The Upper Canada Choristers will perform Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem May 13 at Toronto’s Grace Church-on-the-Hill. Photo by Steve Bannerman

'Requiem' for Ukraine

By 
  • May 6, 2022

Singing Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem while Europe and possibly the world is at war isn’t a political statement, it won’t enlighten anyone about the causes of the war and the music proposes no solutions. But the humanity of voices raised to Heaven in sorrow and hope, in grief and consolation, must matter somehow.

Laurie Evan Fraser will conduct the Upper Canada Choristers and the Cantemos Latin ensemble in a May 13 program featuring the seven-movement masterpiece at Toronto’s Grace Church-on-the-Hill May 13.

Originally conceived as a concert to mark the losses suffered through more than two years of COVID, the program has gained new significance in the context of the war in Ukraine, Evan Fraser told The Catholic Register.

“I certainly find it relevant,” Evan Fraser said.

Fauré was not mourning anyone in particular and always claimed he took on the funeral Mass as a project of personal, musical interest. But he began composing in 1887, 15 years after the Franco-Prussian War. That war killed over 180,000 soldiers and created conditions for a smallpox epidemic. In the end over 250,000 civilians died because of the conflict, which left deep scars on French society and led in many ways to the First World War and the advent of truly modern warfare.

Evan Fraser and her singers are just as conscious of their context today. They will open the concert with Ukrainian composer Mikola Lysenko’s “Prayer for Ukraine.” Written in 1885, the hymn is well known to anyone who has attended either Ukrainian Orthodox or Ukrainian Greek Catholic liturgies. When it was written, Ukrainian language was banned by Russia’s Imperial government. At that time its Ukrainian text by Oleksandr Konynsky was an act of defiance. Defiance continued as Ukrainian Christians sang Lysenko’s most famous work through the Russian Revolution and the subsequent Ukrainian War of Independence — independence that never had much chance in the shadow of Soviet tanks.

“We all feel that there’s not a lot we can do,” Evan Fraser said of the current conflict. “Obviously, you can donate. If you have friends who are Ukrainian you talk to them, you try to give them support. But this (Lysenko’s Prayer) is a way to show where our hearts are.”

The Fauré Requiem is one of those pieces of classical music that many people don’t know that they know. They’ve been listening to it at the movies all their lives.

“One of our singers texted me on the weekend and said, ‘Do  you know, I was watching the new Batman movie and it has ‘In Paradisum’ in it,’ ” Evan Fraser said. “In Paradisum” is the ethereal last movement of the seven-movement work.

In fact the Requiem has featured in the scores of over 40 movies and television series just in the last 20 years, according to the movie site IMDB.com. Its credits include the Legend of Baggar Vance, British detective classic Inspector Morse, horror blockbuster Legion and The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.

Evan Fraser is convinced that Fauré’s Requiem speaks as much to our times and our own experience of loss and foreboding as it did to his own times.

“Any great art form, whatever it is — music, visual arts, literature — is steeped in its time,” she said. “But it often also forecasts what is going to happen, especially from this late Romantic era. He was ahead of his time.”

In addition to the Fauré Requiem the May 13 “French Connection” concert will feature an Ave Maria by Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos, Psalm 150 set by contemporary composer Ernani Aguiar and a Salve Regina for tenors and basses by Venezuelan composer Cesar Alejandro Carrillo.

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