BRAHMS: A German Requiem, Op. 45
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Johannes Brahms (1833 - 1897)
Ein deutsches Requiem / A GermanRequiem, Op. 45
Johannes Brahms was born on 7th May1833 in the Gangeviertel district of Hamburg, the son of a double-bass player and hiswife, a seamstress seventeen years her husband's senior. It was intended that the boyshould follow his father's trade and to this end he was taught the violin and cello, buthis interest in the piano prevailed, enabling him to supplement the family income byplaying in dockside taverns, while taking valuable lessons from Eduard Marxsen.
In 1853 Brahms embarked on a concerttour with the Hungarian violinist Eduard Remenyi, during the course of which he visitedLiszt in Weimar, to no effect, and struck up a friendship with the violinist JosephJoachim, through whose agency he met the Schumanns, established now in D??sseldorf. Theconnection was an important one. Schumann was impressed enough by the compositions thatBrahms played to him to hail him as the long-awaited successor to Beethoven. Schumann'ssubsequent break-down in February 1854 and ensuing insanity brought Brahms back toD??sseldorf to help Clara Schumann and her young family. The relationship with ClaraSchumann, one of the most distinguished pianists of the time, lasted until her death in1896.
It was not until 1862, after a happyperiod that had brought him a temporary position at the court of Detmold as a conductorand piano teacher, that Brahms visited Vienna, giving concerts there and meeting theimportant critic Eduard Hanslick, who was to prove a doughty champion, pitting Brahmsagainst Wagner and Liszt as a composer of abstract music, as opposed to the music-drama ofWagner and the symphonic poems of Liszt, with their extra-musical associations. Brahmsfinally took up permanent residence in Vienna in 1869, greeted by many as the realsuccessor to Beethoven, particularly after the first of his four symphonies, and winning asimilar position in popular esteem and similar tolerance for his notorious lack of tact.
He died in 1897.
There seems little doubt that thedeath of his mother in January 1865 was the immediate reason for the composition of A German Requiem, a large scale work that developedgradually over the years immediately following, but may well have been under considerationfor some years. The second movement, at least, makes use of material from the slow Scherzoof the composer's rejected symphony of 1854 and 1855, the period of Schumann's finalillness. Three of six completed movements were performed in Vienna in 1867 by theGesellschaft der Musikfreunde under the direction of Johann Herbeck, but was badlyreceived. Brahms, as a North German Protestant, had chosen to make use of texts taken fromthe Lutheran Bible, drawing on the Old and New Testaments and on the Apocrypha, and such awork might well have seemed strange to Catholic Vienna, even had it been properlyrehearsed for the occasion. Albert Dietrich, a young composer and conductor and a pupil ofSchumann, whom Brahms had first met in D??sseldorf in 1853, sent a copy of the work to theorganist and director of music of Bremen Cathedral, Karl Martin Reinthaler, who arrangedthe first performance of all six movements on Good Friday 1868, under the direction of thecomposer. On this occasion the Requiem was very successful and with the addition of aseventh movement, placed fifth in the whole work, became in the following years a valuableand esteemed element in choral repertoire both in Germany and abroad, establishing thewider reputation of Brahms. The texts chosen avoid overt Christian reference, and thecomposer himself suggested in private correspondence that he would have liked tosubstitute the word "human" for 'German' in the title. It has its roots aboveall in Bach and it has been suggested that Brahms may have drawn some inspiration from themuch earlier work of Sch??tz. It is clearly vastly different in character from theliturgical Latin Requiem of Catholic tradition with its evocation of the Day of Judgementand its prayers for mercy on the souls of the dead.
The first movement of A German Requiem, Selig sind, die da Leid tragen
(Blessed are they that mourn) makes telling use of the. lower strings in the orchestralaccompaniment of the chorus, the absence of violins preserving a darker orchestralcolouring as the movement slowly unfolds, with its sorrows and its consoling joys. Thesecond movement, Denn alles Fleisch, es ist wie Gras (Forall flesh is as the grass), derived from the scherzo-sarabande initially intended for aprojected symphony, is a tragic funeral march, introduced by muted divided violins andviolas, with the wind and an ominous drum-beat. Again shafts of light appear and both textand music suggest hope for the future, stressed as the chorus announces that the word ofthe Lord endures for ever and the basses proclaim the promised return of the redeemed ofthe Lord.
Herr, lehre doch mich (Lord, make me to know themeasure of my days) starts with a baritone solo, echoed by the chorus, leading to a greatfugue on the words Der Gerechten Seelen sind in Gottes Hand (The souls of therighteous are in the hand of God), anchored by a long-held organ-point from trombones,tuba and timpani. It was the enthusiasm of the player of the last of these instrumentsthat had in part led to the failure of the first performance in Vienna, when the timpanidrowned the sound of the chorus. The lyrical Wie lieblich sind Deine Wohnungen(How amiable are thy tabernacles), the heart of the GermanRequiem, is followed by the added fifth movement, Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit (Ye now therefore havesorrow), with its moving soprano solo, more directly inspired by the death of the motherof Brahms.
Denn wir haben hiekeine bleibende Statt (Hereon earth we have no continuing city), introduces the baritone solo with the words Siehe,ich sage euch ein Geheimnis (Behold, I shew you a mystery), the sound of the lasttrumpet (der letzten Posaune) accompanied by the brass choir of trombones and tuba insolemn chords and music that as it progresses brings fleeting suggestions of Mozart'streatment of parts of the Dies irae. The movement ends with a massive fugue, introduced bythe altos with the words Herr, Du bist w??rdig zu nehmen Preis und Ehre (Thouart worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power). The whole work, in which amusical and textual balance is maintained, ends with a movement that corresponds to theopening. Selig sind die Toten, die in dem Herren sterben (Blessed are the deadwhich die in the Lord) balances the first Selig sind, die da Leid tragen(Blessed are they that mourn). As so often in the GermanRequiem, the mood if not the idiom of Bach is suggested in a movement at theheart of which the dead rest from their labour, finally to find peace in the Lord, as thework moves to its meditative close.
The soprano Miriam Gauci has emergedas one of the most exciting new voices on the international opera scene. Born in Malta,she studied in Milan and made her debut at La Scala in 1985 as Prosperina in the firstmodern revival of Rossi's Orfeo, returningthe following season in Die Frau oh ne Schatten and La Sonnambula. She made her Americandebut in Santa Fe in 1987, when she sang the role of MadamaButterfly, a role she later recorded for the Naxos label, followed by Mimi in La Boh?¿me in Los Angeles, Li?? in Turandot in Hamburg and Ginevra in Giordano's La Gena delle Bette at the Wexford Festival. MiriamGauci has appeared in major opera-houses throughout Europe with a wide repertoire, rangingfro