Thursday, March 15, 2012

Beloved Brahms

On Sunday The Mennonite Festival Chorus 2011/12 rehearsed Brahms Requiem.  Ah!  Sigh!  To say I love Brahms would be the whole truth and nothing but the truth.  I do not only love his music, I love him.  Furthermore, Brahms loves me.  Brahms fell in love with several women in his life, and unlike the loves of Mozart, Brahms yearned for Altos!!  Yay!!   When does that ever happen?  It is very simple really.  I love Brahms because he first loved me. The fact that our conductor is married to a soprano was evident when during rehearsal  he asked,  "Why does the theme begin with the altos again?"   Oh Dear. 
In the Requiem Brahms presents the alto chorister with some of the most beautifully haunting lines to be found in choral music.  He lets them sing several passages alone!  He gives them a range of notes from the G below middle C to the E flat on top of the treble clef.  He has faith in the alto to navigate this wide range. 
The Brahms Requiem is a work that spoke to people from the very beginning. At it's premier in Bremen, Good Friday April 10th 1868, it was a huge success. It is reported that tears were flowing during the 4th movement and the audience left the cathedral with feelings of "awe and grace." (from Johannes by Swifford)

In fact, the Requiem spoke to people even prior to it's premier.
" In August 1866 Brahms was in Baden-Baden with Clara (that being Schumann) and her children.He finished the requiem except for the 5th movement which was an afterthought following the premiere.
On a memorable September afternoon at Clara’s house he played and sang through the whole piece. Clara noted in her journal “Johannes has played me some magnificent numbers from a German Requiem…I am most moved by the Requiem: it is full of thoughts at once tender and bold. (p.309 Johannes)

I was touched by a reference to the Brahms Requiem in a book by Oliver Sacks called Musicophilia, Tales of Music and the Brain.  In the following passage the writer had lost a good friend (Lenny) to death but had never mourned this.
The performance of Brahms Requiem had a powerful effect on me. I went to Berlin thinking I would write about David Hume the waves of music poured over me- listening with my whole body, it seemed, and not just my ears - I realized I was going to have to write about Lenny instead. I had been carrying Lenny's death in a locked package up till then, a locked frozen package that I couldn't get at but couldn't throw away either..It wasn't just Lenny that was frozen; I had too. But as I sat in the Berlin Philharmonic Hall, and listened to the choral voices singing (Brahms) something warmed and softened in me. I became, for the first time in months, able to feel again.

I feel this power of Brahms at every rehearsal and am usually on the verge of being overwhelmed by it during performance.  Two more rehearsals before we work with Alexander Mickelthwate on it.  I have performed the Requiem many times but this will be my first with Mickelthwate.  I am expecting him to be his usual non-demanding amiable self.  Performance at the Winnipeg Concert Hall, on the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter.