Saturday, August 29, 2015

Saint-Saëns - Requiem Opus 54

The text of the Catholic Requiem Mass began to be sung to music as far back as the 9th century when Gregorian chant melodies which were monophonic were used.  The earliest surviving polyphonic Requiem is from the 15th century. Early Requiems used various texts until the Council of Trent in the 16th century set the texts that were to be used in the services of the Church.  There is an amount of freedom of choice within the allowed texts to be used in the Requiem, so many of the later Requiems have differing combinations of text.

The dramatic nature of the text has attracted many composers, with some Requiems being more suited to the concert hall than a church. Verdi's Requiem is an example of a highly dramatic setting of the text and has been criticized for being more like an unstaged opera than a Requiem.  In contrast, Saint-Saëns Requiem was intended for use in a church service. He kept the length of the work to a little over 30 minutes, a short time for a Romantic era Requiem.

He wrote the Requiem for Albert Libon, a friend and patron that had died a year earlier. Originally Libon included in his will 100,000 francs to Saint-Saëns with the intent to allow the composer to quit his position as church organist and devote his time to composition with the stipulation that Saint-Saëns compose a Requiem in his honor to be performed a year after his death. Before he died, Libon removed that stipulation. Saint-Saëns received the 100,000 francs upon Libon's death but felt compelled to write a Requiem to honor his friend anyway. He traveled to Switzerland in April of 1878 and while staying in a hotel he wrote the Requiem in a mere eight days. He wrote to his publisher, "Fear not, this Requiem will be very short. I’m not just working hard, I’m working flat out!"

Saint-Saëns wrote a Requiem that is not free of drama, but the drama is more subdued. The writing for orchestra and organ is lyrically powerful, and he has written music for the chorus and soloists that shows his mastery of writing for the voice. A recurring motive in the work is the chromatic 'sighing' that can especially be heard in the fourth movement.  In later life Saint-Saëns turned from a total religious believer to an absolute non-believer, but he respected the tradition of the church and continued to write religious music for the rest of his life.

I. Kyrie
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon them.
You shall have praise, O God, in Zion,
and a prayer shall go up for you in Jerusalem.
All flesh shall come before you.
Lord have mercy,
Christ have mercy,
Lord have mercy.

II. Dies irae
This day, this day of wrath
shall consume the world in ashes,
as foretold by David and the Sybil.
What fear there shall be,
when the judge shall come
to weigh everything severely.
The trumpet, casting its wondrous sound
across the graves of all lands,
summons all before the throne.
Death and nature shall be astounded
when mankind arises
to give account before the judge.
The written book shall be brought
in which all is recorded
whereby the world shall be judged.
When the judge takes his seat
all that is concealed shall appear,
nothing shall remain unavenged.
What shall I, a frail man, say then?
To which protector shall I appeal
when even the just man is scarcely safe?

III. Rex tremendae
King of awful majesty,
who freely saves those worthy of salvation,
save me, fount of mercy.
Remember, gentle Jesus,
that I am the reason for your earthly life,
do not cast me out on that day.
Seeking me, you sank down wearily,
you have saved me by enduring the cross:
such travail must not be in vain.
Righteous Judge of vengeance,
award the gift of forgiveness
before the day of reckoning.
I groan, like the sinner that ?I am,
guilt reddens my face:
spare the supplicant, O God.
You, who pardoned Mary
and heeded the thief,
have given me hope as well.
My prayers are unworthy,
but you, who are good, in pity,
do not let me burn in the eternal fire.
Give me a place among the sheep
and separate me from the goats,
let me stand at your right hand.
When the damned are cast away,
and consigned to the searing flames,
call me to be with the blessed.

IV. Oro supplex
Bowed down in supplication I beg you,
my heart as though ground to ashes,
help me in my final hour.
This day of tears
when from the ashes arises
guilty man to be judged:
have mercy upon him, O Lord,
Gentle Lord Jesus,
grant him rest.

V. Hostias
We offer to you in praise, O Lord,
sacrifices and prayers:
accept them on behalf of those souls
whom we remember this day:
Lord, make them pass
from death to life,
as once you promised Abraham
and to his seed.

