Brahms, Ein deutsches Requiem Op. 45

Album of the Week #1

It’s the start of a new school term. Which, obviously, always makes me nervous and excited at the same time–I can’t wait to dive into the topics lined up for this term (Genetics, Epistemology, and global politics, to name a few). But thinking about how most of them will come from a non-biblical worldview makes me a bit queasy, too. Every morning during the transit time, I listen to hymns and sermons incessantly. 

Another thing that increases as my study load increases is my music consumption. Today, I wanted to share an album that has been on repeat since summer–Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requiem Op. 45, or the German Requiem. Ever since coming across it in early May (I think), it has climbed my billboard charts. So, let me introduce this awe-inspiring music to you…

Quick Stats

English: A German Requiem, to Words of the Holy Scriptures

Full title: Ein deutsches Requiem, nach Worten der heiligen Schrift Opus 45

Text: from the Luther Bible

Language: German

Composed: 1865–1868

Movements: 7

Scoring: soprano・baritone・mixed choir・orchestra

Listen on:

Why it moves me:

As a violist, any piece that omits violins piques my attention. (The first movement does not have any violins.) But jokes aside, I fell in love with the last movement (7th movement, “Selig sind die Toten”) that was playing on the radio when I was driving in the dark, in the rain, late spring. 

It’s said that Brahms’ mourning for his mother and mentor (Schuman) was the inspiration behind this piece. I don’t speak German so I had to go and Wikipedia it (yes, it’s a valid search engine)*. I think I immediately connected to the explicit Biblical themes woven together into this piece despite Brahms’ complex religious beliefs. It was also interesting that this was an “unconventional” requiem in that:

  1. It’s not in Latin
  2. It uses the Lutheran Bible as the text
  3. It doesn’t have violins in the first movement (JK) It’s not just for German people but it’s named that way (think Mozart or Berlioz or Fauré–they don’t have their nationality attached to their Requiems)

On a more sombre level, this summer~autumn has been one of mourning. Many influential figures I looked up to/thought were vital to the era right now have unexpectedly passed away. A close friend of our family’s in Japan went to be with the Lord. A pastor I love and respect (who was teaching me Hebrew) may only have months left to live. I knew on an intellectual level that one day, everything that has shape would return to dust–but now, it had become much more personal. And it made me reflect–where exactly do we come from and where are we going? 

Brahms’ Requiem has helped me focus on that. 

To close, let me share a few quotes from C. S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed:

“We were promised sufferings.

They were part of the program. We were even told, ‘Blessed are they that mourn,’ and I accept it. I’ve got nothing that I hadn’t bargained for. Of course, it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not imagination.”

“God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I who didn’t. In this trial He makes us occupy the dock, the witness box, and the bench all at once. He always knew that my temple was a house of cards. His only way of making me realize the fact was to knock it down.”

― C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

And that’s it for today. 

Sources & Further readings:

  1. A Human Requiem: Brahms’ German Requiem by Calvin Dotsey, Houston Symphony
  2. Choral Masterworks by Michael Steinberg, Oxford University Press
  3. Complete Orginal Score
  4. Score Breakdown & Analysis
  5. Wikipedia 🙂

*Note: When I say Wikipedia is a valid search engine, I mean that through Wikipedia, it is possible to garner basic info like when things happened, who did it &c. I recommend checking out the sources listed at the bottom for a more thorough search. 

2 responses to “Brahms, Ein deutsches Requiem Op. 45

  1. Oh goodness, Ein Deutsches Requiem is so amazing! I had the chance to hear it live (my university did it, and the choir included several people I knew, including professor, and it was just INCREDIBLE) and it’s…I don’t really have words.

    It is really interesting how unconventional it is–most “requiems” are settings of the Catholic requiem Mass (which is close to my heart, because I *am* Catholic!) but it’s interesting to have a big piece of music for mourning which *isn’t* that.

    I hope that your classes go well! Genetics is one of my favorite parts of biology, so I hope you enjoy that, especially. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for the introduction to this piece! I am excited to listen to it, and to use the links you kindly added!
    I am sorry for your losses and the grief you are experiencing. May God grant you peace.

    Liked by 1 person

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