On my next program (Tuesday, 6:00 a.m.) I plan to play Brahms’ German Requiem, Opus 45. The common wisdom regarding large compositions, on a serious radio station, is that one plays the piece through in its entirety. But I plan to do what I often do for song sequences, or even Mahler’s das Lied von der Erde: play one section at a a time, preceded by reciting the text in translation.
Most songs can be listened to as abstract music. But much is added when the meaning is understood, and the composer’s intentions are more minutely taken into account. It is generally hard to understand singers’ words, even when knows the language.
Brahms re-purposed the Requiem, selecting German texts (from the Lutheran translation) to replace traditional requiem texts. He reworked the piece after its first performances. The piece proved controversial because of Brahms’ style, because of its name – German Requiem – because of its texts, because of the way it was initially performed, because of its degree of religiousness, and because of the way critics attacked it. Perhaps all the controversy worked for Brahms. The piece remained popular and got many performances.
Once, two friends were discussing Brahms. Friend One said, “Brahms wasn’t particularly religious. It’s not fair that he should have composed the best piece of religious music ever.” Friend Two replied, “Why shouldn’t God be able to choose whatever person he desired to compose such music?”