A Requiem for the Living
Brahms’ Requiem Performance March 15 at 7pm
The absence that death brings to our lives when loved ones leave us is often accompanied by a period of forced self-reflection and a greater mindfulness of our own mortality. We are not so aware of the fragility of Man until the eventuality of life’s end. We know it must happen, we are sometimes shown indicators that it is about to happen, and yet, even at that point we are still in a place of incredulity when the hard truth of death hits us. What we do with that grief when it is upon us can either propel us forward or anchor us indefinitely. We are challenged to celebrate life in the face of death, an emotional paradox to which Brahms would have most assuredly subscribed.
Johannes Brahms was a realist, a pragmatist, and an agnostic when it came to faith. He was fond of Luther’s translated Bible, but detested dogma in religion and the thought of redemption through suffering. His personal faith came from his upbringing in a tightly-knit family unit; the influential people and events that came into his life; and his own philosophy of being kind and generous to others. He had a love of life, and would forego the worries of the day to live fully in the present. If Brahms were a different person, more strongly Christian and denominationally identifiable, his Requiem would render a very different sentiment.
Brahms’ Ein deutches Requiem (“A German Requiem”) is a perfect representation of his views on life and death. Daring to be different, Brahms wrote the Requiem not for Liturgical use, but for public consumption in a concert venue. It is written not in Latin, but in the vernacular, so as to clearly represent the biblical text Brahms himself chose: for it was not the traditional Requiem texts proscribed by the church. In fact, there are no liturgical movements whatsoever within this work. Christ is quoted twice, but never specifically mentioned in the entire piece. So what is this work about, and for whom was it written?
Brahms experienced two great losses: that of his mother and the composer Robert Schumann. It is suggested that Brahms began work on the Requiem in 1865, following his mother’s death. Given Brahms’ system of beliefs and his philosophies on life and death, his Requiem can be considered as a work for the living, rather than the dead. It focuses on those who mourn but who will eventually be joyful. It speaks of the frailty of humanity and the need to have faith in the final triumph over death through achieving eternal life. The central thread of the work is the necessity for us to face our own mortality, and to do so with patience, with faith, and calm resolve.
The work is comprised of seven movements, including a mixed chorus with baritone and soprano soloists. Throughout the work’s text, Brahms explores the contrast between those who have achieved a state of peace and comfort, and those who have yet to receive it—still afflicted with the sense of mortality rather than eternity. The message that Brahms brings to us through this work is one of hope through the promise of joy over sorrow, life over death, and the comfort found in our true trust of God. The Requiem is, in a manner of speaking, Brahms’ own sermon to us (drawn from his own life experiences) that speaks of a universal application of self-reflection for all of humanity.
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Brahms’ Ein deutches Requiem Performance
Friday, March 15 at 7pm
Tickets $20/person $10/students
available online or at the door that night.
Click here to purchase tickets online.