Johannes Brahms

“Ein Deutsches Requiem, Op. 45”
April 24, 2003
There are those moments in life where one is certain that the everyday
minutiae that worries one so is as insubstantial as smoke. The hands we
use for mundane activities, the breath scarcely noticed as it enters and
exits the body, the eye that is witness to countless images…all these
instruments lay idle until music animates them.

Requiem, such a paradoxical body of music – it is the ephemeral hand
of death yet vibrating with power, life and beauty. Like a perpetual tidal
wave crashing on the shores of Paradise, it consumes the senses and
intoxicates every fiber of the body until death seems altogether a dream.

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And yet, destruction hovers at the fringes of every phrase, rounding a tone
here and cutting another one; cleaving the uncertainty from those who would
disbelieve until one almost feels compelled to follow those magnificent
voices down into the valley of death simply because one does not wish them
to stop.

The stage could barely contain the host that was required to perform
this dirge. There came the Concert Choir followed by the Chamber Choir,
then the University Chorus and finally, the NIU Philharmonic. The stage
was awash in black and white, faces turned upward, ready and expectant.

Instruments guided by their players tuned their voices and prepared
themselves for the massive undertaking of one Johannes Brahms and his “Ein
Deutsches Requiem, Op. 45.”
There is a proven relationship between objects that travel through air
at great velocities and or magnitudes. They can be seen at slower speeds
to actually bend air before them and push it outward in a cone. Just as
the stage could barely contain the performers, the concert hall could
barely contain their music, both instrumental and vocal. When the first
passage was begun, I have every confidence that could time have been
slowed, there would have been a visible wave that pushed the audience back;
and thus was Brahms come to Northern Illinois University.

The University’s Philharmonic was truly a talented group of
individuals, but in light of the material presented that evening, they were
merely the lines upon which the words had been written; the glory belonged
to those magnificent voices. As the first selection began, I was comforted
by light sopranos and clear male tenors as they assured me that “…blessed
are they that mourn; for they shall be comforted.”
These gentle assurances were chased doggedly by such power and
damnation that goose bumps ran slowly up my spine and gently pushed the
hairs up at the base of my neck. “For all flesh is as grass, and all the
glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower
thereof falleth away.” I was being cautioned by this flood of choruses;
cautioned that my days were predetermined and that accomplishment was as
fleeting as the life that had attained them.

Momentary peace returned as they readied themselves for the next
selection; and then there was longing. Such a palpable longing, it hung
thick as vapor in the air and left me feeling incomplete and not quite sure
why. They cried out for peace and hope, trying to draw it around them
forcibly as they would a cloak, grasping at the material and finding it
lacking to provide the warmth they sought.

Suddenly, there was a woman’s voice. It was a full soprano, vibrating
with an offer of that previously sought peace. She was the voice of all
mothers, the voice of the Virgin Mary, and as a mother would comfort a
small child, she gave comfort – “As one whom his mother comforteth, so will
I comfort you…”
Again, peace descended on the stage and I waited expectantly for what
was to follow. I promise you, the next two selections that were to follow
would have made the most respected and accomplished man shrink into his
shoulders and become as unsure as the boy who had clung to his mother’s
knee. Then suddenly, the wave descended. There was such determination in
those voices, so much reckoning for an entire life compressed into these
short, clipped phrases that not a body moved in that concert hall save the
ones sustaining that tide of perseverance as it rode the backs of powerful
chords and melodies; beating them before it like leaves before a storm.

A pause enveloped the stage and then, slowly and with much
deliberation, we were all set free of this bond of frustration and sense of
longing. Soft and gentle voices, clear and almost melodic, lulled us all
with sweet assurances that all was well. They pushed firmly against us,
pressing us into that final sleep; angelic sopranos and male tenors weaving
together a pre-cognitive cocoon and sealing us into it with the most
haunting of phrases. “Blessed are the dead….blessed are the
dead….blessed are the dead.”
As a lover of Requiems, (my personal favorite happens to be Mozart’s K
626; the Kyrie) I would absolutely welcome the opportunity to see another
work by this body of performers. I was pleasantly surprised by the level
of professionalism as well as the level of talent possessed by these young
men and women. NIU is, I would hope, extremely proud of her music and
choral departments as they add such a wonderful color and sense of beauty
to the university as a whole.

Formal Concert Paper #2
School of Music
Johannes Brahms
“Ein Deutsches Requiem, Op. 45”
April 24, 2003


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