CONCERT PROGRAM, BRAHMS SCHICKSALSLIED and EIN DEUTSCHES REQUIEM
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 6, 2017, 8:00 PM
Notes on the Program
by Marie Gangemi
Johannes Brahms: born: Hamburg, May 7, 1833; died: Vienna, April 3, 1897)
The son of an itinerant musician who settled in Hamburg, Johannes Brahms first studied music with his father and by seven had begun formal training. To supplement the family’s meager income, he started performing in his teens; at fourteen, a performance included one of his own piano compositions. As an adult Brahms claimed that he played in the city’s brothels, but this may have been an exaggeration on his part. In 1853, he went on tour with the Hungarian violinist Eduard Reményi who introduced him to fellow violinist Joseph Joachim (who became a lifelong friend). Through Joachim, Brahms was introduced to Liszt and to Schumann who was particularly impressed by Brahms and praised the young man in an article called “New Paths.” Schumann was institutionalized less than a year later and died in 1856, but by this time Brahms had begun his famous association with Clara Schumann.
Within a few years Brahms’s reputation as a composer and pianist had grown, although there was a far from universal acceptance. Brahms wrote to Joachim of one premiere: “At the conclusion three pairs of hands were brought together very slowly, whereupon a perfectly distinct hissings from all sides forbade any such demonstration.” Hisses also greeted the 1866 premiere of the first three movements of his Requiem.
Unlike the traditional Requiem, a prayer for the dead, Ein deutsches Requiem speaks to the mourners, comforting them and reminding them that the inevitability of death makes it a part of life. At least two movements can be linked to Brahms’s personal losses. The second movement is based on sketches he had worked on during the final illness of his mentor, Robert Schumann. The extraordinarily tender fifth movement, the last to be added after a series of “premieres,” was most likely inspired by the death of his mother. Bypassing the traditional prayers for the dead, Brahms selected his text from the German Lutheran Bible and the Apocrypha. In so doing, he expressed his own feelings toward death, which were not governed by a formal sense of religion. Ein deutsches Requiem focuses on the needs of the living—Brahms had considered calling it a “human” requiem—on the brevity of life and the expectation of “evige Freude,” eternal joy. Through his music, Brahms wove the Biblical passages together in a tapestry of grief and hope that is simultaneously personal and universal in its scope.
In its final form, Ein deutsches Requiem premiered in Cologne on February 16, 1869. Eight years later, the Oratorio Society of New York presented the first U.S. performance in Steinway Hall on March 15, 1877. It is a tribute to the creative genius to the Society’s founder, Leopold Damrosch, that the Society undertook this premiere—its first—during its fourth season. Damrosch was an inner-circle advocate of New German Music—Liszt and Wagner both served as godfathers to Damrosch children—and considered it his mission to introduce this music in the United States. Brahms, on the other hand, was so unmoved by Liszt’s music that when they first met, he fell asleep while Liszt played his recently composed Sonata in B minor. Nevertheless, Damrosch gambled on this controversial new work, hedging his bet by pairing it with a Bach cantata and an excerpt from Gluck’s Orpheo. The controversies ranged from its lack of an obvious Christian message to its presumption, in a newly unified Germany, of German nationalism without homage to New German Music. The New York Times review stated, “it is exceedingly scholarly, but its length and monotonousness are such that it is scarcely likely to impress any but students." But Damrosch was right and Brahms’s critics were wrong and few remember or care what the fuss was all about.
In the summer of 1868, Brahms traveled to Wilhelmshaven to visit his friend Albert Dietrich, who earlier that year had arranged for the Requiem in its nearly final form to be performed in Bremen. Dietrich relates that early one morning Brahms (an early riser) found a copy of Friedrich Hölderlin’s (1770–1843) novel Hyperion in Dietrich’s library. He was especially intrigued by “Hyperions Schicksalslied,” a poem within the novel. Later in the day, Brahms began a sketch of his Schicksalslied (Song of Destiny). The poem contrasts the peace-filled joy of the spirits with the trials of earth-bound mortals. Brahms struggled with the ending for nearly three years, wanting neither to end with the bleak reality of the second movement nor a return to the idyllic existence portrayed in the first. Finally, at the suggestion of the conductor Hermann Levi, Brahms wrote an orchestral postlude that offers glimmers of tranquility reminiscent of the first movement. Schicksalslied premiered on October 18, 1871 in Karlsruhe, with Levi conducting. Nineteenth-century German musicologist Josef Sittard wrote, "Had Brahms never written anything but this one work, it would alone have sufficed to rank him with the best masters."
