pre-concert talks on the Brahms Requiem this year, and with the bombing in Boston can't wait any longer in expressing my devotion to this work.
|Trinity Church, Boston|
I first heard Ein deutsches Requiem by Johannes Brahms at Boston's Trinity Church, about thirty-five years ago. Trinity is one of those magnificent stone structures built by the Brahmins.It's house of worship as awe inspiring as the grandiose banks of the day were meant to be. Trinity Church is also quite close to the bomb site at the Boston Marathon of two days ago. I heard the performance back in the day with friends who were much smarter, more serious and better informed about life than I ever was. My post adolescent cynicism was mightily challenged by the beauty, both simple and grand of this music in such impressive surroundings. There was organ, and oh, mighty it was, no orchestra and a large choir. I was hooked.
Brahms was a German Protestant. There's no earth shaking rabble rousing call to punishment and death favored by the Latin liturgy. No Dies irae here: "The day of wrath will dissolve the earth into ashes".
Brahms assembled the texts himself, from Luther's bible. He uses the psalms, the apocrypha, Revelations, Ecclesiastes and parts of the Gospels and Letters of Paul. There is no mention of God, Jesus or any reference to the deity anywhere. If the opening music is dark, it is a darkness of reverence rather than of fear. The first words come from Matthew:
Seling sind, die da Leid tragen, denn sie sollen getrostet werden
Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted
It goes on: Die mit Tranen saen, werden mit Freude enten
They that sow in tears shall reap in joy
To say that nothing in the Brahms Requiem hit s you over the head unexpectedly is a compliment. There are unpredictable harmonies if you want to dig enough (I don't) The fifth movement, a soprano solo was added by Brahms after the premiere. This may be a nod to Christiane Brahms, the composer's mother, who died as work on the Requiem began. Brahms denied for years any association with his mother's memory. Yet here he sets,
Ich will euch trosten, wie einen seine Mutter trostet
I will comfort you as one whom his mother comforteth (Isaiah 66:13)
|Robert and Clara Schumann|
Shall we decide that the third movement is about Robert Schumann? If I could sing at all, I would want to sing this:
Herr, lehre doch mich, dass ein Ende mit mir haben muss
Lord, make me to know there must be and end to me
The entire work opens with Blessed are they that mourn for they shall be comforted. The German Requiem ends over an hour later with
Selig sind die Toten, die in dem Herrn sterben
Blessed are the dead, that die in the Lord form henceforth
And only at the end of this great work are the dead comforted, the previous hour taken up with comforting the living.