A German Requiem

by Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)

Featuring the Las Vegas Master Singers

Dr. Jocelyn Kaye Jensen, Director
Hailey Clark, Soprano
Tod Fitzpatrick, Baritone

Movements

I. Selig sind, die da Leid tragen
II. Denn alles Fleisch es ist wie Gras
III. Herr, lehre doch mich

IV. Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen
V. Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit
VI. Denn wir haben hie
VII. Selig sind die Toten

About the Composer

Johannes Brahms was born May 7, 1833 in Hamburg, Germany; died April 3, 1897 in Vienna, Austria. Brahms enjoyed a life full of friends, but none more important to him than composer Robert Schumann and his wife Clara, a concert pianist. The Schumanns acted as his mentors and champions, and so the death of Robert Schumann in 1856 was a blow for 23-year-old Brahms.

Schumann’s death may have been the catalyst for Brahms’ various funeral music sketches over the next ten years, but it was soon after the death of his mother in 1865 that Brahms began work on his Requiem. Brahms was close to his working-class mother, especially after the separation of his parents, and her death was difficult for him. He began serious work on the Requiem in April 1866, completed six sections by August and finished the work in 1868.

About this Piece

The title A German Requiem does little to describe this composition. “German” refers to the language used, not the intent. Although Brahms drew from scriptural texts from the Martin Luther Bible, he considered this to be a work for all people.

More importantly, this is not a “requiem” in the traditional sense. It does not use the text of the Latin mass for the dead (like Mozart and Verdi), nor does it mention Christ or salvation. Instead of praying for the souls of the dead, the text speaks of comfort and consolation for the living.

This difference is immediately clear in the opening music. A traditional Requiem begins, “Grant them eternal rest, Lord, and let perpetual light shine on them,” yet Brahms opens with a text from Matthew (5:4), “Blessed are they that suffer, for they shall be comforted.” A sense of Brahms’ mother is apparent; a text used in the fifth section is, “I shall comfort you, as one whom his mother comforts.”

The music is restrained and profoundly inward looking. It contains none of the drama associated with the traditional Requiem’s Dies Irae (Day of Judgment) and seems almost intentionally distanced from institutional religion. Yet, this composition was quickly embraced by the public (2,500 people attended its first advertised performance), almost on the level of Handel’s Messiah.

So, is this composition an expression of quiet religious faith? Or, rather, is it a testament to life and one of life’s most fundamental struggles: how to cope with death? Listen and reach your own conclusion.

About the Translation

Brahms used Martin Luther’s 1522 translation of the Bible for his text. Often, the King James Version is presented as the matching English text. Because Brahms was purposeful in his choice, simply using the King James Version as the translation ignores the nuances inherent in the Luther Bible. Hence here is a mostly direct translation of the text you will hear sung at this concert.

I. Blessed are they that suffer, for they shall be comforted.

I. Blessed are they that suffer, for they shall be comforted.

They that sow in tears, shall reap in joy.

They go forth and weep and bear precious seed; and come with joy and bring their sheaves.

II. For all flesh is as grass and all the glory of men as the flower of grass. The grass withers and the flower decays.

So be patient now, dear brothers, until the coming of the Lord. Behold, a reaper waits for the precious fruit of the earth and is patient for it, until he receives the morning rain and the evening rain.

But the Lord’s word endures forever.

The redeemed of the Lord will return, and come to Zion with rejoicing; everlasting joy will be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

III. Lord, teach me that I must surely have an end, and my life has a goal, and I must know of it. Behold, my days are a handbreadth before you, and my life is as nothing before you.

Ah, all men are as nothing who surely are alive. They go therefore like a shadow, and behave in futile disquiet; they collect wealth and do not know who will receive it.

Now Lord, in what shall I take comfort? I hope in you.

The souls of the righteous are in God’s hand and no torment shall touch them.

IV. How lovely are thy dwelling places, Lord of Hosts!

My soul demands and longs for the courts of the Lord; my body and soul rejoice in the living God.

How blessed, those who live in your house, who praise you forever.

V. You now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice and no one will take your joy from you. Behold me: I have had for a little time torment and labor, and have great consolation.

I shall comfort you, as one whom his mother comforts.

VI. For we have here no abiding place, but we seek one to come.

We shall not all pass away, but we shall all be transformed; at the time of the last trumpet. For the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be transformed.

Death is swallowed up in victory. Death, where is your sting? Grave, where is your victory?

Lord, you are worthy to take glory and honor and power, for you have created all things, and through your will they have their being and were created.

VII. Blessed are the dead, who die in the Lord, from henceforth.

Yea, speaks the Spirit, that they rest from their labors and their works follow after them.

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