Johannes Brahms (7 May 1833 – 3 April 1897) was a German composer and pianist of the Romantic period. Born in Hamburg into a Lutheran family, Brahms spent much of his professional life in Vienna, Austria. His reputation and status as a composer are such that he is sometimes grouped with Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven as one of the “Three Bs” of music, a comment originally made by the nineteenth-century conductor Hans von Bülow.
Brahms composed for symphony orchestra, chamber ensembles, piano, organ, voice and chorus. A virtuoso pianist, he premiered many of his own works. Many of his works have become staples of the modern concert repertoire. An uncompromising perfectionist, Brahms destroyed some of his works and left others unpublished. Brahms has been considered, by his contemporaries and by later writers, as both a traditionalist and an innovator. His music is firmly rooted in the structures and compositional techniques of the Classical masters. While many contemporaries found his music too academic, his contribution and craftsmanship have been admired by subsequent figures as diverse as Arnold Schoenberg and Edward Elgar. The diligent, highly constructed nature of Brahms’s works was a starting point and an inspiration for a generation of composers. Embedded within his meticulous structures, however, are deeply romantic motifs.
Ein deutsches Requiem was composed 1865 – 1868. Brahms’s mother died in February 1865, a loss that caused him much grief and may well have inspired it. Brahms’s lingering feelings over Robert Schumann’s death in July 1856 may also have been a motivation, though his reticence about such matters makes this uncertain.
His original conception was for a work of six movements. By the end of April 1865, Brahms had completed the first, second, and fourth movements. The second movement used some previously abandoned musical material written in 1854, the year of Schumann’s mental collapse and attempted suicide, and of Brahms’s move to Düsseldorf to assist Clara Schumann and her young children. Brahms completed all but what is now the fifth movement by August 1866. The first performance of the six movements premiered in the Bremen Cathedral six months later on Good Friday, 10 April 1868, with Brahms conducting and Julius Stockhausen as the baritone soloist The performance was a great success and marked a turning point in Brahms’s career.
In May 1868 Brahms composed an additional movement, which became the fifth movement within the final work. The new movement, which was scored for soprano soloist and choir, was first sung in Zürich on 12 September 1868 by Ida Suter-Weber, with Friedrich Hegar conducting the Tonhalle Orchester Zürich. The final, seven-movement version of A German Requiem was premiered in Leipzig on 18 February 1869 with Carl Reinecke conducting the Gewandhaus Orchestra and Chorus, and soloists Emilie Bellingrath-Wagner and Franz Krückl.
Conducted by Richard Cock.