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Faure's "Requiem" as you've never heard it before

Mélisande Corriveau and Eric Milnes live in the Eastern Townships region of Quebec. They founded the ensemble L’Harmonie des Saisons a way of bringing their work home.
Mélisande Corriveau / Eric Milnes
Mélisande Corriveau and Eric Milnes live in the Eastern Townships region of Quebec. They founded the ensemble L’Harmonie des Saisons a way of bringing their work home.

Classical host, James Stewart, speaks with Eric Milnes and Mélisande Corriveau, the co-founders and directors of L'Harmonie des Saisons ahead of the ensemble's performance of Gabriel Faure's "Requiem."

James Stewart: That is the beautiful sound of period instruments and historically informed singing presented by the ensemble L’Harmonie des Saisons. They will be performing Faure’s Requiem in a way we’ve never heard before on Sunday, November 5th, 3pm at College Street Congregational Church in Burlington, Vermont. I had a chance to sit down and have a conversation with two of their members.

Eric Milnes: Eric Milnes, one of the co-founders and co-directors of L’Harmonie des Saisons.

Mélisande Corriveau: And I am Mélisande Corriveau, the other co-director of L’Harmonie des Saisons.

James: Eric is a talented keyboardist and busy conductor working with many diverse ensembles and Mélisande is an expert performer on viola da gamba, Baroque cello and recorders. They live in the Eastern Townships region of Quebec and as they described it, creating this ensemble was a way of bringing their work home.

Eric: For us, we've both been so busy in Montreal for years.

Mélisande: We travel a lot and we bring our music to a lot of places and then we come back home and we did not do music back home, which was a weird thing. And I wanted my kids to be more involved and to see a bit more what their mom was doing.

Eric: I do remember the day after a performance at, I don't know, Bourgie Hall or somewhere, driving home where we just decided, let's set something up where we live. And that's been a great success for us.

Mélisande: Yes, we've been very lucky to, to interest enough people.

James: L’Harmonie des Saisons has a reputation for creating historically informed performances, using period instruments, alternate tuning methods and vocal production with a goal of presenting their repertoire much as it would have sounded at the time it was written. This has become a popular practice in the performance of early music, especially Baroque works, but now the ensemble is applying the same historical rigor to a masterwork of the late Romantic period, Gabriel Faure’s Requiem.

Mélisande: First of all, we are interested with the church version of the Requiem of Faure, the version that he chose to present at first. His liking of the tradition of church music, sacred music that comes from all that Baroque period actually. So it's a chamber formation, we are having a small string ensemble. We're having an organ, that's very much like early music. We are having harp also, horns that are period, so very different, quite less powerful than the modern horns that you see in the symphony.

Eric: But it opens up a very interesting conversation about how the instruments evolved over the 19th century and in what dramatic ways they were different at the time of Faure in 1880 in Paris. The instruments did undergo quite dramatic transformations into the 20th century, specifically about the use of metal strings and brass instruments with more valves. It's a dramatic difference to hear late 19th century music with period instruments.

James: There are numerous recordings of modern performances of Faure’s Requiem, featuring a full-orchestra and large choir. However, Eric says that wasn’t what Faure intended when he first wrote the work… 

Eric: …but an intimate orchestration and then the size of his choir at La Madeleine was maybe 24 singers. So this was written to be an intimate expression. The very fact that Faure chose to leave out the most bombastic texts and to really focus on the kind of subtle nuance available to him is a clue that this was not created as another Verdi.

Mélisande: The use of vibrato, for instance, is a constant. It's a given now for most modern players, they just apply it to everything all the time, but just then, like 100 years ago, it was completely different. The approach was mainly no vibrato and add a bit of vibrato, same for the singers. And it really is a huge, huge change, sonic change.

Eric: If you are familiar with Faure Requiem, this will be a rare, if not unique, opportunity to come closer to how it sounded to that first audience in 1887 and to do a little journey about how much sonically and musically things have changed within a period that we consider standard practice.

Mélisande: Also because of the fantastic team of artists that will be presented that will devote their complete attention, passion, love for this music and share it with so much generosity under the direction of Eric, which is just always so great and such a huge pleasure for all the team to gather and to do music together.

James: Don’t miss L’Harmonie des Saisons and this special presentation of Gabriel Faure’s Requiem, that’s Sunday, November 5th, 3pm at College Street Congregational Church in Burlington, Vermont. For tickets and more information check out their website,

James Stewart is Vermont Public Classical's afternoon host. As a composer, he is interested in many different genres of music; writing for rock bands, symphony orchestras and everything in between.