Programme: A German Requiem / O Vos Omnes

Brahms: A German Requiem poster

Friday 4 November 2022

In tonight’s concert, which nominally contains only two works, Vivamus presents music from the 18th, 19th and 21st centuries and a world premiere. In a programme just over an hour long, we start with a composition born in the fusion of a Bach keyboard masterpiece and a contemporary violin improvisation. We will then perform a deeply felt work that is one of the glories of Romantic choral repertoire. We very much hope that you will find some Friday night catharsis in works that directly or indirectly express the possibility that ‘They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.’

O Vos Omnes

A German Requiem

Performers

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O Vos Omnes (J. S. Bach, 1685–1750; Rufus Frowde, 1978–)

O vos omnes qui transitis per viam
Attendite et videte
Si est dolor similis sicut dolor meus
Attendite, universi populi
Et videte dolorem meum
Si est dolor similis sicut dolor meus

O all you who walk by on the road
Pay attention and see
If there be any sorrow like my sorrow
Pay attention, all people
And look at my sorrow
If there be any sorrow like my sorrow


O Vos Omnes was written for Vivamus in April 2021 by our Musical Director, Rufus Frowde, and receives its world premiere tonight. The text is a lamentatory responsory often set as a motet, and has previously been set by composers including Victoria, Gesualdo and Casals. The music is inspired by the C Minor Prelude from J.S. Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier, a book of preludes and fugues in all 24 keys, dated 1722 and composed ‘for the profit and use of musical youth desirous of learning, and especially for the pastime of those already skilled in this study.’ Rufus writes, ‘I am unceasingly astonished by Bach’s ability to build tension through harmonic dissonance. While teaching the Bach C Minor Prelude, I began improvising melodies on my violin (my piano pupil had clearly not been practising … ). This single melodic line developed, becoming the choral version which you hear tonight.’ It is perhaps poignant that, written mid-pandemic, the piece ends with a so-called Picardy third, an unexpected major chord, evoking hope and stability.

Find out more about our Musical Director, Rufus Frowde.

A German Requiem (Johannes Brahms, 1833–1897)

A German Requiem, to Words of the Holy Scriptures, Op. 45 (German: Ein deutsches Requiem, nach Worten der heiligen Schrift) was composed over a number of years in the 1860s. The final version of the work contains seven movements and is Brahms’ longest composition. A German Requiem is sacred but non-liturgical, and its use of German texts contrasts with the hitherto more commonly used Latin. It is a Requiem in the German language rather than a Requiem specifically for or about Germans; Brahms commented that he would have gladly called the work ‘Ein menschliches Requiem’ (A human Requiem). The version performed tonight is for SATB choir, soprano and baritone soloists, and piano duet. The discussion of the work below includes references to orchestral versions.

Inspiration

A German Requiem has come to be seen as a lament for the loss of the composer’s mother and of his close friend, the composer Robert Schumann (1810–56). Brahms’ mother Johanna, originally a seamstress 17 years older than his musician father Johann, died in February 1865, perhaps providing the strongest impetus to progress the composition of the piece. The second movement does, however, use material written in 1854, the year of Schumann’s mental collapse and attempted suicide, from which Schumann never entirely recovered.

Composition and early performance history

The first performance of a six-movement orchestral version of A German Requiem premiered in Bremen Cathedral on Good Friday 1868, with Brahms conducting. The performance was well received and marked a pivot in Brahms’ career. In May 1868 Brahms composed what became Movement V of the final, seven-movement version, which premiered in Leipzig on 18 February 1869. In 1866 Brahms arranged the six-movement of A German Requiem with piano solo accompaniment and in 1869, an alternative version of the full seven-movement work with piano duet accompaniment, which is the version performed tonight.

Libretto

Brahms assembled the libretto himself. In contrast to the traditional Roman Catholic Requiem Mass, which employs a standardized text in Latin, the text of A German Requiem is derived from the German Luther Bible. As can be seen in the text set out in this programme, the libretto consists of multiple, often short, quotations per movement. Whereas the Requiem Mass in the Roman Catholic liturgy commences with prayers for the dead, A German Requiem centres on the living, beginning with the text ‘Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comfortedʼ from the Beatitudes. Brahms also deliberately omitted Christian dogma.

