Music Notes for the Fourth Sunday After Epiphany — January 28, 2024

Messe basse – Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924)


Click to view video: Kyrie

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.


Click to view video: Sanctus

Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts,
heaven and earth are full of thy glory.
Glory be to thee, O Lord most high.


Click to view video: Benedictus

Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord:
Hosanna in the highest.

Agnus Dei

Click to view video: Agnus Dei

O Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world: have mercy upon us.
O Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world: have mercy upon us.
O Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world: grant us thy peace.


The Messe basse of Gabriel Fauré, this Sunday’s setting of the Mass Ordinary in church, would more appropriately be called a ‘Missa brevis’, a setting which includes only the shorter sections of the Mass Ordinary. While the Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus Dei are Fauré’s original work, the opening movement was originally written by André Messager (1853–1929). Messager was a pupil of Fauré, and he later became a famous opera conductor. Messager conducted a number of significant opera performances in London and Paris (including the world premiere of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande), although Messager’s own compositions were mostly light in nature.

Little could have prepared the church choir of the rural Normandy village of Villerville for what happened in the summer of 1881. Fauré and Messager discovered the church while on holiday in the region and decided to write a Mass for its choir, accompanied by the church’s harmonium and a single violin—this was the ‘Messe des pêcheurs de Villerville’ (‘Mass of the fishermen of Villerville’), later renamed ‘Messe basse’.

When Fauré revised the work in 1906 and 1907, he not only renamed the piece, but also rearranged the harmonium and violin accompaniment for organ and excised Messager’s Kyrie, replacing it with an arrangement of his own. In its final form the Messe basse betrays some of its rural beginnings, but Fauré had refashioned and polished the piece to such an extent that it sits comfortably next to the most sophisticated Missa brevis settings, and it thereby provides an unusually well-crafted example of a Mass setting for upper voices.

Gerald Harder