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After the loss of a loved one, we are left with so many emotions and grief that it can be hard to find comfort in anything. German composer Johannes Brahms tried to comfort those experiencing that heartache with his masterwork, Ein deutsches Requiem.
Brahms was no stranger to grief. In 1854, his friend and mentor, Robert Schumann, attempted suicide by jumping into the Rhine River and died two years later in a mental asylum. A few years later, Brahms’ mother died in 1865 leaving him incredibly lonely. These two tragedies inspired Brahms to write Ein deutsches Requiem, which took a total of 14 agonizing years to complete (Arthur Colman).
Brahms had a close friendship with Schumann, so much so that Schumann thought of him as the heir to Schubert and Beethoven. Schumann’s wife, Clara, was also close with Brahms sparking rumors of an affair. These rumors began swirling after Schumann’s attempted suicide. With Schumann locked away in an asylum, Brahms moved in with Clara and her children following the incident. After Schumann died in 1856, Brahms and Clara traveled to Switzerland together with plans to marry but never ended up tying the knot. The two kept their connection and continued to spend vacations with one another for many years to follow (The Guardian).
Despite its roots in tragedy and rumors, Ein deutsches Requiem is an emotional work that explores life after loss and provides solace for humanity. This message of comfort for the living, and Brahms’ own uncertainty regarding the afterlife, made Ein deutsches Requiem a controversial work at the time of its premiere. Even though passages from the Old and New Testament were included in the piece, many in the Lutheran church wanted Brahms to explicitly state more Christian ideologies. Brahms refused and kept with the Requiem’s universal theme of consolation for those who’ve had a loved one pass, a more humanist approach (Nancy Thuleen). His decision has paid off and Ein deutsches Requiem is considered one of his best and most beloved works.
See the Phoenix Chorale perform Brahms’ Requiem October 16-18.
– Zachary Fonaas, Marketing & Communications Intern