Ein Deutsches Requiem was composed between the years 1865 and 1868. Scored for full romantic orchestra, SATB chorus, soprano, and baritone this seven movement work stands as Brahms’ most colossal composition. The work does not use the traditional Latin text for the missa de profunctis, but takes quotations directly from the Luther bible. While Brahms first referred to the work as the German Requiem in a letter to Clara Schumann, he was clearly referring more to the language than an sense of Nationalism. He later stated that he could very well have titled the work A Human Requiem. Indeed, the first performance of the work in England, of which Brahms certainly had knowledge, featured a text translated into English.
Brahms originally conceived the work in 6 movements which are the published movements 1-4 and 6-7. The fifth movement was added in 1868 and is the only movement to feature the soprano soloists. The Requiem is united musically by the motive of a leaping third followed by a half-step in the same direction. This motive is found initially in the soprano line at the first choral entrance.
The Requiem also features many of the antiquated musical techniques that Brahms was well known for studying and promoting. One of the most easily recognized aspects from a previous time is Brahms heavy use of fugue. 5 of the 7 movements feature fugal sections, some of which are quite virtuosic in conception. The finale of the 6th movement in particular is extremely romantic in conception.
Perhaps the most studied and debated aspect of the German Requiem is the text itself. Brahms selected the texts and was very purposeful in doing so. The piece begins with the text “Blessed are they that morn,” and continues to illumine aspects of comfort for the living. This Requiem is clearly intended as a requiem for the living. While the selected texts certainly highlight the humanistic philosophies of the time, the German Requiem has become one of the great sacred works of all time.
While this work does not compare well with Brahms other works, simply because of it’s sacred nature and magnitude, it can compare with other orchestral requiems, such as the Verdi Requiem. The most obvious difference is the text. Verdi does set the traditional Latin text from the missa de profunctis. However, there are several commonalities between the two works. Both works incorporate soloists, although Verdi uses a quartet in the manner of Mozart. While both works are romantic in style, Verdi does not make nearly as much use of musical techniques from previous ages as does Brahms. The soloists in both works exhibit virtuosity, however, the Verdi Requiem feels much more operatic, as it would given the composers’ nature.
I chose this work because of it’s extreme significance in the canon of major choral/orchestral works. I also chose it because performing it was the most memorable and significant musical moment of my life thus far.
George S. Bozarth and Walter Frisch. "Brahms, Johannes." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed May 3, 2014, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/51879pg10 .
Michael Moore. Brahms’s "A German Requiem" and the Matter of Aesthetic Meaning. The Choral Journal. Vol. 47, No. 10 (APRIL 2007). p. 8-19. http://www.jstor.org/stable/23557309