Although the work was written with a piano accompaniment, Fauré was persuaded to arrange it in 1898 for string quintet and piano. This was performed with Bagès as the singer on April 1 at the London home of Fauré's friend, Frank Schuster. Of the event, Fauré wrote to his wife:
"Yet, for my part, I still find this accompaniment redundant, and prefer the simple piano accompaniment....But its effect was great: Schuster, Sargent and Mme Maddison wept with emotion"
On this recording, The Nash Ensemble play the 1898 arrangement.
Fauré's music was barely recognised outside France during his lifetime, where he was best known as an organist. History has remembered him as one of the great French composers, and he has left behind a fantastic legacy of songs and chamber music.
Gabriel Urbain Fauré was born in the southern French town of Pamiers, the youngest of six children born to Toussaint and Marie Fauré. As a child, his musical talents were exercised when he began to improvise on the local church harmonium and piano. However, it was only later that one of his teachers noticed his talent and recommended that he be sent to the new Louis Niedermeyer school of religious music in Paris. Here, he was a pupil of Camille Saint-Saens . His main talent was in playing the piano, for which he won first prize two years in a row, followed by a first prize with distinction. In 1864 he could play so well that he was refused permission to compete.
From 1865, he was organist at the church of St. Sauveur in Rennes for several years, and then moved to Paris, playing the organ at various churches. Then in August of 1870, the Franco-Prussian War broke out and Fauré was enlisted into the First Regiment of the Imperial Light Infantry as a messenger. Between battles he liked to give impromptu recitals to his friends while they stayed in the abandoned buildings outside Paris.
When the war ended, Fauré returned to Paris and found work as second organist at the church of St. Suplice. His job was to accompany the choir while the main organ was used by Charles-Marie Widor . Sometimes, during the services, the two of them would play 'duelling organs' by improvising themes and 'tossing' them back and forth. In 1877, he became Chief Organist and Choirmaster at La Madeleine in Paris, where he worked for nearly 20 years. At the same time, he started to teach composition at the Paris Conservatoire, where his pupils included Nadia Boulanger, Ravel and Enescu.
Fauré wished to marry, and so his friend Marguerite Baugnies suggested that she arrange a marriage. She presented him with a choice of three women. Unable to make up his mind, Fauré hastily wrote the names down on slips of paper, placed them in a hat, and randomly picked Marie Fremiet, daughter of a sculptor. After a brief engagement, the wedding took place on March 27th, 1883 in Paris. The marriage was a failure.
In 1900 Fauré met and fell in love with Marguerite Hasselmans. Fauré was the same age as her father, but they stayed together until the end of his life in 1924. The social morality of the day forbade him from divorcing his wife. He was appointed director of the Conservatoire in 1905 and introduced a number of necessary reforms.
Fauré retired in 1920, after which he was able to devote himself more fully to composition, notably two final chamber works: a piano trio and a string quartet. In the rigid official musical establishment of Paris in the latter half of the 19th century Fauré won acceptance with difficulty. The most outstanding characteristics of his music are its elegance and reserve.