Fauré’s “En Prière” (In Prayer)

To tell you the truth, it’s the lyrics by Stéphane Bordèse that hit me before the music, which is unusual, at least for me. Not that Gabriel Fauré’s “En Prière” (1890) isn’t a beautifully poetic piece of music. I’ve heard it performed recently with harp and voice but Kathleen Battle’s performance below is just as exquisite with piano.

“En Prière” (In Prayer)

As the voice of a child can reach You,
O my Father,
Hear my prayer, on bended knee before You!
As You have chosen me to teach Your
laws on earth,
I will know how to serve You, noble
King of kings, O Light!
On my lips, Lord, place the salutary
truth,
In order that he who doubts should with
Humility revere You!
Do not abandon me, give me the
necessary gentleness,
To ease suffering, to relieve sorrow,
Misery!
Reveal Yourself to me, my Father, in whom I
trust and hope:
For You I wish to suffer and to die on
The cross, at Calvary!

It is sung in the original French but luckily I was able to view the translation before the first notes soared out of the soprano’s mouth and follow along in English which, given my lame French, was the first blessing I received from the performance. The next was this: the words, “You have chosen me to teach Your laws on earth,” which seemed only relevant to Jesus, as indeed the whole piece is intended to be.

But it struck me that with every word and act  in my daily life, however menial or vibrant, I hope I am teaching myself and those around me to believe, trust, serve, revere, and hope in the Lord. Now more than ever, aren’t the eyes of the world upon us as we encounter the many faces of persecution? Aren’t we ambassadors of Christ to them? Of course on the heels of that realization came gratitude to God that “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness”¹ through Christ Jesus. I confess I “fall short of the glory of God”² as much if not more than I succeed in glorifying Him in my teaching through my everyday speech or activities. As the publican cried, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13).

Which led me to the meat of  “En Prière”: a crying out to God to provide all that we lack in our service to Him, not least of all to give us anew a revelation of Himself so that we may die to self  and sin and be “alive to God in Christ Jesus.”³ The last line reminded me of the following words of the Apostle Paul:

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. (Galatians 2:20-21 ESV)

As the final notes of “En Prière” fade away, the image that resonates is the cross of Calvary, where all our prayers must begin. The work would seem unfinished unless it had led us to the cross, always “in prayer” as was Christ Himself.


¹1 John 1:9

²Romans 3: 23

³Romans 6:11

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5 thoughts on “Fauré’s “En Prière” (In Prayer)

  1. This is so beautiful. Thanks for writing out the English lyrics. They’re profound. So often, I listen to music, but I don’t truly hear the words unless I have sung it as part of a choir or I took time out to really look closely and internalize the lyrics. There’s not much more lovely then when lyrics and music match so perfectly to convey their meaning.

    Is this a poem that Faure set to music?

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  2. My listening habits are similar to yours that way. Certain pieces of music especially seem to wash over me and the lyrics seem only incidental, Rachmaninoff’s “Vocalise”, which simply transports you with its purity of emotion, has no words and the singer can vocalize any vowel she cares to. It’s sublime! But I agree, when the lyrics and music mesh, the beauty can take your breath away.

    As to whether or not it was a poem first, great question! All I was able to discover is that Fauré set the music to a poem by Stéphane Bordèse. Whether the latter was purposefully commissioned by the composer or not, I do not know, but I’d like to think that one stumbled into the other in one of those inspired moments in musical history.

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  3. Hearing this for the first time…it’s lovely.

    Sometimes I yearn after the days when words were still important to music, and the air wasn’t full of jangling cliches. But that was a looong time ago. 🙂

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  4. One of the beauties of the internet is that new things are just around the corner (at your fingertips, pardon the mixed metaphors) … and many of them, like classical music which always seems to occupy its own seemingly esoteric space, are old but available in a way they never were to philistines like me.

    “Jangling cliches” – perfect description of something I’m guilty of 🙂

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