Structure and general features

With the insertion of Movement V, the work acquired a symmetry around Movement IV, which describes the ‘amiable tabernacles’ (often translated as ‘beautiful dwellings’) of the Lord. Movements I and VII both begin ‘Selig sind’ (‘Blessed are’) and share musical elements, especially in their endings. Movements II and VI are both dramatic, II dealing with the transient nature of life, VI with the resurrection of the dead. Movements III and V begin with a solo voice. Almost all movements, with the exception of IV and VII, connect different Bible verses, which lead from suffering and mourning to consolation, often via a series of changes in mood expressed in changes of tempo, key and orchestration. The last word of the work is the same as the first: ‘selig’ (blessed), creating, perhaps, a sense of thematic unity, comforting repetition and return to the origin.

Movements

I. Selig sind, die da Leid tragen (Blessed are they that mourn; Choir)

Selig sind, die da Leid tragen,
denn sie sollen getröstet werden.
Die mit Tränen säen,
werden mit Freuden ernten.

Sie gehen hin und weinen
und tragen edlen Samen,
und kommen mit Freuden
und bringen ihre Garben
.

Blessed are they that mourn,
for they shall be comforted.
They that sow in tears
shall reap in joy.

Who goeth forth and weepeth,
and beareth precious seed,
shall doubtless return with rejoicing,
bearing their sheaves with them.


The first movement exemplifies Brahms’ free use of text, containing both a quotation from the Beatitudes (Matthew 5; ‘Blessed are they that mourn’) and agricultural metaphors illustrating the same idea from Psalm 126. The accompaniment is initially dark in tonal colouring, but, as the text focuses increasingly on the idea ‘for they shall be comforted’ thins and ends on a gently played chord originally scored for wind instruments.

II. Denn alles Fleisch, es ist wie Gras (Behold, all flesh is as the grass; Choir)

Denn alles Fleisch ist wie Gras
und alle Herrlichkeit des Menschen
wie des Grases Blumen.
Das Gras ist verdorret
und die Blume abgefallen.


So seid nun geduldig, lieben Brüder,
bis auf die Zukunft des Herrn.

Siehe, ein Ackermann wartet
auf die köstliche Frucht der Erde
und ist geduldig darüber, bis er empfahe
den Morgenregen und Abendregen.

So seig geduldig.

Aber des Herrn Wort bleibet in Ewigkeit.
Die Erlöseten des Herrn werden wieder kommen,
und gen Zion kommen mit Jauchzen;
ewige Freude wird über ihrem Haupte sein;
Freude und Wonne werden sie ergreifen
und Schmerz und Seufzen wird weg müssen
.

Behold, all flesh is as the grass,
and all goodliness of man is
as the flower of grass;
for lo, the grass with’reth,
and the flower thereof decayeth.

Now, therefore, be patient, O my brethren,
unto the coming of Christ.

See how the husbandman waiteth
for the precious fruit of the earth,
and hath long patience for it, until he receive
the early rain and the latter rain.

So be ye patient.

But the word of the Lord endureth forever.
The redeemed of the Lord shall return again,
and come rejoicing unto Zion;
gladness, joy everlasting, joy upon their heads shall be;
joy and gladness, these shall be their portion,
and sorrow and sighing will flee from them.


Derived from a section of a planned symphony, the second movement provides a by turns gentle and stark reminder of the transience of earthly life – underscored by timpani in orchestral performances – followed by a gentle plea for patience and to trust in the word of the Lord. As with the other relatively dramatic movements (III and VI), the arc from mourning to consolation is underscored by a shift from minor to major tonality over the course of the movement.

III. Herr, lehre doch mich (Lord, make me to know; Choir and Baritone Solo)

Herr, lehre doch mich,
daß ein Ende mit mir haben muß,
und mein Leben ein Ziel hat,
und ich davon muß.

Siehe, meine Tage sind
einer Hand breit vor dir,
und mein Leben ist wie nichts vor dir.

Ach wie gar nichts sind alle Menschen,
die doch so sicher leben.

Sie gehen daher wie ein Schemen,
und machen ihnen viel vergebliche Unruhe;
sie sammeln und wissen nicht
wer es kriegen wird.

