Symphony No. 29 in A Major, K. 201/186a
Ein deutsches Requiem, “A German Requiem”
Symphony No. 29 in A Major, K.201
WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART
Born January 27, 1756, Salzburg
Died December 5, 1791. Vienna
In July 1773 Leopold Mozart took his 17-year-old son to Vienna for a ten-week visit that the elder Mozart hoped would gain his son a court position. The visit to Vienna earned no position for the young Mozart, but it did bring him into contact with classical style as it was developing in that city and particularly as it was developing in Haydn’s quartets and symphonies. Mozart returned to Salzburg that fall and soon produced the first three of his symphonies to hold a place in the active repertory: No. 25 in G Minor, No. 28 in C Major, and No. 29 in A Major. All three show features that Mozart had discovered in Vienna. They are in four movements rather than the three of the Italian sinfonia (the extra movement is in all cases a minuet), they employ more fully worked-out sonata forms, and many of their movements conclude with a coda.
Mozart wrote the Symphony No. 29 in April 1774, a few months after his eighteenth birthday. Though it retains the light scoring of some of the earlier symphonies (pairs of oboes and horns, plus strings), the Symphony in A Major shows new maturity of technique and new depth of content. This new mastery is evident from the first instant of the symphony, and in fact the entire opening movement is one of the finest in all of Mozart’s symphonies. There is no opening fanfare or introduction–the work simply begins with a quiet octave drop. The octave drop then recurs three more times within the theme, rising a major second with each repetition. It is an immensely impressive beginning, a theme full of grace and power, fused with rising tension. A second subject, also introduced by the first violins, is just as graceful and much more lyric. Mozart shows the influence of his visit to Vienna in the concise development of these themes and the inclusion of a coda to the movement. The Andante is one of Mozart’s most pleasing slow movements. He mutes the violins and gives them music that combines romantic intensity with rococo grace. In its intimacy, the Andante seems more nearly a movement from a string quartet than from a symphony. The minuet is full of angular themes and dotted rhythms; Mozart makes a wry little joke of the sound of the oboes and horns as they toot out the cadences. The Allegro con spirito lives up to its name. It flies along in 6/8 time and, like the first movement, incorporates the interval of the octave drop in its main theme.
MOZART Symphony No. 29 in A Major, K.201
Allegro con spirito
Ein deutsches Requiem, op.45
Born May 7, 1833, Hamburg
Died April 3, 1897, Vienna
In 1896, a year before his death, Brahms spent an evening with Dvořák, and in the course of a long night of talk, the men discussed religion. As the devout Dvořák walked home, a friend reported that he was silent for a long time, then finally burst out: “Such a man, such a fine soul—and he believes in nothing! He believes in nothing!”
By all accounts, Dvořák was right. Brahms was an agnostic, yet he had a profound knowledge of the Bible: he owned five copies of Luther’s German Bible and read from them daily. If Brahms could not accept Christian dogma, he had enormous respect for its teachings, and it was this man—an agnostic with an essentially religious temperament—who composed A German Requiem. This is very personal music, and it appears to have sprung from very personal sources.
It was the death of his mother in February 1865, when Brahms was 32, that brought him back to this music. Though his parents were divorced, Brahms remained extremely close to both of them throughout their lives. For his mother he felt a particular bond: she had been a source of love and support and had taken great pride in his accomplishments. At the news of her stroke, he had rushed back to Hamburg, but arrived too late to see her. A friend in Vienna reported that he found Brahms sitting at the piano, playing Bach and sobbing as he announced his mother’s death—and he would not stop playing. In the following months Brahms returned to his earlier sketches for a cantata and revised and expanded them.
