Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Johannes Brahms - German Requiem

One of my absolute favorite pieces of classical music is the German Requiem by Johannes Brahms. It is a unique piece, in that, unlike the traditional Requiems which were based on the Catholic Requiem Mass, it is not itself a mass setting, but a setting of certain texts from the scriptures which deal with the subject of death. So this is not a piece of liturgical music.

Interestingly, Brahms himself was not a religious man, but an agnostic; I've heard that he deliberately left out any texts with the name of Jesus from this piece of music. Nevertheless, I still find it to be very profound; despite Brahms' own religious doubts and disbelief, I think he managed to wonderfully portray the majesty of God in this music.

I've given the English translations of the Biblical texts which he used, and the Youtube recordings, from Otto Klemperer, of all seven movements. Do listen. 

(And for the record, my favorite movement of these is the second movement. Gives me chills every time.)

First Movement: “Selig sind, die da Leid tragen”

Blessed are they that mourn:
for they shall be comforted. --Matthew 5:4

They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. He that goeth forth and weepeth,bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him. --Psalm 126:5, 6


Second Movement: “Denn alles Fleisch es ist wie Gras”

For all flesh is as grass,
and all the glory of man
as the flower of grass.
The grass withereth,
and the flower falleth away.--1 Peter 1:24

Be patient, therefore, brethren,
unto the coming of the Lord.
Behold, the husbandman waiteth
for the precious fruit of the earth,
and hath long patience for it, until he receive
the early and latter rain. --James 5:7

But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. --1 Peter 1:25

And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
and come to Zion with songs
and everlasting joy upon their heads:
they shall obtain joy and gladness,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. --Isaiah 35:10


Third movement:  “Herr, lehre doch mich”

Lord, make me to know mine end,
and the measure of my days,
what it is:
that I may know how frail I am.
Behold, thou hast made my days
as a handbreadth;
and my age
is as nothing before thee:
verily every man at his best state
is altogether vanity.
Surely every man walketh in a vain shew:
surely they are disquieted in vain:
he heapeth up riches,
and knoweth not who shall gather them.
And now, Lord, what wait I for?
My hope is in thee. --Psalm 39:4-7

But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God,
and there shall no torment touch them. --Wisdom of Solomon 3:1


Fourth movement: “Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen”

How amiable are they tabernacles,
O Lord of hosts!
My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth
for the courts of the Lord:
my heart and my flesh crieth out
for the living God.
Blessed are they that dwell in thy house:
they will be still praising thee. --Psalm 84:1, 2, 4


Fifth movement: “Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit”

And ye now therefore have sorrow:
but I will see you again,
and your heart shall rejoice,
and your joy no man taketh from you. --John 16:22

Ye see how
for a little while
I labor and toil,
yet have I found much rest. --Ecclesiasticus 51:27

As one whom his mother comforteth,
so will I comfort you… --Isaiah 66:13


Sixth movement: “Denn wir haben hie keine bleibende Statt”

For here have we no continuing city,
but we seek one to come. --Hebrews 13:14

Behold, I shew you a mystery;
We shall not all sleep,
but we shall all be changed,
in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye,
at the last trump:
for the trumpet shall sound,
and the dead shall be raised incorruptible,
and we shall be changed.
Then shall be brought to pass
the saying that is written:
Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is thy sting?
O grave, where is thy victory? --1 Corinthians 15:51, 52, 54, 55

Thou art worthy, O Lord,
to receive glory and honour and power:
for thou hast created all things,
and for thy peasure they are
and were created. --Revelation 4:11


Seventh movement: “Selig sind die Toten”

Blessed are the dead
which die in the Lord from henceforth:
Yea, saith the Spirit,
that they may rest from their labors;
and their works do follow them. --Revelation 14:13

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