How lovely are thy dwellings

One of my earliest blog posts back in March, A Bit Of Brahms, highlighted several measures from one of the composer’s works for piano.  Today, I touch on my favorite moments in his glorious Ein Deutsches Requiem (A German Requiem).

A German Requiem

This is actually an oratorio, a choral setting of biblical texts, and has little to do with traditional Requiem Masses that are sung in Latin and include movements like the Kyrie eleison and Agnus Dei.  Indeed, the use of “Requiem” in the title has thus been questioned, but Brahms’ intention was to write a Requiem to comfort the living, not one for the souls of the dead. For his text, Brahms chose verses from both the Old and New Testaments, as well as the Apocrypha, of Martin Luther’s German Bible.  Brahms composed the work in stages over the course of several years, likely drawing inspiration from the deaths of his dear friend and mentor, Robert Schumann, in 1856 and of his mother, in 1865.  He completed it in 1868, when he was 35 years old; the work established his reputation.  The complete, seven movement Requiem was performed for the first time in Leipzig in February of 1869.  (There had been earlier performances of shorter versions of the work in 1867 and 1868 in Vienna and Bremen, respectively).

Johanna Henrika Christiane Nissen, mother of Johannes Brahms
Johanna Henrika Christiane Nissen, mother of Johannes Brahms

As John Bawden notes on the British Choirs on the Net web site, “The similarity of the opening and closing movements serves to unify the whole work, while the funeral-march of the second is balanced by the triumphant theme of the resurrection in the towering sixth movement. Similarly, the baritone solo in the third, ‘Lord, let me know mine end’, is paralleled in the fifth by the soprano solo, ‘Ye now have sorrow’. The lyrical fourth section, ‘How lovely are thy dwellings’, is therefore at the heart of the work…”

Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
Robert Schumann (1810-1856)

My favorite moments are in this ‘heart of the work’, whose text is taken from the 84th Psalm.  Beginning at 3:41, and continuing for nearly a minute (up to letter D in the score shown in the YouTube clip), the line ‘Die loben dich immerdar‘ (‘They will be still praising thee’) is sung in a kind of point-counterpoint double fugue.  I was especially delighted to find this clip on YouTube, because in addition to hearing the sopranos, altos, tenors and basses toss the line back and forth, you can actually see it happen in the score.  (Added bonus: the recording heard in the clip is the one I own and love, the Phillips release conducted by John Eliot Gardiner pictured above).  Like a number of other passages I’ve blogged about in the past, these moments never fail to elicit goose-flesh, and I don’t expect there will ever be a day in which they don’t.  Which is a good thing.

See what you think.

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 amiable are they tabernacles,
O Lord of hosts!
 My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth
for the courts of the Lord;
 my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God.
Blessed are they that dwell in thy house,
they will be still praising thee.

One comment

  • Your blog was a week too late! We were at a concert featuring this in Royal Albert Hall in London last week. The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment with Marin Alsop conducting. You would have helped us enjoy it more.


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