VI. Sanctus
Holy, holy, holy,
Lord God of hosts.
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest!

VII. Benedictus
Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.

VIII. Agnus Dei
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the
world, grant them rest.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the
world, grant them rest.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the
world, grant them eternal rest.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Brahms - A German Requiem

The complete title of Brahms' Requiem is A German Requiem, To Words of the Holy Scriptures, which gives an indication as to the non-traditional nature of the work. Brahms was born and raised in the Northern German seaport city of Hamburg, a city rich in the tradition of self-rule and the Lutheran Church.  Brahms loved the Bible as translated into German by Martin Luther, although his religious beliefs were not strong. He looked upon Luther's translation as great German literature as well as a sacred work, as such Brahms himself put together his own text for his requiem from the German translation of the Bible. Composers who came from the parts of Europe that were Catholic usually used Latin texts from the Roman Missal.

Where the more traditional Requiem Mass (also known as the Mass For The Dead) concentrate on the redemption of the dead from the horrors of hell,  Brahms' Requiem is concerned with comforting and consoling the loved ones of the deceased.  The history of the composition of the work are not completely known as Brahms was not one to divulge any specific inspiration for any of his works. It has been suggested by some scholars that the death of his mother in 1865 and the earlier death in 1856 of his advocate and friend Robert Schumann gave him the impetus to compose the work.

Five movements of the work were completed by 1866 and the first three movements were played in a concert in Vienna in 1867 to mixed reviews. The six movements of the original version of the Requiem were first heard in 1868 in the Northern German town of Bremen. The work was a great success and marked a turning point in Brahms' career. Brahms composed an additional movement later in 1868 and the final seven movement version was first performed in Leipzig in 1869.

A German Requiem has been controversial in a religious sense since the premiere of the first three movements in Vienna. In countries that are predominantly Catholic, the work has not fared as well as in areas that are Protestant. Brahms also strictly avoided using any scripture that dealt with Christian dogma, much to the consternation of a clergyman that wrote a letter to Brahms that mentioned this. Brahms steadfastly refused to change the work and wrote back to the clergyman:
As far as the text is concerned, I will admit that I would gladly give up the 'German' and simply put 'human,' and that I would also with full knowledge and consent go without passages such as John 3:16  From time to time I may have employed a thing because I am a musician, because I could use it, because I cannot dispute or cross out even a 'henceforth' from my honorable poets.
I. Selig sind, die da Leid tragen (Blessed are they that mourn) 
The German Requiem is the longest work Brahms ever wrote, and it begins with a solemn setting of one of the eight Beatitudes and is notable for the absence of violins in the beginning of the movement. Brahms used texts from the Old and New Testaments and molds them into music of great beauty.

Blessed are they that mourn
for they shall be comforted. [Matthew 5:4]

They who sow in tears
shall reap in joy.
Go forth and cry,
bearing precious seed,
and come with joy bearing their sheaves [Psalm 126:5,6]

II. Denn alles Fleisch, es ist wie Gras (For all flesh is as grass) 
The funeral march feeling of the first section is undeniable as the words relate the fleeting nature of life, with a distinguishing feature of the music being that it is not written in the usual 4/4 time signature, but in 3/4 time. The second section lightens the mood until the funeral march appears again. But the movement doesn't end on a somber note as Brahms reassures the listener with music and words of hope that end in glory.

 For all flesh is as grass,
and the glory of manlike flowers.
The grass withers
and the flower falls. [1 Peter 1:24]

Therefore be patient, dear brothers,
for the coming of the Lord.
Behold, the husbandman waits
for the delicious fruits of the earth
and is patient for it, until he receives
the morning rain and evening rain. [James 5:7]

But the word of the Lord endures for eternity. [1 Peter 1:25]

The redeemed of the Lord will come again,
and come to Zion with a shout;
eternal joy shall be upon her head;
They shall take joy and gladness,
and sorrow and sighing must depart. [Isaiah 35:10]

III. Herr, lehre doch mich (Lord, teach me)
The third movement features a contemplative solo for baritone that deals with the fleeting nature of life. After soloist and chorus ruminate on this, the music flows directly into some of the most remarkable music Brahms ever wrote. The movement ends with Brahms showcasing his mastery of counterpoint with a huge fugue for chorus, which is notable for the pedal point D that is held throughout.

Lord, teach me
That I must have an end,
And my life has a purpose,
and I must accept this.
Behold, my days are as a handbreadth before Thee,
and my life is as nothing before Thee.
Alas, as nothing are all men,
but so sure the living.
They are therefore like a shadow,
and go about vainly in disquiet;
they collect riches, and do not know
who will receive them.
Now, Lord, how can I console myself?
My hope is in Thee. [Psalm 39:4-7]

The righteous souls are in God's hand
and no torment shall stir them. [Wisdom of Solomon 3:1]

IV. Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen (How lovely are thy dwellings)
After the dramatic first three movements the fourth is one of calmness. This movement acts as a pivot, a center point to the work.