Nun Herr, wess soll ich mich trösten?
Ich hoffe auf dich.
Der Gerechten Seelen sind in Gottes Hand
und keine Qual rühret sie an
.

Lord, make me to know
the measure of my days on earth,
to consider my frailty
that I must perish.

Surely, all my days here are
as an handbreadth to Thee,
and my lifetime is as naught to Thee.

Verily, mankind walketh in a vain show,
and their best state is vanity.

Man passeth away like a shadow,
he is disquieted in vain,
he heapeth up riches, and cannot tell
who shall gather them.

Now, Lord, what wait I for?
My hope is in Thee.
But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God,
nor pain, nor grief shall nigh them come.


The third movement starts with a baritone solo, echoed by the choir, containing a plea to know the span of one’s life. It is perhaps interesting to contrast the direct and heroic quality achieved by the use of the solo with the more hushed and diffuse delivery of the chorus here (or indeed in other settings of the same words by Greene or Parry). The meditations become more anguished until the words ‘Wes soll ich mich trösten?’ (‘And now, Lord, what wait I for?’ or ‘And now, Lord, what is my hope?’). The movement ends with a magnificent fugue on the potentially reassuring words, ‘But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God.’

IV. Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen (How lovely are thy dwelling places; Choir)

Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen,
Herr Zebaoth!

Meine Seele verlanget und sehnet sich
nach den Vorhöfen des Herrn;
mein Leib und Seele freuen sich
in dem lebendigen Gott.

Wohl denen, die in deinem Hause wohnen,
die loben dich immerdar
.

How lovely are thy dwelling places,
O Lord of Hosts!

For my soul, it longeth, yea fainteth
for the courts of the Lord;
My body and soul crieth out, yea,
for the living God.

O blest are they that dwell within Thy house;
they praise Thy name evermore.


Perhaps the most famous movement of the piece, and probably the most serene, Movement IV contains gentle first and third sections providing a marked contrast with the darkness common in liturgical settings of the Requiem. The middle section is notable for the intensification of text, feeling and accompaniment.

V. Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit (Ye now are sorrowful; Choir and Soprano Solo)

Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit;
aber ich will euch wieder sehen
und euer Herz soll sich freuen
und eure Freude soll niemand von euch nehmen.

Sehet mich an:
Ich habe eine kleine Zeit Mühe und Arbeit gehabt
und habe großen Trost funden.

Ich will euch trösten,
wie Einen seine Mutter tröstet
.

Ye now are sorrowful;
but ye shall again see me,
and your heart shall be joyful,
and your joy no one taketh from you.

Look upon me:
ye know that for a little time labour and torment were mine,
but at the last I have found comfort.

Yea, I will comfort you,
as one whom their own mother comforteth.

The final movement to be written, this hushed, slow and expressive movement was added after the first few performances of A German Requiem. It is thought to represent Brahms’ most direct response to the death of his mother. Whereas in Movement III, the baritone prays ‘Herr, lehre doch mich’ and the choir repeats his words several times, making the personal prayer more general, here, the soloist and chorus sing different text.

VI. Denn wir haben hie keine bleibende Statt (Here on earth have we no continuing place; Choir and Baritone)

Denn wir haben hie keine bleibende Statt,
sondern die zukünftige suchen wir.

Siehe, ich sage euch ein Geheimnis:
Wir werden nicht alle entschlafen,
wir werden aber alle verwandelt werden;
und dasselbige plötzlich, in einem Augenblick,
zu der Zeit der letzten Posaune.

Denn es wird die Posaune schallen,
und die Toten werden auferstehen unverweslich,
und wir werden verwandelt werden.

Dann wird erfüllet werden
das Wort, das geschrieben steht:
Der Tod ist verschlungen in den Sieg.

Tod, wo ist dein Stachel?

Hölle, wo ist dein Sieg?

Herr, du bist würdig zu nehmen
Preis und Ehre und Kraft,
denn du hast alle Dinge geschaffen,
und durch deinen Willen haben sie
das Wesen und sind geschaffen.

Here on earth have we no continuing place,
but we seek one to come.

