Fauré's reasons for composing the work are unclear, but do not appear to have had anything to do with the death of his parents in the mid-1880s. He composed the work in the late 1880s and revised it in the 1890s, finalizing it in 1900. A short requiem lasting 35 minutes, it is written for orchestra, organ, mixed chorus and two soloists, soprano and baritone, and performed in Latin. It consists of seven movements; most famous is the central soprano aria Pie Jesu.
The piece premiered in its first version in 1888 in La Madeleine, Paris.
Fauré's reasons for composing his Requiem are uncertain. One possible impetus may have been the death of his father in 1885, and his mother's death two years later on New Year's Eve 1887. However, by the time of his mother's death he had already begun the work, about which he later declared, "My Requiem wasn't written for anything – for pleasure, if I may call it that!" The earliest composed music included in the Requiem is the "Libera Me", which Fauré wrote in 1877 as an independent work.
In 1887–88, Fauré composed the first version of the work, which he called "un petit Requiem" with five movements (Introit and Kyrie, Sanctus, Pie Jesu, Agnus Dei and In Paradisum), but did not include the "Libera Me". This version was first performed on 16 January 1888, under the composer’s direction in La Madeleine, Paris. The treble soloist was Louis Aubert, and the occasion was the funeral of Joseph Lesoufaché, an architect.
In 1889, Fauré added the "Hostias" portion of the Offertory and in 1890 he expanded the Offertory and added the 1877 "Libera Me". This second version was premièred on 21 January 1893, again at the Madeleine with Fauré conducting.
In 1899–1900, the score was reworked for full orchestra. This final version was premièred on 6 April 1900, with Eugène Ysaÿe conducting, and published the following year.
In 1924 the Requiem, in its full orchestral version, was performed at Fauré's own funeral. It was not performed in the United States until 1931, at a student concert at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. It was first performed in England in 1936.