Programme notes

Ein deutsches Requiem, Johannes Brahms (1833—1897)

Perhaps the death of Brahms’ mother in 1865 was one of the drivers of Brahms’ composition, but it is also probable that he was thinking of the death in 1856 of his great friend, Robert Schumann, and looking to comfort Clara, Schumann’s widow, who was in the audience for the first performance of the final version of the Requiem in 1868.

Why 'a German Requiem'? There are several reasons. The text is not in Latin, but in German. Secondly, it is not the classic Catholic Requiem Mass, with its set components — Kyrie Eleison, Dies Irae, and so on. Its text is from the Lutheran tradition, not the Catholic one, and as much Old Testament as New Testament. The text is almost secular rather than Christian with no mention at all of Christ, something that bothered the first audiences.

Thirdly, it is not a warning of the horrors of the Last Judgement and a desperate plea for mercy for the dead sinner but presents a soothing voice of calm and acceptance.

And lastly, it focuses not on mourning the dead person but on comforting the world, with a focus on hope and reassurance.

Brahms himself remarked ‘I will admit that I would gladly give up the 'German' and simply put 'human'; in other words, it was universal humankind, regardless of ethnicity, belief or creed, whom he wished to embrace in this music.

Mike Torbe

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