Exploring the Ambiguous Religiosity of Brahms' German Requiem
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From its earliest performances in the late 1860s, doubts have been expressed about the extent of the religiosity in Brahms' German Requiem. On the surface, such persistent questioning might seem unusual, particularly in our modern, more secular age. After all, Brahms specifically... designated his opus 45 work A German Requiem, To Words of the Holy Scriptures, and the roots of the term 'requiem' run deep in the Catholic tradition, as a mass for the dead. In addition, the texts selected by Brahms for the various movements of the German Requiem were all sourced exclusively from the Bible (ironically, unlike those used for the Catholic requiem), and it was first performed in a Cathedral, on Good Friday. On these bases, its specifically Christian orientation seems beyond dispute, at least from a lay perspective.
The main basis for questioning to what extent the German Requiem is primarily a Christian work as opposed to what has loosely been described as a 'humanist' one with merely a Christian veneer revolves around the specific texts that Brahms chose for the work, and equally, those he rejected. This ambiguity surrounding the extent of the requiem's Christian nature is further compounded by more recent suggestions that the religiosity of the work (to whatever extent it exists) is less important or even incidental to the requiem's musical significance, and furthermore, that its text is better interpreted as a general consolation for the grieving rather than anything explicitly Christian.
This work explores the text of the German Requiem from several angles and reveals that Brahms' selection of verses was closely in keeping with a specific German Protestant tradition of religious music extending back to Bach and even to Luther. The debate about the German Requiem's religiosity, that has lasted almost one and a half centuries, is now a step closer to being resolved through the findings contained in this monograph.
||1 Feb 2015
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