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Brahms Requiem & Schumann Cello Concerto - Solace For Humanity

A beautiful rendition of this classique piece was performed on Sat, 20 Apr 2024 at the Esplanade Concert Hall by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, Singapore Symphony Youth Choir Singapore along with Hans Graf as Music Director, Eudenice Palaruan as Choral Director, Wong Lai Foon as Choirmaster with special performance by Qin Li-Wei on cello, as well as Susanna Andersson on soprano and Bo Skovhus on baritone.



Marvellous performance rating at 8.6/10


Looking back at the origins of this piece....


ROBERT SCHUMANN (1810-1856)

Cello Concerto in A minor, Op. 129 (1850)

I Nicht zu schnell

Langsam

Sehr lebhaft



Robert Schumann himself was the personification of the Romantic artist-hero.

He poured his soul into his music, even in the face of mental illness, career-altering injury and harsh criticism. Given his tumultuous inner life, it was understandable that when Schumann was recommended for the position of municipal music director in Düsseldorf in 1850, he seized the opportunity, recognising the stability and financial security it offered.


Buoyed by the initial wave of confidence and optimism brought about by his new role in Düsseldorf, Schumann composed his Cello Concerto in just two weeks in October 1850. It was perhaps intended for Christian Reimers, the principal cellist of the Düsseldorf Symphony Orchestra, with whom Schumann rehearsed and revised the concerto.

Tragically, Schumann's mental health continued to deteriorate. Six days after the concerto was sent off for publication in February 1854, Schumann attempted suicide by throwing himself into the Rhine. He remained in an asylum until his death in 1856.



Schumann once declared to his wife, the pianist Clara Wieck, "I cannot compose a concerto for virtuosos, but must light on something different." The cello concerto eschews gratuitous displays of dexterity but presents the soloist as the protagonist in the unfolding musical drama, a poet- dreamer wearing his heart on his sleeve. The legendary cellist Pablo Casals, who performed the concerto frequently during his career, described it as "sublime music from beginning to end."


"sublime music from beginning to end"

- Pablo Casals


The concerto is in three movements to be played without a pause, like an uninterrupted reverie. This unified narrative is underscored by how the three woodwind chords which begin the first movement are transformed and echoed in the second movement, and in the chords that herald the start of the last movement.


The soloist takes the spotlight from the very beginning of the concerto with a glorious melody, full of heartache and yet noble in its suffering. The second subject, in the relative key of C major, reaches ever higher into the stratosphere, as if daring to hope again. Drama continues to unfold in the development section before the rather unexpected return of the opening theme in A minor, brushing aside the triumph of C major. A meltingly beautiful transition passage leads directly into the second movement, where a wistful melody is spun out over a gentle pizzicato accompaniment.



A second cellist from within the orchestra joins the soloist in a brief duet, like a fellow kindred spirit offering companionship and solace. The third movement is energetic, brimming with ardour and urgency. There is an unusual accompanied cadenza, where the winds and lower strings affirm and support the soloist, before the music gathers its full force and charges to a blazing conclusion.


Instrumentation

2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets,

2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, strings


World Premiere

9 Jun 1860, Leipzig


First performed by SSO

6 Nov 1986 (Valter Despali, cello)


Recalling the origins...



JOHANNES BRAHMS (1833-1897)

Ein deutsches Requiem Op. 45 (1868)

1 Selig sind, die da Leid tragen (Chorus)

II Denn alles Fleisch es ist wie Gras (Chorus)

III Herr, lehre doch mich (Baritone & Chorus)

IV Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen (Chorus)

V Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit (Soprano & Chorus)

Vi Denn wir haben hie keine bleibende Statt (Baritone & Chorus)

VII Selig sind die Toten, die in dem Herm sterben (Chorus)


While it seems a natural assumption that writers of sacred music should be of a religious bent themselves, a cursory look at modern composers will quickly reveal a different reality: John Rutter, famous for his Magnificat, Requiem, and countless anthems, is an agnostic; Morten Lauridsen, writer of much Latin Catholic music, is a Protestant; Giuseppe Verdi, whose fire-and-brimstone Dies irae from his Requiem is used for action movie trailers, was an agnostic; and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, whose setting of the Our Father is the most commonly sung in Russian Orthodox services, was an avowed atheist despite writing some of his best music for the Imperial Court Chapel Choir.


Perhaps living in a cultural milieu shaped by faith, and in which faith-based works form distinct genres of music, was why Johannes Brahms, decided in 1865 to write a Requiem. The immediate catalyst appears to have been the passing of his mother Johanna Henrika Christiane Nissen in February 1865, an event which affected him greatly.



The Requiem, or Mass for the Dead, is a distinctly Roman Catholic genre - Brahms himself was nominally Protestant, having been raised in the Lutheran faith and confirmed as a teenager - but what Brahms came up with was only very loosely related to either form of Christianity. Instead of using the standard Catholic texts in Latin for the Requiem mass, using his deep knowledge of the Bible in Luther's German translation, he assembled his own collection of beloved texts with no relation to any Christian funeral service.


In correspondence with Carl Martin Reinthaler, director of music at Bremen Cathedral, when the former expressed concern over the lack of any Christian dogma or references in the selected texts, Brahms refused to add any, and said he would have gladly called it "Ein menschenliches Requiem" ("A humanist Requiem"). The name Ein deutsches Requiem ("A German Requiem") first appeared in 1865 correspondence with Clara Schumann, where he wrote that he intended the work to be "eine Art deutsches Requie''' ("a sort of German Requiem"), where the "German" referred to the language of the work.


This first version, with six movements (without the current fifth movement), was premiered at Bremen Cathedral on Good Friday, 10 April 1868, and was a great success. A new fifth movement was inserted in May that year, bringing the total number to seven, and this was premiered in Zürich on 12 September that year.



The first movement Selig sind, die da Leid tragen ("Blessed are they that bear suffering") begins in a serene F major but despite modulating into D-flat major and some dramatic passages, never loses the sense of buoyant hope, ending as peacefully as it began.


Denn alles Fleisch es ist wie Gras ("All flesh is as grass' starts with a solemn funeral march before winds bring respite at So seid nun geduldig ("Be patient, therefore"). This movement incorporates some musical material from 1854, the year of Robert Schumann's mental breakdown and suicide attempt - is Brahms here making a subconscious memorial for his friend and mentor?


A baritone solo starts Herr, lehre doch mich ("Lord, make me to know mine end") and dialogues with the chorus which turns the text into a powerful fugue at Der Gerechten Seelen ("The souls of the righteous"), conjuring up images of the ranks of heaven.

Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen ("How amiable are Your tabernacles") speaks of the joys of heaven and is the shortest movement, frequently performed as a standalone piece. Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit ("And you now therefore have sorrow"), the new movement inserted in May 1868, introduces a soprano solo singing of labour and sorrow, with the chorus responding Ich will euch tröstet ("I will comfort you").



Denn wir haben hie keine bleibende Statt ("For here we have no lasting city") brings us some real drama at Denn es wird die Posaune schallen ("Then the trumpet shall sound"), reminiscent of the thrilling Dies irae settings of other composers, and culminating in a magnificent fugue at Herr, du bist Würdig ("Lord, You are worthy").


The final movement Selig sind die Toten, die in dem Herrn sterben ("Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord") returns us to the serenity of the opening movement. Wind instruments, gentle swelling strings, and soaring lyrical melodies all bring us calmly and comfortingly to a peaceful close.


Instrumentation

2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 hors,

2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, harp, strings


World Premiere (final seven-movement version)

18 Feb 1869, Leipzig


First performed by SSO

13 Jun 1980



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