Ein deutsches Requiem - Johannes Brahms

When we think of requiem masses, even as Episcopalians, our minds naturally focus on the Book of Common Prayer and its rites for the Burial Office…rites which are born directly out of the Western, Roman Catholic liturgical tradition. This rite is centered on a liturgical celebration of the life of the departed, prayers for the departed, and finally the committal of the departed to the eternal care of God. Its shape is that of a Eucharistic liturgy. Brahms, on the other hand, had something completely different in mind.

First, Brahms chose the libretto for his “German Requiem” himself…and it is all from scripture. But rather than a mass for the dead, Brahms’ requiem is a work about those who remain, those who mourn, those who grieve. This requiem has no correlation to the rites of the Western Church at all --- but this requiem does have a powerful connection at a very human level – grief and loss.

Hailed as one of the great works of the Romantic period, Ein deutsches Requiem, is Brahms’ most significant work – both in terms of its length (65-80 minutes) and compositional style (its architecture draws on the great classical traditions in every way). Yet, it is uniquely Brahms…the harmonic language cannot be mistaken. The work begins and ends quoting the New Testament Beatitudes, “…blessed are the dead,” “…blessed are those who mourn.” Between these two outer movements, we ponder the mysteries of life itself, here one day, and as the dead grass and wilted flowers the next. We see a vision of the heavenly dwelling place prepared for us in the famous movement, “How lovely are thy dwellings, O Lord of Hosts!” We hear the anguished cry of mourning in the solo soprano voice of a mother who loses a child. And, we hear the sound of the last trumpet on the day of judgement, when, “…in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, we shall all be changed.”

Brahms never once mentions the Christ of God, the Redeemer…his vision is clearly fixed upon eternal visions of the dead and those who mourn as revealed in Scripture (both Old and New Testaments)…and his vehicle for this vision is not Christological…but rather humanist. Brahms’ Requiem has certainly been ridiculed for this lack of Christological focus, but it transcends this criticism with great ease precisely because, as Brahms himself knew, it is simply not necessary to catch the vision that Brahms holds out.

With organ accompaniment provided by Visiting Artist Jonathan Ryan, the Cathedral Choir and Soloists present one of the most powerful works of the Romantic period; Johannes Brahms's Ein Deutsches Requiem. Capturing the essence of human grief, the German Requiem is not so much a mass for the dead, but rather a mass for those who live and grieve.Featuring The Cathedral Choir & Soloists | Jonathan Ryan, organist | Bruce J. Barber II, director | Sunday, March 18 @ 3:00PM | suggested donation $10