Gabriel Urbain Fauré (1845-1924) was the youngest of six children in an upper middleclass family. His special musical gifts were revealed at an early age, which led his father to request a scholarship from the ministry dealing with religious matters for his son to attend the Ecole de musique classique et religieuse. This was also known as the Ecole Niedermeyer, named after its founder and principal. The nine-year-old boy was admitted in 1854. Following 11 years of study with teachers including Saint-Saëns, who was still young at the time, he graduated from the Niedermeyer School in 1865, with the composition Cantique de Jean Racine, Op. 11 for choir and piano, dating from 1864.
Immediately following his studies, Fauré was appointed organist of the Saint-Saveur in Rennes. One year later, the dedication of the new organ of this church was celebrated with a performance of his Cantique de Jean Racine in a version for harmonium and string quintet. Many years later, in 1905, Fauré arranged his Cantique for a larger orchestra. He remained devoted to this early work for more than forty years, and justly so. The reason for its reputation becomes apparent immediately upon first hearing: both Racine’s text and Fauré’s music are simple and noble, with the secular song and the religious motet combined beautifully, as in many of the composer’s vocal works.