Gabriel Fauré composed ‘Cantique de Jean Racine’ in 1864 when he was just 19 years old.
At the age of nine, Fauré was sent to a new music college in Paris where he trained as an organist and choirmaster, learning in part from Saint-Saens who became a lifelong friend. His ‘Cantique de Jean Racine’ won him Premier Prix for composition and is the earliest of his choral works to enter the regular repertory.
The text is based on a loose translation by Jean Racine, French playwright and contemporary of Molière, of a medieval Latin hymn.
Re-translated into English the words are:
O Word, worthy of the Most High,
Our sole hope, eternal day of earth and the heavens,
We break the silence of the peaceful night.
Divine saviour, cast Thine eyes upon us!
Shed the light of Thy mighty grace upon us.
Let all Hell flee at the sound of Thy voice.
Dispel the slumber of a languishing soul
That leads it to the forgetting of Thy laws!
O Christ, be favorable unto this faithful people
Now gathered to bless Thee.
Recieve these hymns it offers unto Thine immortal glory
And may it return fulfilled by Thy gifts.
Fauré became a frequent visitor to Britain from the turn of the century, invited to play at Buckingham Palace in 1908 and dining with Elgar after the London première of Elgar’s First Symphony.