Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Ein Deutsches Requiem

This is a masterwork by Johannes Brahms. His greatest work if you look at the dimension and magnitude.The death of Robert Schumann inspired him to write this. It was a way of giving condolence to those who remain behind on earth after their dead have passed on. Brahms intended this work as a celebration of all humanity even in the face of inevitable death. Brahms claimed that he could have named this his 'Human Requiem'with its focus on comforting the living. The music really comforts whilst still acknowledging the tragedy of death.
The word 'Requiem' usually refers to the Roman Catholic Mass for the Dead which begins with the Latin phrase, 'Requiem Aeternam Dona Eis Domine' (Grant them eternal rest, O Lord!). Brahms conceived the extra-ordinary idea of creating his own text selecting Biblical passages that do not correspond to the funereal liturgy of any church.
Brahms gives a sombre colour to the first movement by omitting the violins, piccolo, clarinets and timpani entirely and by subdividing the violas and cellos culminating with the utterance of 'selig' (Blessed) to close the movement with harp accompaniment. The second movement begins with a slow march passage in triple meter. The violins enter for the first time and in a high register. The timpani quietly sounds out ominous triplets. The chorus sings in unison first softly then in full voice as the march theme is repeated. This is the music that Brahms had originally composed for and then removed from his early D Minor Symphony. One movement came here and the other three went to the Piano Concerto No. 1. The baritone solo begins the third movement in a dialogue with the chorus. This is a haunting movement. The fourth movement is harmonically in a new world. It is a gentle middle section to the whole work representing sublime tranquillity. The fifth movement brings out the soprano and the contrast to the third movement is striking. The baritone earlier represents grief, doubt and despair. Here, the soprano sings of consolation. The opening of the sixth movement reverts to the uncertainty of the third in harmonic progressions that accompany the baritone's description of the mystery to come, the harmonies ranging from C Minor to F Sharp Minor. Three trombones and tuba announce the great moment.The excitement is extended into a powerful fugue in C Major. A Stretto leads to a final and forceful statement. The final movement is like the first. The basic thematic cell is in double bass and cellos. The sombre orchestral colours of the opening are replaced by reinstatement by the clarinets, the second pair of horns and the violins. The final section of the movement is a magical reworking of material from the opening movement. There is a return to the home key of F Major as the sopranos soar to a brilliant high A Major just like at the end of the first movement. The harps enter and rise to an ethereal conclusion over the final choral murmurs of 'selig' (blessed).
The definitive reading has come from Herbert Von Karajan and the Wiener Philharmoniker in 1985. Other recommended readings are : Fritz Lehmann/Berliner Philharmoniker; Daniel Barenboim/London Philharmonic; Robert Shaw/Atlanta Symphony; Otto Klemperer/Philharmonia Orchestra; Sir Georg Solti/Chicago Symphony; Sir Simon Rattle/ Berliner Philharmoniker.

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