Behold, I shew you a mystery;
We shall not all sleep,
but we all shall be changed;
and suddenly, in the blink of an eye,
at the sound of the last trombone.

For the trombone shall sound,
and the dead shall be raised incorruptible,
and all we shall be changed.

Then, what of old was written,
the same shall be brought to pass:
Death shall be swallowed in victory.

Death, where is thy sting?

Hell, where is thy victory?

Worthy art Thou to be praised
Lord of honour and might,
for Thou hast earth and heaven created,
and for Thy good pleasure all things
have their being, and were created.


Perhaps the dramatic high point of the whole work, Movement VI begins with a hushed section and transitions as the baritone soloist carries the portentous words, ‘Behold, I shew you a mystery; / We shall not all sleep, / but we shall all be changed’. At what? At the sound of mighty brass, whether literally or merely evoked by a mighty chorus, as will hopefully be the case in tonight’s performance. The music has a dramatic intensity comparable to that of Verdi or Berlioz at this point. Defiant questioning – ‘Death, where is thy sting? Grave, where is thy victory?’ – gives way to a second fugue before the movement winds to an end via bold sections praising the Lord and more tender sections wondering at His creation.

VII. Selig sind die Toten, die in dem Herren sterben (Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord; Choir)

Selig sind die Toten,
die in dem Herrn sterben,
von nun an.

Ja der Geist spricht,
daß sie ruhen von ihrer Arbeit;
denn ihre Werke folgen ihnen nach
.

Blessed are the dead
which die in the Lord
from henceforth.

Even so, sayeth the spirit,
they rest from their labours,
and their works shall follow after them.


Movement VII, like Movement I before it, is more affirmative than some of its Catholic equivalents and, as with Howells’ Requiem, states that those who die in the Lord are blessed and rest for their labours. Moreover, some wondrously tender writing captures the notion that their deeds follow them. The movement and A German Requiem as a whole come to a gentle conclusion after restatements of the opening theme of the whole piece, and a final few bars containing final contributions from upper voices, lower voices, harp and then wind that fade to nothing as each part dies away in turn.

Performers

Charlotte-Anne Shipley, Soprano

Charlotte-Anne Shipley began her musical studies as a pianist, flautist and clarinettist, but started singing during her degree in Musicology at the University of Oxford. She went on to the National Academy of Santa Cecilia in Rome where she studied with Renata Scotto, and then with Montserrat Caballé at the Liceu, Barcelona. She has won numerous prizes in international competitions, including Concorso Riccardo Zandonai, Concorso Umberto Giordano, Concorso Benvenuto Franci, the Salvatore Licitra Competition, the La Fenice International Competition, Voci InCanto, Spazio Musica, Federico II and the Monstserrat Caballé International Singing Competition.

Her operatic repertoire has included Mimí (La Bohème), Liù (Turandot), Donna Anna and Donna Elvira (Don Giovanni), Pamina (Die Zauberflöte), the Countess (Le nozze di Figaro), Micaela (Carmen), Desdemona (Otello), Leonora (Trovatore), Nedda (Pagliacci), Aida (Aida), and Suor Angelica (Suor Angelica). An active oratorio and concert soloist, her concert performances have included Britten’s Les Illuminations, Mozart’s Mass in C and Requiem, Bach’s St John Passion and St Matthew Passion, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Handel’s Esther, Dvorak’s Te Deum, Strauss’ Four Last Songs and Mahler’s Second Symphony and Eighth Symphony.

Following her Italian debut as Mimi in the opera La Bohème in Orvieto in 2017, she sang Ellen Orford in Peter Grimes at the Teatro Comunale di Bologna and the title role in Suor Angelica in Padova. In the autumn of 2018, she sang the title role of Tosca in Como, Cremona, Brescia, Bergamo, Pavia, and Reggio Emilia, and started 2019 with the title role in La Wally (Catalani) in Bolzano, which was broadcast on the national radio (RAI). Most recently, Charlotte sang the role of Anna in Puccini’s first opera, Le Villi, for the Teatro Lirico di Cagliari (Sardegna), and Tosca for the National Opera of Estonia and Teatro Coccia (Novara) and Leonora in Il Trovatore in Tallinn. She has just come back from singing Verdi’s great Requiem in Pisa Cathedral under the baton of Harmut Haenchen. Future plans include her German-language debut as Elsa in Lohengrin (Tallinn).

