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Brahm’s Requiem

Brahm’s Requiem

Brahm's Requiem

Requiem can be defined as a Roman Catholic mass where prayers are offered to the recently deceased.  A German Requiem, op. 45, was written by Johannes Brahms.  This requiem was unlike any requiem seen before, and was influenced by not only his childhood, but also Martin Luther, a Protestant reformer.

A German Requiem, op. 45, was completely different than any other requiem mass the world had ever seen or heard.  “The traditional Roman Catholic liturgical text for the Requiem mass is a prayer for the dead, filled with images of the horrors of the Last Judgment” (Peters 10).  Brahm’s Requiem was different because it contained text taken from Martin Luther’s German vernacular translation of the Bible.  It was Martin Luther who said that the purpose of a funeral should be to declare the hope of resurrection, and express it in musical form (Leaver 617).  In Brahm’s eyes, the purpose of this revamped Requiem was to comfort the living people, who were dealing with the death of their loved one.  The standard Requiem contained many horrific images of death, and provided no comfort whatsoever to the mourners of the deceased person.  Brahm’s Requiem conveyed a message of hope, while offering the parties in attendance relief from emotional distress. He is said to have written the Requiem in the memory of his mother, and Madame Schumann, his mentor.

Brahm’s Requiem was structured as a seven movement arch.  The whole piece was based on balance.  The first movement, The Living are Blessed, was extremely similar to the final movement, The Dead are Blessed.  The second movement, Morality of Both the Living and the Dead, was similar to the sixth movement, Earthly Homelessness of Both the Living and the Dead.  Once again, the third movement, Personal Reflection Addressed by the Living, was similar to the fifth movement, Personal Comfort Addressed to the Living.  The fourth, and peak movement in the arch, was Heaven-For Those Who Have Died and Those Who Have Yet to Die (Leavers 633).  This movement provided the listeners with a feeling of solace.  Basically, the whole Requiem was based on symmetry, and was very cyclic.

Brahms A German Requiem

Brahms A German Requiem

Brahm’s Requiem was probably influenced by his childhood and his Protestant heritage.  Brahms was born in Hamburg, Germany, an area with strong German Protestant traditions.  Another factor that may have affected Brahm’s Requiem was the fact that Brahm attended a Protestant school to prepare him for confirmation.  While he was there, he learned a lot about the Bible from Martin Luther’s teachings (Leaver 639).

Johannes Brahms was born in Hamburg, Germany in 1833.  Growing up in area with strong Protestant traditions, and attending a Protestant school to prepare for confirmation surely shaped his views on religion and prayer.  A German Requiem was Brahm’s greatest creation; it was a service for the dead that provided comfort and hope.  This went against the standard of the time, which was a Requiem filled with violent images of death, hardly what mourners would want to attend.