For the Fallen: Ein Deutches Requiem. By Joannes Brahms. Text from the Lutheran Bible. The ANU Choral Society (SCUNA). Conductor: Leonard Weiss. Overture Hall of the Orana Steiner School, November 11, 4pm. scuna.aicsa.org.au/events.html.
One of the more distinctive commemorations of the Armistice in 1918 is taking place on Remembrance Day itself.
On November 11, the ANU Choral Society (SCUNA) accompanied by an orchestra, conducted by Leonard Weiss, will perform Johannes Brahms' Ein Deutsches Requiem (A German Requiem). Sung in the original German, it features local soloists Rachael Duncan (soprano) Colin Milner (baritone) and Dr Anthony Smith, who will be playing the harp part on the piano.
The performance is intended to lament the reality of war and commemorate all those who have lost their lives in times of war, both combatants and civilians. More specifically it marks the centenary of the Armistice ending the First World War.
Weiss says, "On this day we remember the 62,000 Australians who died [in World War I] and so many more from other countries."
The traditional requiem mass dwells heavily on the dead and supplication, but Brahms' focus in Ein Deutsches Requiem is different. Weiss says, "Brahms intended it really as being for those still alive" and quotes a passage that in English says, "Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted."
Because it is the living who mourn the dead, Weiss says the Brahms work is a perfect piece to perform on November 11. Its emphasis is not much on the dead, but on those who are left behind who must find try to find joy after losing loved ones.
Brahms also intended it, Weiss says, as a distinctly German requiem so instead of setting the standard Latin liturgical text of the requiem mass he used passages from the Old and New Testaments taken from the Lutheran Bible, which was in German: the work's subtitle is nach Worten der heiligen Schrift (to Words of the Holy Scriptures).
He wrote the requiem between 1865 and 1868, possibly inspired both by the death of his mother in 1865 and that of fellow composer Robert Schumann in 1856. The first version of the requiem was completed in 1866; the final movement (the fifth in the completed version) was added in 1868.
Weiss says, "Brahms originally intended to call it A Human Requiem but he was talking to Clara Schumann, the late Robert Schumann's wife. Clara had found a letter from her late husband where he said he intended to write a 'German requiem' for the people and the time and Brahms was inspired by that, so he changed the name.
"It was apt because he was using the German text [of the Lutheran Bible] - it's different from the Latin text."
Weiss says, "The requiem is a really heartfelt and peaceful piece", a contrast to the "fire and brimstone" traditional requiem mass settings such as those of Mozart and Verdi.
"It's a piece of comfort rather than anger and despair."
There are seven movements. Weiss says movements one and seven are calmer and two and six are more dynamic. While the choir sings throughout, the soprano soloist is featured in movement five and the baritone in the third and sixth movements.
Except for his first piano concerto, Brahms' earlier works were much smaller in scale - chamber music, piano pieces, songs - but the requiem was bigger than anything he had written, featuring orchestra, chorus and soloists.
"It's the largest piece Brahms ever wrote - it runs about 70 minutes," Weiss says.
"It was written eight years before his first symphony."
The ANU Choral Society is one of Canberra’s oldest non-auditioned choirs, based for over 50 years at the Australian National University. Anyone interested in joining SCUNA for 2019 can email firstname.lastname@example.org.