How lovely are thy dwellings,
O Lord of Hosts!
My soul requires and yearns for
the courts of the Lord;
My body and soul rejoice
in the living God.
Blessed are they that dwell in thy house;
they praise you forever. [Psalm 84:1,2,4]

V. Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit (You now have sorrow) 
This is the movement that Brahms wrote and inserted after the first 6-movement version of the Requiem had been performed. It is a solo for soprano and is music of consolation.

You now have sorrow;
but I shall see you again
and your heart shall rejoice
and your joy no one shall take from you. [John 16:22]
Behold me:

I have had for a little time toil and torment,
and now have found great consolation. [Ecclesiasticus 51:27]

I will console you,
as one is consoled by his mother [Isaiah 66:13]

VI. Denn wir haben hie keine bleibende Statt (For we have here no lasting city)
Brahms begins this movement calmly, but it grows in intensity and power as the baritone soloist relates the raising of the dead and the end of death. A fugue for chorus is the feature of this movement.

For we have here no lasting city,
but we seek the future. [Hebrews 13:14]

Behold, I show you a mystery:
We shall not all sleep,
but we all shall be changed
and suddenly, in a moment,
at the sound of the last trombone.
For the trombone shall sound,
and the dead shall be raised incorruptible,
and we shall be changed.
Then shall be fulfilled
The word that is written:
Death is swallowed up in victory.
O Death, where is thy sting?
O Hell, where is thy victory? [1 Corinthians 15:51,52,54,55]

Lord, Thou art worthy to receive all
praise, honor, and glory,
for Thou hast created all things,
and through Thy will
they have been and are created. [Revelation 4:11]

VII. Selig sind die Toten (Blessed are the dead)
A German Requiem comes full circle in this last movement as it moves towards a reminiscence of music heard in the first movement. Selig (blessed) ends the movement with the same word that began the first movement.

Blessed are the dead
that die in the Lord
from henceforth.
Yea, saith the spirit,
that they rest from their labors,
and their works shall follow them. [Revelation 14:13]

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Mendelssohn - Die erste Walpurgisnacht

Walpurgis night (Walpurgisnacht in German) is named after an 8th century English woman missionary St. Walpurga who traveled to the Germanic areas of Europe to convert the natives to Christianity. She was canonized on May 1st about 870. The celebration of Walpurgis night on April 30th is taken from the pagan folklore of a meeting of witches on the Brocken, the largest peak in the Harz mountain range in Germany. German poet Johann Goethe wrote the poem Die erste Walpurgisnacht (The First Walpurgisnight) in 1799 which was inspired by German folklore. Goethe wrote to his friend the composer Carl Friedrich Zelter: of our German antiquarians has endeavoured to rescue, and to give an historical foundation for the story of the witches’ and devils’ ride on the Brocken, a legend which has been current in Germany, from time immemorial. His explanation is that the heathen priests and patriarchs of Germany, when they were driven from their sacred groves and when Christianity was forced upon the people, used to retire at the beginning of spring with their faithful followers to the wild, inaccessible heights of the Harz mountains, in order, according to the ancient custom, there to offer prayer and flame to the unembodied god of heaven and earth. And further, he thinks, they may have found it well to disguise a number of their own people so as to keep their superstitious foes at a distance, and that thus, protected by the antics of devils, they carried out the purest of services. I found this explanation somewhere, a few years ago, but cannot remember the name of the author. The idea pleased me, and I have turned this fabulous story back again into a poetical fable.”
Goethe wrote the poem with the intention of having it set to music by Zelter, but after two attempts the composer gave up. Zelter introduced his student Felix Mendelssohn to Goethe in 1821, after which Goethe told Zelter:
"Musical prodigies ... are probably no longer so rare; but what this little man can do in extemporizing and playing at sight borders the miraculous, and I could not have believed it possible at so early an age." "And yet you heard Mozart in his seventh year at Frankfurt?" said Zelter. "Yes", answered Goethe, "... but what your pupil already accomplishes, bears the same relation to the Mozart of that time that the cultivated talk of a grown-up person bears to the prattle of a child."
Mendelssohn took up Goethe's text in 1830 and completed the final version in 1843.  Goethe's poem portrays the tale as a prank between the remaining pagans and druid priests against the Christian guards that prohibit their ancient rituals of Walpurgis night. The cantata is in ten parts and begins with an overture that depicts the bad weather of winter that transforms to the milder weather of spring.