Musically and philosophically, Schicksalslied is linked to Ein deutsches Requiem. While Schicksalslied contrasts the idyllic joy among the spirits with the anguished suffering of humans, the Requiem offers the hope of achieving that joy—“evige Freude.” Paired together tonight, they present a grandeur of emotion such as only Brahms could create.
The Oratorio Society of New York welcomes the students from the High School for Arts and Business and William Cullen Bryant High School who are attending tonight’s performance through the Society’s Education Program.
Johannes Brahms: Schicksalslied
Ihr wandelt droben im Licht
auf weichem Boden, selige Genien.
rühren euch leicht,
wie die Finger der Künstlerin
You wander above in the light
on soft ground, blessed spirits.
Shining, divine breezes
brush by you as lightly,as the fingers of a performer
on her holy strings.
Schicksallos, wie der schlafende
Säugling, atmen die Himmlischen.
Keusch bewahrt in bescheidener Knospe,
blühet ewig ihnen der Geist,
und die seligen Augen
blicken in stiller ewiger Klarheit.
Unencumbered by fate, like sleeping
infants, the divine beings breathe.
Chastely preserved in a simple bud,
their spirit blooms forever,
and their blessed eyes
gaze in silent, eternal clarity.
Doch uns ist gegeben,
auf keiner Stätte zu ruhn.
Es schwinden, es fallen
die leidenden Menschen blindlings,
von einer Stunde zur andern,
wie Wasser von Klippe zu Klippe geworfen
jahrlang ins Ungewisse hinab.
But there is granted to us
no place to rest.
We suffering humans
waste away and fall blindly
from one hour to the next,
like water thrown from cliff to cliff
all through the year, into the uncharted depths.
Johannes Brahms: Ein deutsches Requiem
Selig sind, die da Leid tragen (chorus)
Selig sind, die da Leid tragen, denn sie sollen
Die mit Tränen säen, werden mit Freuden ernten.
Sie gehen hin und weinen und tragen edlen Samen,
und kommen mit Freuden und bringen ihre Garben.
Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4)
Who sows with tears will reap with joy. Who goes forth weeping, but bearing precious seed, comes rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves. (Psalms 126:5-6)
Denn alles Fleisch es ist wie Gras (chorus)
Denn alles Fleisch ist wie Gras und alle Herrlichkeit
des Menschen wie des Grases Blumen. Das Gras ist
verdorret und die Blume abgefallen.
So seid nun geduldig, lieben Brüder, bis auf die
Zukunft des Herrn. Siehe, ein Ackermann wartet
auf die köstliche Frucht der Erde und ist geduldig
darüber, bis er empfahe den Morgenregen und
Aber des Herrn Wort bleibet in Ewigkeit.
Die Erlöseten des Herrn werden wieder kommen,
und gen Zion kommen mit Jauchzen; ewige Freude
wird über ihrem Haupte sein; Freude und Wonne
werden sie ergreifen und Schmerz und Seufzen
wird weg müssen.
For all flesh is as the grass, and human glory as the
grass's flower. Grass withers, and flowers fall away.
(1 Peter 1:24 from Isaiah 40:6–7)
Be patient, beloved brethern, until the coming of the
Lord. Behold, the farmer tends the delicious fruits
of the earth, patiently awaiting the morning and evening rains. (James 5:7)
But the word of the Lord endures forever. (1 Peter 1:25)
Those whom the Lord delivers will return and will
enter Zion shouting with joy. Eternal joy will be
upon them. They will know joy and delight. Pain
and sighing will disappear. (Isaiah 35:10)
Herr, lehre doch mich (baritone & chorus)
Herr, lehre doch mich, daß ein Ende mit mir haben
muß, und mein Leben ein Ziel hat, und ich davon
muß. Siehe, meine Tage sind einer Hand breit vor
dir, und mein Leben ist wie nichts vor dir.
