dark-attentiondark-datedark-timedark-contactdark-infodark-play dark-pricedark-venueicon-alert icon-arrow-left icon-arrow-right icon-blockquote icon-cal icon-clock icon-contact UI / Full-Part-Volunteer CopyCreated with Sketch. EPS IconCreated with Sketch. icon-facebook--dark_circle icon-facebook--dark_square icon-facebook--outline_circle icon-facebook--outline_square icon-facebookCreated with Sketch. icon-htm icon-info icon-instagram--dark_circle icon-instagram--dark_square icon-instagram--outline_circle icon-instagram--outline_square icon-instagram icon-linkedin--dark_circle icon-linkedin--dark_squareicon-linkedin--outline_circleicon-linkedin--outline_squareicon-linkedin icon-logo2 icon-mp3 icon-pinterest--dark_circle icon-pinterest--dark_square icon-pinterest--outline_circle icon-pinterest--outline_square icon-pinterestCreated with Sketch. icon-play icon-price icon-spotify--dark_circle icon-spotify--dark_square icon-spotify--outline_circle icon-spotify--outline_square icon-spotify icon-spreadsheet icon-threads--dark_circle icon-threads--dark_square icon-threads--outline_circle icon-threads--outline_square icon-threads icon-tiktok--dark_circle icon-tiktok--dark_square icon-tiktok--outline_circle icon-tiktok--outline_square icon-tiktok icon-twitter--dark_circle icon-twitter--dark_square icon-twitter--outline_circle icon-twitter--outline_square icon-twitterCreated with Sketch. icon-x--dark_circle icon-x--dark_square icon-x--outline_circle icon-x--outline_square icon-x icon-youtube--dark_circle icon-youtube--dark_square icon-youtube--outline_circle icon-youtube--outline_square icon-youtubeCreated with Sketch. FolderCreated with Sketch. icon-zoom light-attentionlight-cal light-clocklight-contactlight-infolight-play light-pricelight-venue

Program Note: Brahms’s A German Requiem

(Instrumentation: soprano and baritone voice soloists, chorus, piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, harps [typically 2], strings, organ [optional])

Johannes Brahms

(Born in Hamburg, Germany in 1833; died in Vienna, Austria in 1897)

Ein Deutsches Requiem (A German Requiem)

  1. Selig sind, die da Leid tragen (“Blessed are those who mourn”) – Ziemlich langsam und mit Ausdruck (Rather slow and with expression)
  1. Denn alles Fleisch, es ist wie Gras (“For all flesh is as grass”) – Langsam, marschmäßig (Slow, like a march)
  1. Herr, lehre doch mich (“Lord, teach me that there must be an end to me”) – Andante moderato (Moderately slow)
  1. Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen (“How lovely is thy dwelling place, Lord”) – Mäßig bewegt (Moderately lively)
  1. Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit (“You now have sorrow, but I will see you again”) – Langsam (Slow)
  1. Denn wir haben hie keine bleibende Statt (“For we have no permanent place here”) – Andante (Rather slow)
  2. Selig sind die Toten (“Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord”) – Feierlich (Solemn)

Brahms’s A German Requiem was fully completed in 1868, but he had begun work on it as far back as 1854, probably inspired by the suicide attempt that year, and death shortly after, of his musical hero and friend, Robert Schumann.  The 1868 premiere of six movements of his Requiem became Brahms’s first great triumph in his career and solidified his stature as one of Europe’s greatest composers.  Later in 1868, Brahms added a seventh movement – its premiere taking place in 1869.  The Requiem differs from the typical Catholic Mass for the Dead.  First, the “German” in its title refers to it being in German (not Latin).  And second, rather than creating a musical prayer to help the departed into heaven as Requiems typically do, Brahms focuses on consoling those left behind.   The Requiem was nearly instantly hailed as a masterpiece, and it has unfailingly been adored by audiences ever since.

  1. (Chorus) Brahms set the text of the first movement, “Blessed are those who mourn…” in a darkly somber tone. Though solemn, the music expresses a sweetness veiled by mourning. Brahms’s orchestration here is unusual, omitting the violins, clarinets, and piccolo, and – very rare for Brahms – the use of the harp here and in later movements.  As the violas, cellos, and basses solemnly play a sighing opening melody, they begin with a three-note, ascending motive that will be used throughout to unify the entire work.
  2. (Chorus) The longest movement of the work, “For all flesh is as grass…” begins as a slow funerary march, with the low registers and funeral drums (timpani) introducing the first theme. The chorus enters in a dim but moving chant, expressing some of the most sobering and poetic verses in the Bible. From this musical darkness the mood shifts to radiance, the text quoting early rain and precious fruit of the earth, ending with miraculous serenity.
  3. (Baritone solo and chorus) Here the baritone soloist enters into a recitative dialogue with the chorus. Crying out a sobering message, he sings “Lord, teach me that there must be an end to me” directly to us, the chorus then echoing from afar. The music builds in urgency into a remarkable double fugue, one for the chorus and another for the orchestra – held together with a low D-pedal point in the timpani, tuba and trombones, a note that remains fixed underneath harmonic changes – all ending in spine-tingling power.
  4. (Chorus) The upper winds open with a simple and consoling descending melody. The melody is then inverted, which magically makes it sound more hopeful, three bars later when the chorus enters singing “How lovely is thy dwelling place, Lord.” The movement’s ending is breath-catchingly tender.
  5. (Soprano solo and chorus) Brahms added this meltingly lovely movement “You now have sorrow, but I will see you again” after hearing a triumphant performance of the work in six movements in 1868. Likely in memory of his deceased mother, who Brahms was very close to, the movement is a setting of maternal comfort and profound compassion.
  6. (Baritone solo and chorus) The text and music of “For we have no permanent place here” speak of the mysteries (and salvation) that permeate the New Testament. Indeed, the opening of the movement is almost without a tonal center, shifting through beguilingly misty tonal landscapes. Then, Brahms presents several themes in sequence, all of which eventually begin to topple over one another into one of the great climactic endings of the entire work.
  7. (Chorus) This final movement recalls the music of the first, but now bathed in new light. The basses and cellos sing a similar motif to that of the opening in the first movement, but here the music is more fluid, and the violins have been reinstated. Here also, the work of consolation for the bereaved is finished, and Brahms chooses text showing comfort for those who have died and look to an eternal rest: “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord.” The closing section evokes a sense of comfort and quiet glory.  At the Requiem’s final, breathtaking bars, the harp plucks teardrops into the hush of eternity.

Program note by © Max Derrickson