Brahms’ Masterpiece

Brahms’ Masterpiece

As a result of all the listening, reading and studying, I have come to admire and respect Johannes Brahms. And this great respect includes not only Brahms, the composer, but also Brahms, the human being. I have come to understand at least some of his values as a person, and some of the things on which he did not compromise.

Johannes Brahms was born in Hamburg on 7th May 1833 and died in Vienna on 3rd April 1897. He studied composition with E. Marxsen and went on tour for the first time with the Hungarian violinist E. Reményi. On this tour he met the violinist Joseph Joachim and he introduced Brahms to Robert and Clara Schumann. Clara Schumann became Brahms’ companion for life after the death of Robert Schumann in 1856.

Wikepedia tells us that “Brahms’s first known use of the title A German Requiem was in an 1865 letter to Clara Schumann in which he wrote that he intended for the piece to be “a sort of German Requiem”. Brahms’s mother died in February 1865, a loss that caused him much grief and may well have inspired Ein deutsches Requiem. Brahms’ lingering feelings over Robert Schumann’s death in July 1856 may also have been a motivation, though his reticence about such matters makes this uncertain.”

Johannes Brahms wrote the libretto to A German Requiem himself. In contrast to the traditional Roman Catholic requiem mass, which employs a standardized text in Latin, A German Requiem derives its text from the German Martin Luther Bible. The Viennese critics at the time chastised Brahms for the fact that the text did not include the name of “Jesus Christ”; Brahms responded that the words and the music are in memory of his mother, and he can choose any text that he wishes. (YES!)

This recording is by Maestro James Levine with Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus. For me, this music has always been a wonderful way to have a soothing experience. The pace of the music is not too slow and not too fast, just right. The choir and the orchestra are mutually supportive, with exceptional dynamic range, and fine lyrical sound.

The first section of the Requiem is called “Blessed are they that mourn”. In German it is:

“Selig sind, die da Leid tragen” – Just listen to the Vienna Philharmonic perform this masterpiece, under the direction of Herbert von Karajan:


And here is Claudio Abbado leading the Berlin Philharmonic in the 4th movement:



Finally, here is James Levine, talking about his recording of the Requiem, and some other music:



Tags: Johannes Brahms, James Levine, A German Requiem

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