The first three movements were performed in December 1867 in Vienna, and the occasion turned into a disaster. At the close of the third movement the timpanist either got lost or played much too loudly—accounts vary—and the music was actually hissed. Brahms revised the score, and a six-movement version—for baritone, chorus, and orchestra–was successfully premiered on Good Friday 1868 in the Bremen Cathedral. At this point Brahms’ old piano teacher Eduard Marxsen advised him to add one more movement, one that spoke of a mother’s love. Brahms recognized that Marxsen was right, and he composed the additional movement—the fifth—in which a soprano sings a message of maternal consolation. This is the soprano’s only appearance in the Requiem, and her silvery sound cuts through the generally dark colors of the Requiem with a message emotionally crucial to the grieving composer.
This is one of the great Requiems, but it is not a setting of the Catholic Mass for the dead. Instead, Brahms chose his own texts from Luther’s Bible—sixteen separate passages from the Old and New Testaments and the Apocrypha—and set them in German. Brahms’ choice of texts—and his exclusions—give the German Requiem a very particular character. There is no Dies Irae section of the Catholic Mass here, no day of judgment and the separation of souls into the saved and damned. In fact, there is not one mention of Christ in Brahms’ setting, and he fiercely resisted suggestions that he include such a reference. Instead, his emphasis is on the living as they face the fact of death and loss. The first words of A German Requiem are “Blessed are they who mourn,” and this message of consolation continues throughout: A German Requiem closes with the words “Blessed are the dead,” and the progress is toward an acceptance of life and death and consolation for both those who die and those who mourn.
Brahms chose the title A German Requiem to indicate that it was different—that it was not a Catholic mass and was in German rather than Latin—but he was uncomfortable with that title. He wanted to call it “Requiem for Humankind” but in the end gave up and settled for the title we know today. The premiere of the complete version on February 18, 1869, was a triumph, and performances quickly followed throughout Germany and abroad—more than any other work, it was A German Requiem that established Brahms’ reputation at this early stage of his career.
The two opening movements, both somber in color, introduce central ideas, bringing consolation to the living and reminding them of the transitoriness of human existence. The opening movement is made even more somber by Brahms’ decision to do without violins, clarinets, and trumpets, and he mutes the strings in the second movement, a slow march (despite the 3/4 meter) that rises to a great climax on “Aber des Herrn Wort bleibet in Ewigkeit” (“But the word of the Lord endureth forever”), then falls away to the quiet close. The baritone solo enters in the third movement, troubled and searching for direction within the confusion of existence. The music grows to a climax that breaks into a double fugue in D major on the words “Der Gerechten Seelen sind in Gottes Hand” (“The souls of the righteous are in the hands of the Lord”) and drives to a triumphant conclusion (this is the part that was ruined by the timpanist in the December 1867 performance).
After this thunder comes a peaceful interlude. “Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen” (“How Lovely Are Thy Dwelling Places”), which celebrates the beauties of life on earth, is one of Brahms’ loveliest choral settings, so beautiful that it is often performed by itself. The soprano soloist sings a message of maternal love and eventual reunion in “Ihr habt nur Traurigkeit” (“And ye now therefore have sorrow”); her heartfelt line floats over some luminous string writing—clearly this movement was important to Brahms.
The mood changes sharply at the beginning of the sixth movement: “Denn wir haben hie keine bleibende Statt” (“For here we have no continuing city”) brings the dramatic climax of the Requiem. The dark opening repeats the message of the transitoriness of human life, but the motion of this movement is toward resurrection and triumph over the grave. Brahms builds this up to a magnificent climax and another double fugue, this time on a text from Revelation “Herr, Du bist würdig” (“Thou art worthy, O Lord”), and the movement drives to a ringing close. Brahms concludes by returning to the message and manner of the opening movement—in fact, the Requiem ends with the same music that brought the first movement to its close. Humanity may eventually triumph over the grave, but now Brahms’ concern is with the living and the dead, and A German Requiem fades into silence with one final benediction of the dead and of those who mourn for them.
—Program note by Eric Bromberger
BRAHMS Ein deutsches Requiem, Opus 45
Selig sind, die da Leid tragen
Denn alles Fleisch es ist wie Gras
Herr, lehre doch mich
Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen
Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit
Denn wir haben hie keine bleibende Statt
Selig sind die Toten