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What can you tell me about the Brahms' Requiem?

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"). Settings of the Latin Requiem text are liturgical works for the Catholic service, intended for use in a service of prayer for the soul of the deceased.  Choosing to not follow that path, Brahms created his own lyrics, selecting Biblical passages that do not correspond to the funeral liturgy of any church, but that nonetheless represent a deeply felt response to the central issue of human existence ~ life over death. To distinguish his work from the Catholic Mass for the Dead, he called it Ein Deutsches Requiem ("A German Requiem").

It is not clear where Brahms got the idea for an original, non-liturgical choral piece of this sort, but early work on the composition (1857 – 1859) somewhat relieved the melancholy that haunted him at the loss of his friend Robert Schumann.  In the fall of 1861, he laid out the text of a four-movement cantata but failed to develop it further.  Then, on February 2, 1865, a telegram from his brother informed Brahms that his beloved mother had suffered a stroke and was dying.  At once he departed for Hamburg but arrived too late to see her.  Haunted and depressed, he turned to creative work to exorcize his sorrow. 

Brahms brilliantly assembled the lyrics for his requiem from Luther's translation of the Bible-from the Old and New Testaments and the Apocrypha.  He was apparently determined to create a universal text, one that would not follow any particular liturgy, and he avoided even any reference to the words "Jesus" or "Christ" (though some English translations of the work undo him in that point).  His intention is indicated by a letter he wrote to the director of music at the Bremen Cathedral before the premiere, explaining that "German" referred only to the language in which it was sung; he would have gladly called it "A Human Requiem."  The texts speak of our transitoriness and eventual death, and express comfort in a spirit of “universal human religious feeling” rather than a narrow doctrinal one and to address the living, the bereaved, rather than the dead.

Within two months he had completed the first, second, and fourth movements of the Requiem.  Then his heavy concert schedule intervened.  It took until August 1866 to complete the remainder of the work, except for the fifth movement.

By September 1866 Brahms had played the score for Clara Schumann, his lifelong confidante and sounding-board.  She wrote in her diary, "Johannes has been playing me some magnificent movements out of a requiem of his own.  The Requiem...is full of tender and again daring thoughts.  I cannot feel clear as to how it will sound, but in myself it sounds glorious."

The six-movement work received its first performance under the composer's baton in Bremen Cathedral on Good Friday in 1868.  But the score was still not finished.  Soon after the premiere, he added the fifth movement, with soprano solo, which, as its text indicates, is a tribute to his mother's memory.  From its premiere in Leipzig in February 1869, the piece quickly attained the rank of a classic; it was heard in Germany twenty times within the first year. 

The musical form is a tightly wrought edifice, a seven-movement arch with the music of brightest comfort at its center.  The first and last movements echo each other in conveying blessings, first upon the mourners, finally upon the dead.  The second and sixth movements are the darkest (and longest) ending with great fugues.  The third and fifth movements feature soloists in meditations, the baritone seeking hope, the soprano bestowing it.  Nestled in the middle is the shortest movement, the gorgeous chorus of tranquility, “Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen” better known as “How Lovely Is Thy Dwelling Place.”


In addition to the Brahms' Requiem, what is the repertoire for this concert?

The concert will begin with Vaughan Williams’ Toward the Unknown Regionhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=paijBJiRokE  Vaughan Williams composed Toward the Unknown Region, for the 1907 Leeds Choral Festival. The work was received with great success.  The lyrics is the first poem from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass: Book XXX ‐‐ Whispers of Heavenly Death.  Entitled “Darest Thou Now O Soul”, the poem was penned in 1870 and represents Whitman’s image of the path taken by the 618,000 who died in the civil war during which he served as a hospital nurse in the Washington D.C. area.  While deeply contemplative, it ends in grand fashion with those souls finding peace:

Till when the ties loosen,

All but the ties eternal, time and space,

Nor darkness, gravitation, sense, nor any bounds bounding us.

Then we burst forth, we float,

In time and space O soul, prepared for them,

Equal, equipt at last, (O joy! O fruit of all!) them to fulfil, O soul.

In addition, the choir will present an a cappella work: Frank Ticheli’s haunting There Will Be Rest  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OkltTFiDxdg.  In this work, Ticheli set a poem by Sara Teasdale (1884-1933) who is regarded as one of the great American lyric poets.  Haunted by depression in later years, Teasdale died of suicide at the age of 48.  Many of her poems address the pain that tormented her spirit; but to the end she seemed to draw strength and hope from the stars and their permanent radiance.  There Will Be Rest, one of her last poems, is a perfect summary of her lifelong love affair with the stars and their ancient promise of peace.  This choral setting is designed to capture the poem’s purity of spirit and delicate lyricism.

For more information about the repertoire, click on this link: Director’s Commentary.


How long will the concert last?

The concert will last approximately 1 hour and 50 minutes.  This includes a 15-minute intermission.

What are the ticket prices?

Adult is $25 in advance and $30 at the door.  Senior Citizen (fixed income or 65 and above; whichever applies) is $20 in advance and $25 at the door.  College and High School Students are $5 in advance and $10 at the door.  Children under high school age are admitted free.

Is there a discount for groups?

Unfortunately no.  With dwindling governmental and corporate support for the arts, the choir does not have the fiscal ability to offer group discounts for the concert.

How do I get tickets?

If you want to order tickets online, click here.  If you want to order tickets without giving your credit card information, please e-mail the choir at Info@TheChoristers.org providing your name and telephone number.  The choir's Treasurer will contact you.  Another option is to call 215-542-7871.

Is there any reserved seating?

No.  Seating is general admission.

Is the performance space handicapped accessible?

Yes.  There are no steps between the parking area and the sanctuary of Trinity Lutheran Church.  If wheelchair seating is needed, please contact the choir at Info@TheChoristers.org so it can be arranged.  Parts of the sanctuary have moveable chairs.  The choir will create the space for wheelchair seating.

Will there be refreshments available during intermission?

Yes.  Homemade baked goods and water will be for sale during Intermission.

Will there be another plant sale?

No.  This concert is several weeks earlier than usual for a spring Chorister concert.  It did not make sense to try to sell plants that cannot be planted outside for a month.  So, no plant sale this year.


For directions to Trinity Lutheran Church in Lansdale, click here.