus) is easily the most beautiful of the seven, but not by much. The Agnus Dei and In Paradisum are exquisite in their own right.
It is interesting to note that Fauré replaced the Dies Irae (Day of Wrath) of traditional requiems with the Pie Jesu, emphasizing mercy rather than judgment, and also anticipating in some way the Divine Mercy devotion of the 20th century.
In the video below, the incomparable lyric soprano, Kathleen Battle, performs her ravishing interpretation of the lovely Pie Jesu. If you are as taken by this musical masterpiece as I am, you will want more of it, so I have provided a few other performances in various voice styles below the first.
As you listen, I’m sure you will agree that the Pie Jesu, in its sublime beauty, emerged directly from the mystical heart of a consummate musician.