1) Overture
2) May Smiles At Us
Druid (Tenor)
May smiles at us!
The woods are free
of ice and hoarfrost

Chorus of the heathen
May smiles at us!
The woods are free
of ice and hoarfrost.
The snow is gone,
every green place
resounds with songs of pleasure.

Druid (Tenor)
A pure snow
lies on the peaks,
we haste upward,
to celebrate the ancient sacred rites,
to praise there the Father of All.
Let the flame blaze through the smoke!
Upward, upward!
Our hearts will be uplifted.

Chorus of the heathen
Let the flame blaze through the smoke!
Perform the old, sacred custom,
praising there the Father of All.
Upward! Upward!
Our hearts will be lifted.

3) Can You Act So Rashly?
Old woman of the heathens (Mezzo-soprano)
Can you act so rashly?
Do you want to go to your death?
Do you not know the laws
of our stern conquerors?
Their nets are set all around
for the heathen, the 'sinners'.
On the battlements they'll slay
our fathers, our children.
And we are all
nearing this sure trap.

Chorus of women
On the camp's high battlements
they'll slaughter our children.
Ah, the stern conquerors!
And we are all
nearing this sure trap.

4) Whoever This Day Fears To Bring A Sacrifice
The Priest (Baritone)
Whoever this day
fears to bring a sacrifice,
deserves his chains.
The forest is free!
The wood is ready,
prepare it for the burning!

Chorus of men
The forest is free!
The wood is ready,
prepare it for the burning!

The Priest (Baritone)
But we'll remain
in our wooded hideout
silently during the day,
and keep the men on their guard
for the sake of your concerns.
But then, with fresh courage,
let us fulfill our duty.

Chorus of men
Then let us with fresh courage
let us fulfill our duty.

The Priest (Baritone)
Spread out up here, brave men.

5) Spread Out Here Brave Men
Chorus of druid guards
Spread out here, brave men,
through the entire forest,
and watch here silently
as they perform their duty.

6) These Stupid Christians
One druid guard (Bass)
These stupid Christians -
let us boldly outsmart them!
With the every devil they invent
we'll terrify them.

Come! With stakes and pitchforks
and with flames and rattling sticks,
we'll make noise through the night
in these empty rocky gorges.

Chorus of druid guards
Come! With stakes and pitchforks
and with flames and rattling sticks,
we'll make noise through the night
in these empty rocky gorges.
The owls will howl at our racket!

One druid guard (Bass)
Come! Come! Come!

7) Come With Stakes And Pitchforks
Chorus of druid guards and heathen
Come with stakes and pitchforks
and with flames and rattling sticks,
we'll make noise through the night
in these empty rocky gorges.
The owls will howl at our racket!
Come! Come! Come!

The Priest (Baritone)
We've been brought so far,
that by night we
sing in secret to the Father of All!
Yet when it is day,
as soon as we may,
we bring you a perfect heart.

8) Yet When It Is Day
Chorus of druids and heathen
Yet when it is day,
as soon as we may,
we bring you a pure heart.

Priest and chorus
Today indeed,
and many times,
you've granted the foe success.
As the flame is purified in smoke,
so purify our faith!
And even if they rob us of our ancient ritual,
who can take your light from us?

9) Help, Oh Help Me
A Christian guard (Tenor)
Help, oh help me, fellow soldier!
Alas, all hell is coming!
See, how the bewitched bodies
glow with flames through and through!
Werewolves and dragon women,
passing by in flight!

Chorus of Christian watchmen
Frightening bewitched bodies,
werewolves and dragon woman,
Let us flee, let us flee!

A Christian guard (Tenor)
What a fearful scramble!
Let us, let us all flee!
Above flames and sparkles the evil one,
out of the ground
steams a hellish brew.

Chorus of Christian watchmen
What a fearful scramble!
Let us, let us all flee!
Above flames and sparkles the evil one,
out of the ground
steams a hellish brew.

Christian guard and Christian watchmen
Let us flee, let us flee!

Chorus of druids and heathen
As the flame is purified by smoke,
so purify our faith!

10) As The Flame Is Purified By Smoke
The Priest (Baritone)
As the flame is purified by smoke,
so purify our faith!
And even if they rob us of our ancient ritual,
who can take your light from us?

Who can take your light from us?