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Brahms, Humanism, Nationalism and the German Requiem

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Carrie Nicholas

on 8 December 2014

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Transcript of Brahms, Humanism, Nationalism and the German Requiem

Brahms, Humanism, Nationalism, and the
German Requiem

The bulk of the
German Requiem
's composition lies in the years 1865 to 1889 immediately following his mother's death. However, evidence suggests that composition had begun earlier in response to Schumann's death, but was pushed to the forefront of Brahms's mind after his mother's passing.
Placing importance on humanity rather than the divine or supernatural.
Nationalism in the German Requiem:
Use of non-liturgical text to create a work that can relate to all Germans regardless of denomination
Influence of Martin Luther through the German bible, use of Protestant funeral music, and relationship to the "Totensonntag" (Lutheran commemoration of the dead)
Influence of German composers such as Schutz and Bach
Christiane Brahms
Died February 2, 1865.
Robert Schumann
Died July 29, 1856
Influence on Modern Performance Practice
Language Considerations
by Carrie Nicholas
Question: Should Johannes Brahms's
German Requiem
be sung in English?
In response to his personal experience with death and grief, Brahms composed his
within a humanist context focusing on consolation for the living rather than a dogmatic service for the dead.
Brahms demonstrates German nationalistic style through language, text, and musical influences.
Raised in a traditional, North German Lutheran household
Showed interest in German religious texts, particularly Luther's Bible
Personal beliefs influenced by secular culture rather than Christian dogma
Interest in biblical text further inspired by Schumann
The theme of the second movement was taken from a previously composed work written after Schumann's attempted suicide.
Musical connections to Schumann's
: both feature a soprano solo in G major as the 5th movement and the final movements both end in a contemplative diminuendo.
Brahms once said to a friend that he "ought to know how deeply and intimately a work like the Requiem belongs to Schumann."
features Brahms's use of cryptology as learned from Schumann
Brahms noted in the 5th movement: "as a mother comforts her child."
includes cryptology of Christiane's name through a theme using the pitches C, H, A, and E seen in 1st, 5th, 6th, and 7th movements. This theme is prominently featured as the fugal subject in the 6th movement.
Humanism in the
German Requiem
non-liturgical text
no mention of "Christ" or "Jesus"
focus on comfort for the living
choice of text is a reflection of Brahms's personal struggle with grief and his own need for comfort
Placing importance on the people and indigenous folk culture of a country rather than it's nobility, monarchy, or clergy.
Common use of the German chorale
"Wer nur den lieben Gott lasst walten" by Bach, Schumann, and Brahms
Used the chorale as the basis of Cantata 93
Used the chorale again in Cantata 27 in 3/4 meter with a march-like feel.
Used the chorale in the 8th movement of
, Op. 24
Used the chorale as the theme of the 2nd movement of the German Requiem in 3/4 meter and with a march-like feel similar to Bach's setting
The use of a familiar chorale melody in the
demonstrates a German nationalistic style.
Considering the humanist and nationalist inspirations of the German Requiem, it is indeed appropriate to sing the piece in the language of the audience. This will make the piece more personal for the listener and will demonstrate the importance of comforting the people rather than the religious connotations of honoring the dead.
When translating the German Requiem into English, special care must be taken so that
musical integrity be upheld through accurate rhythmic values and phrasing wherever possible.
textual integrity be upheld through an accurate translation that is respectful to Brahms's intention of creating a German Requiem that is without dogmatic practice and focuses on the comfort of the living.
Suggested English Edition:
Edited and translated by Lara Hoggard
Hinshaw Music, 1997
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