Written by soprano Sue Smythe

Using texts from the Luther Bible, Johannes Brahms began the writing of this magnificent piece in February of 1866, with movements 1, 2, 3, 4, and 6 completed by August of the same year. The idea for Brahms’ Requiem mass was inspired by the death of the composer’s mother in 1865 and because of this, the excerpts he chose from the Luther Bible refer to a motherly comfort which consoles those whom the dead have left behind. It has been noted that Brahms was also greatly affected by the death of his friend and benefactor, Robert Schumann. The Requiem is intended for all humanity; its innate themes of melancholy and consolation are applicable to any number of occasions.

Johannes BrahmsJohannes Brahms

The first concert in Vienna in 1867 was well attended, performed with only the first three movements, but to mixed reviews. One of the complaints seemed to be that the percussionist just didn’t understand the score, playing quite loudly in the third movement when it should have been much more subtle. (I can assure you that we have that totally under control for our performance!) However, the Requiem has continued to be a popular concert performance and it established Brahms as a widely recognized force in Vienna musical life. After the first two performances in Vienna and Bremen, further revisions and the addition of the fifth movement were incorporated.

On Good Friday, April 10, 1868, Brahms himself conducted the Requiem’s premiere as a complete work in Bremen. The turnout was an astounding 2500 listeners! While we may have a little trouble fitting in 2500, a full house should certainly enjoy this wonderful work. You will find, as did those patrons in 1868, the extraordinarily complex nature of the composition is quite modern-sounding and rhythmic. In fact, critical and public acclaim of this performance was so positive that a second performance had to be immediately scheduled in Bremen, only two weeks later on April 28.

As its popularity grew, criticisms followed the Requiem as well as accolades but by 1900 the work had been accepted not only into the concert-hall repertoire, but was receiving increased favourable critical and analytical attention, both within Germany and abroad. The Requiem was considerably better received in England and the United States than in Catholic countries and was performed abundantly from 1871 onward. It was immediately recognized as difficult, but esteemed at the same time as a work of a great composer. In the U.S. shortly after 1930, its performances, and those of Brahms’ other works also, skyrocketed. The Requiem is well-received by a more appreciative younger generation, who recognizes the innovative and even “progressive” qualities in Brahms’ compositional style. Nearly every major symphony orchestra has performed it more than once and in Germany, places such as Hamburg and Bremen often do several performances each year.

Our performance of Brahms’ German Requiem is unique in that it will be performed with Piano Accompaniment. This is a not a reduction of the orchestral score, but rather an alternate arrangement by Brahms himself, originally for four hands on one piano, performed at a concert in 1866. We are also presenting the work with English text, rather than the original German. This “London Version” with piano duet accompaniment was created for the premier of the work in London, England in 1871. The choir is very excited to be working with (our) London’s own Tina Yanchus and James Hibbard as they recreate this exceptional rendition.

We invite you to come and experience the depth and beauty of this masterpiece. Our wish is that you will leave feeling comforted, full of hope and full of joy for having been part of the evening’s performance, just as many others have done before.

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