It’s a special collaboration this spring that will bring together these two accomplished Valley choirs in three performances with full orchestra: one in Santa Clarita on March 25 and two in Glendale the following week leading up to Easter. It’s called the German Requiem and it is the composer’s best-known composition for choir. The March 25 performance is at 3:30 p.m. at the College of the Canyons’ Performing Arts Center.
The Catholic mass begins with prayers for the dead; Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) starts his requiem with prayers for the living: “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted,” from Jesus’ startling Sermon on the Mount. It was this work that was performed at the National (Episcopal) Cathedral in Washington this year on the tenth anniversary of 9/11.
The music is, by turns, tender and contemplative and then surging and dramatic. Brahms started work on the Requiem in 1858 but it was spurred to completion by his own deep grief at his mother’s death in 1865 and perhaps even the passing of his longtime friend, composer and mentor Robert Schumann, back in 1856.
Just as our season soon will turn to new life, Brahms’ most famous choral work focuses not on the dead but on the living: those of us left to grieve our losses, to make what sense we can out of death and to re-kindle our own faith when sorrow overwhelms our lives. Brahms wasn’t known as a religious man per se, but he was given a children’s Bible at birth and he read it all his life.
The composer took his texts not from the Catholic liturgy but from the texts of the German Luther Bible that were so familiar to him. German may be foreign to us but it was Brahms’ native tongue and this was another departure from the Latin of the Catholic liturgy. He put these words of deep comfort into a language his audiences could understand, hence its title, Ein Deutches Requiem. In that spirit, the two Valley chorales will be presenting the work in English.
Music writer Michael Steinberg characterizes this work as a spiritual journey from anxiety to comfort. As we all journey from winter to spring, we invite you to join us to celebrate the moving music and the great hope this masterpiece offers to our human hearts. One reviewer from Brahms’ time wrote “the shadow of death and the seriousness of loss have scarcely been presented in music with such power.”
The Chorale’s performance home is the Santa Clarita Performing Arts Center at College of the Canyons, 26455 Rockwell Canyon Road in Santa Clarita. For more information or tickets for the March 25 performance, go to the Chorale’s website, www.scmasterchorale.org, or call 661-362-5304.
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