Ach, wie gar nichts sind alle Menschen, die doch so
sicher leben. Sie gehen daher wie ein Schemen, und
machen ihnen viel vergebliche Unruhe; sie
sammeln und wissen nicht wer es kriegen wird.
Nun Herr, wess soll ich mich trösten? Ich hoffe auf dich.
Der Gerechten Seelen sind in Gottes Hand und keine Qual rühret sie an.
Lord, make me to know my end and the measure of
my days, that my life may have a purpose. Behold,
you have made my days a handsbreadth, and my
lifetime is nothing before you.
A phantom only, we go our ways. Our restless
pursuits are like a vapor. We heap up stores and
know not who will use them. And now, Lord, for
what do I await? My hope is in you.
The just reside in the hand of God, and no torment will reach them. (Wisdom 3:1)
Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen (chorus)
Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen, Herr Zebaoth!
Meine Seele verlanget und sehnet sich nach den
Vorhöfen des Herrn; mein Leib und Seele freuen
sich in dem lebendigen Gott. Wohl denen, die in
deinem Hause wohnen, die loben dich immerdar.
How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of
Hosts. My soul longs and yearns for the courtyard
of the Lord. My body and soul rejoice in the living
God. Happy are they who dwell in your house.
They praise you without end. (Psalms 84:1–2, 4)
Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit (soprano & chorus)
Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit; aber ich will euch wieder
sehen und euer Herz soll sich freuen und eure
Freude soll niemand von euch nehmen.
Ich will euch trösten, wie Einen seine Mutter
Sehet mich an: Ich habe eine kleine Zeit Mühe und
Arbeit gehabt und habe großen Trost funden.
You are sorrowful now, but I will see you again,
and your heart will rejoice, and no one will take
your joy from you. (John 16:22)
I will comfort you the way your mother comforted you. (Isaiah 66:13)
See for yourselves. I have spent a little time in
trouble and labor and have found much comfort.
Denn wir haben hie keine bleibende Statt (baritone & chorus)
Denn wir haben hie keine bleibende Statt, sondern
die zukünftige suchen wir.
Siehe, ich sage euch ein Geheimnis: Wir werden
nicht alle entschlafen, wir werden aber alle
verwandelt werden; und dasselbige plötzlich, in
einem Augenblick, zu der Zeit der letzten Posaune.
Denn es wird die Posaune schallen, und die Toten
verwandelt werden. Dann wird erfüllet werden das
Wort, das geschrieben steht: Der Tod ist
verschlungen in den Sieg. Tod, wo ist dein Stachel?
Hölle, wo ist dein Sieg?
Herr, du bist Würdig zu nehmen Preis und Ehre und
Kraft, denn du hast alle Dinge geschaffen, und
durch deinen Willen haben, sie das Wesen und sind
Here we have no permanent homeland, but we
search for the one that is to come. (Hebrews 13:14)
Behold, I will tell you a mystery. We will not all
sleep, but we will all be changed. In a moment, in
the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the
trumpet will sound and the dead will be raised
incorruptible, and we will be changed. Then will be
fulfilled the prophecy that is written: Death is
swallowed up in victory. Death, where is your sting?
Hell, where is your victory? (1 Corinthians 15:51–52, 54–55)
Lord, you are worthy to receive riches and honor
and power, for you have created all things, and by
your will, they exist and were created. (Revelation 4:11)
Selig sind die Toten (chorus)
Selig sind die Toten, die in dem Herrn sterben, von
nun an. Ja, der Geist spricht, daß sie ruhen von ihrer
Arbeit; denn ihre Werke folgen ihnen nach.
Blessed are the dead who henceforth die in the
Lord. Yes, says the Spirit, they may rest from their
labors and their deeds will follow after them. (Revelation 14:13)