This week I am continuing our music series on another very famous piece of romantic classical music: The Requiem of the German composer Johannes Brahms.
The requiem carries the obscure title “Ein Deutsches Requiem” (A German Requiem) and the lyrics are in German as opposed to Latin used in most other requiems. The piece is sacral but non-liturgical, it is a large-scale orchestral work with a chorus and a soprano and baritone soloist and it was composed between 1865 and 1868.
It is uncertain what prompted Brahms to write this piece, but the death of his mother in 1865 may have played a major role in his decision-making. The first three movements of the requiem were premiered before the entire work was finished and very poorly received due to a misunderstanding of how to play the score. Several performances of some of the movements followed suit and were better received. However, when the entire work was premiered with all the finished 7 movements in Leipzig by the Gewandhaus Orchestra in 1869, the audience were ecstatic.
Brahms assembled the text of the requiem himself and did not lean on the traditional Latin texts usually used for requiems. This gives a very personal and unique touch to the composition. The name was intended to give a human touch to the piece. Brahms actually contemplated to call the piece “En menschliches Requiem” (A human requiem). Whereas traditional requiems at the time concentrated on the dead, A German Requiem focusses on the living.
The composition is a very rounded piece, with both the first and last movement starting in the same fashion with the words “Blessed are those …”. The whole work has a symmetry around movement 4. Thus, to really catch the spirit, the requiem has to be listened to as a whole; partly explaining why it was received badly when only a few movements were performed.
The music always awakens an awe inside me and is perfect for reflection and meditation. Surely, understanding the German lyrics help, but the music is so rich and intense, that the feelings it creates are not dependent on the text.
Movement 1: Selig sind die da Leid tragen (Blessed are they that carry suffering)
The first movement starts very quietly and serene. It slowly builds up and draws the listener into a reflective mood. It really sets the scene for the following movements.
Movement 2: Denn alles Fleisch es ist wie Gras (For all flesh it is as grass)
This movement is very famous. It starts slow and has some powerful crescendi building up throughout the almost 15 minutes in length. It is a sad movement and really moving. I first discovered it in a Christmas Album several years ago and had to listen to it for several days non-stop …
Movement 3: Herr, lehre doch mich (Lord teach me)
The baritone introduces these powerful words. “Lord teach me, that there is an end with me and that my life has a goal.” These are perfect words to reflect and meditate for we all look for a goal in our lives …
Movement 4: Wie lieblich sich deine Wohnungen (How lovely are thy dwellings)
“How lovely are thy dwellings in Zebaoth.” This movement is calmer then the three preceding movements and give the listener some time to relax. It is has a very lyrical flavour …
Movement 5: Ihr habt nun traurigkeit (You have now sadness)
This part of the requiem is introduced by the soprano. It is not as sad as its title suggests. The music builds up slowly and is very beautiful and the choir accompanies the soprano, giving it a serene undertone.
Movement 6: Denn wir haben hier keine bleibende Stadt (For we have here no lasting place)
These words show how life is dynamic and that nothing is really static. We may build the greatest cities and civilisations, be it Babylon or London, but at the end of the day, we all expect the same destiny: death. “Listen, I tell you a secret for we will all be changed.” What is life about? What will happen after life? Will our differences be the same after death?
This movement is heavy and a tremor builds up over a powerful crescendo carried by the baritone and the choir.
Movement 7: Selig sind die Toten (Blessed are the dead)
The last movement is very reminiscent of the introductory movement. It is calm in nature and resolves the requiem. It gives piece to the listener.
You can order the requiem on Amazon by clicking the link below:
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