Although I had many of Brahms works in my listening collection, they focused more on his orchestral works. Fortunately, many years ago I had a church choir director who challenged us musically and he introduced me to “How Lovely is Thy Dwelling Place.” Being fairly new to choral singing, I found the piece a bit of a challenge, but I loved the sound of it, and shortly thereafter added the German Requiem to my listening library.
Brahms, a Protestant from northern Germany, chose a text different from the Requiem Masses that adhere to traditional Roman Catholic liturgical texts. Instead, he chose biblical texts from the Beatitudes in the opening section and selected other texts from both the Old and New Testaments to offer a message of comfort for the living. When we look at a contemporary requiem written primarily as a performance piece, Verdi’s Requiem, the contrast becomes apparent when a word frequency analysis is done. In Verdi’s work, the top five words are: deliver, grant, eternal, holy, and death. In Brahms’ requiem, the top five words are: joy, console, behold, soul, and thee. A further analysis of the top 50 words brings out the message of comfort that Brahms wished to convey.
The first is the Florida Orchestra and its new Music Director, Michael Francis. His love of choral music became apparent last year when we performed the Faure Requiem with the Orchestra. Maestro Francis chose a more intimate orchestral score that made the choral portion of the score more apparent. He also took additional steps to improve the acoustics at Mahaffey Theater to enhance the sound of the chorus more in that venue. This fall, he chose The Bells by Rachmaninoff, a very difficult and infrequently performed choral work which we sang in Russian. His enthusiasm for the Chorale was apparent through the rehearsals and performances, solidifying our artistic collaboration that began with the Faure Requiem.
Second, The Master Chorale has a long and storied history with the Brahms Requiem. From 1986 to 1997, the Master Chorale performed the Brahms Requiem five times. One of those performances in 1996 was with choral giant Robert Shaw at the podium. Now, almost 20 years later, The Master Chorale will again present this wonderful work.
Third, our Music Director, Dr. Bass, wrote his Doctoral Thesis on Johannes Brahms, so we have at our podium every week one whose encyclopedic understanding of Brahms can only help us put our music into context with the message Brahms intended to deliver.
Finally, in 2012, Dr. Bass was Chorus Master for a recording of the Brahms Requiem by Seraphic Fire and the Professional Choral Institute leading to a GRAMMY nomination for this recording. In listening to that recording, I can see how Dr. Bass is applying the approach that made that recording fresh, innovative and memorable to our preparatory work.
With all these elements of success, it is up to us on the risers to apply our best efforts to make these performances memorable. I for one, am extremely excited to be a part of these performances, for at last, my wish is coming true!