John Holland-Avery, Baritone

John Holland-Avery from Staines, Middlesex is a BA (Hons) in Music from York University and is a former Bass Lay Clerk of St John’s College, Cambridge, with which he toured much of Europe. In 2016 he completed an MMus in Vocal Performance at the Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester, during which time he won the 2015 Frederic Cox Song Prize (RNCM) and sang live on BBC Radio 3. His studies were generously supported by the Mercers’ Company and an Independent Opera Voice Scholarship.

John has a number of professional operatic credits to his name, with highlights including Governor in Bart’s Oliver! (Grange Park Opera), Guglielmo in Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte (Woodhouse Opera), Don Alfonso from the same opera (Devon Opera), Periarco in Cavalli’s Xerse (UK premiere), Giove in Cavalli’s La Calisto, Melisso in Handel’s Alcina, Ali in Rameau’s Les Indes Galantes (Ensemble OrQuesta), Step-Out Baritone (cover) in Noah Mosley’s Aurora (Bury Court Opera), Alidoro (cover) in Rossini’s La Cenerentola (British Youth Opera), Dr Falke in J. Strauss II’s Die Fledermaus (Windsor & Eton Opera), Harasta in Janacek’s The Cunning Little Vixen (Riverside Opera, London), and Hipparco in Cavalli’s L’Egisto (Hampstead Garden Opera). John is on a break from the opera stage in order to focus on online lessons from internationally acclaimed Welsh baritone, David Kempster.

Work with other musical societies this year has included Copland’s American Folk Songs at the Apex, Bury St Edmunds, Haydn’s Creation and Brahms’ A German Requiem for Hastings Philharmonic, and Vaughan William’s Dona nobis pacem for the Neue Philharmonie Westfalen, Münster, Germany. Future work includes Handel’s Messiah with Eboracum Baroque, of whom he is a founding member and regular, featuring on its 2021 Messiah CD release and in its ongoing ‘Purcell and a Pint’ nationwide recital series. John is also a passionate singing teacher, with private singing lessons, for Enhui Music School (Richmond), the American Community School (Egham), and Windsor Piano School (Windsor). In 2020 he started his YouTube for Kids channel, Mr Holland-Avery’s Singing Lessons. You can follow John Holland-Avery on Facebook.

Samuel Ali, Piano

Samuel Ali was born in Gravesend, Kent and has Turkish and Italian heritage. He is the Organist of Christ Church, Chelsea and Associate Organist of St. Pancras Old Church; School Organist for Thomas’s Schools (Clapham and Kensington) and accompanist of both Streatham Choral Society and the West Barnes Singers. He combines this with freelance work across London and is in demand as a teacher.

Samuel studied at the Royal College of Music (RCM) with David Graham and Sophie-Véronique Cauchefer-Choplin as a postgraduate and at the Royal Northern College of Music with Darius Battiwalla as an undergraduate, gaining scholarships to both institutions. Before his studies, he was the Organ Scholar of Rochester Cathedral.

He has performed across the UK, as well as in Paris, Moscow and Slovakia. While at the RCM he was the soloist in Poulenc’s Organ Concerto (2018) and gave a solo concert tour to Slovakia (2019).

Charles Andrews, Piano

Charles Andrews is Liturgical Organist of the Temple Church, London and Professor of Organ and Organ Co-ordinator at the RCM. Charles studied at the RCM with David Graham, Sophie-Véronique Cauchefer-Choplin, John Barstow and John Blakely with the aid of a Douglas & Kyra Downie Award.

Before joining the Temple Church, Charles was Associate Director of Music at All Saints, Margaret Street in the West End of London, 2011–16.

Recently four live performances with the Temple Church Choir have been broadcast on BBC Radio 3, including the first performance of Carmina tempore viri by Kenneth Hesketh last year. Plans for 2023 include recording works associated with Henry Walford Davies and George Thalben-Ball, former Organists of the Temple Church.

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Tonight’s concert was made possible through the generous donation of a friend of Vivamus. If you are interested in supporting the choir or any of our future concerts, please let us know.

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