on I once heard an Episcopalian priest define a "saint" as "someone who has brought light to the world and created a path of hope for others to follow". Personally, I prefer that definition to many others because it is so open and inclusive. Traditionally, "saints" were acknowledged by having feast days where special music was played, poems (psalms) were read and stories about their lives were told. Sometimes, there would be special treats, as in the Yemes (egg yolk cakes) de Santa Teresa served in Avila, Spain or the Madeleine and Navette cookies distributed on Mary Magdalene's feast day in Provence.
I am in the process of creating my own "calendar of saints" that includes not only the mystics of the spiritual realms like Hildegard of Bingen, Julian of Norwich and St. Francis, but also the "saints of culture": Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert, Dante, Clara and Robert Schumann, Emily Dickinson, Carl Jung, TS Eliot, Fra Lippi, Gustav Klimt. In my opinion, their lives and works also deserve annual celebrations and reverent attention and devotion.
Today in my calendar is the Feastday of Gabriel Faure. A sensitive young boy growing up in the Pyrenees mountains, his love of nature was only exceeded by the call of music. Faure would sneak into his school's chapel whenever he could in order to play on the organ. One day, an old blind woman heard him-- and somehow persuaded his father (a butcher) that Faure's extraordinary gift should be nurtured and supported.
Faure became a very successful organist in Paris-- but his compositional gifts were barely acknowledged. It was only because of the friendship of an American sewing machine heiress that the composer did not succumb to utter despair: Winnaretta Singer supported him in mind, pocketbook and spirit until a scandal rocked the musical world and brought Faure much deserved prominence and recognition. Faure went on to become the President of the Paris Conservatoire and opened the doors to women, one of whom was his student Nadia Boulanger. A dedicated and generous teacher like her mentor, Nadia was the force that shaped Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, Philip Glass and virtually every other great American composer. So, in a way, you can regard Faure as one of the greatest of grandfathers of modern music.
The Catholic church will never canonize Faure. Some of his behavior was scandalous: quite the ladies man, he was fired from one of his church jobs for showing up to play the Sunday service one morning in his evening wear after staying out all night dancing and drinking. He had no patience or deference for convention: he would leave his post at the organ to go outside to smoke a cigar when the priests would preach because he couldn't bear listening to their sermons. Faure's aversion to the orthodox doctrine is clearly manifest in his glorious Requiem where he refuses to incorporate any vision of hell. His music, however, might be just the heavenly thing you need when you are crying out in grief (try his Elegie, for cello and piano) or lging to melt into sublime bliss (the Pavane) or yearning to have your melancholy reflected in an exquisite mirror (try Apres un Reve)
Faure's story is proof that genius requires many things in order to survive, and perhaps the most important of those things is friendship. Watch the 20 minute impromptu facebook lecture I lived streamed on Faure in honor of his birthday here- and look for future Feastdays of Satie (May 17) and Robert Schumann (June 8)