The music of Brahms is so central to the Romantic mainstream that it may come as a shock to consider one of his early works as innovative, even shocking. But so it was with "A German Requiem," on which he worked off and on beginning in 1854. After a couple of disastrous partial performances, the premiere of the completed work in 1869 was one of the supreme triumphs of Brahms' life.
Music Director Maximiano Valdes, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, baritone Kevin McMillan, soprano Ollie Watts Davis and the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus, Thomas Swan director, will give three performances of Brahms' Requiem, next Friday at 8 p.m. in the University at Buffalo's Center for the Arts, plus April 1 at 8 p.m. and April 2 at 2:30 p.m. in Kleinhans Music Hall.
The radical aspect of Brahms' Requiem is not in the music, but in his approach to the texts. It was the first such work to abandon the traditional Latin liturgical Requiem Mass, which deals with salvation of the deceased soul. Rather, Brahms selected his own texts from Luther's German translation of the Bible, choosing passages which are far more concerned with consoling the living.
Musically, Brahms' score is radiant, warm, dark and rich, a Requiem in seven sections, with an overall arch shape in which the famous chorus "How lovely is thy dwelling" stands alone as a sort of keystone in the middle. Completing the all Brahms program will be the even more dark and unconsoling "Tragic Overture" and the rarely heard choral work "Naenie" to a Schiller poem "Even beauty must die," singularly appropriate as an adjunct to the Requiem.
-- Herman Trotter