Saturday, November 6, 2021 • 7:30 p.m.
First Free Methodist Church (3200 3rd Ave W)
Harmonia Orchestra & Chorus
William White, conductor
Kimberly Giordano, soprano
Charles Robert Stephens, baritone
Hubert Parry (1848 –1918)
Elegy for Brahms
Johannes Brahms (1833 –1897)
Ein deutsches Requiem, Op. 45
About the Concert
Few musical works contain the breadth of emotion encompassed in Johannes Brahms’ stirring German Requiem. Join us as we celebrate life and exalt the grand human spirit that binds us together.
Health and Safety
All in-person concert attendees age 12 and older will be required to provide proof of vaccination at the door (either a physical document or a photograph thereof) and wear a mask while inside First Free Methodist Church. Children under the age of 12 may attend our concerts only if they are masked and accompanied by a parent or guardian.
Programs and artists are subject to change. Harmonia reserves the right to alter its policies throughout the season in accordance with updated health guidelines.
With tonight’s concert we take a step back for reflection. Our season theme is “renewal,” and as we approach two years into this pandemic, I think it’s crucial that we pause and sit with the loss that we’ve all suffered.
We should start by acknowledging that whether or not we’ve personally lost someone to COVID-19, we’ve all lost out on so much from the societal havoc it has wrought: the relationships, the experiences and the community that make life worth living. I know that losing the opportunity to make music with and for other people made my life all the poorer.
Now we’re back to music-making, and what a work to perform: Johannes Brahms’ A German Requiem. The thing you’ll hear most often about this piece is that, rather than writing a paean to the dead, Brahms composed a consolation for the living. It’s a work that encompasses so much of our inner experience of loss: the quiet sadness, the bitter tears — even the undamped rage — but it also captures the intense joys of existence. Although its texts all come from the bible, this is not an overtly religious work, but rather a work of universal spirituality.
Our own Harmonia family suffered a loss this past summer when Steve Keeler, a longtime member of our choral bass section, died of pancreatic cancer. I got to know Steve mainly in the hours before and after our concerts, when he did the literal heavy lifting. (In order to produce our concerts here at First Free Methodist Church, we often need to borrow choral risers from a school in Maple Leaf; Steve regularly transported these in his truck.)
All of the extra time and dedication that Steve put into our concerts was motivated by his love of making great music with great friends. Steve certainly believed in the mission of Harmonia, which I know not only from the fact that he contributed so much of his time and effort, but also from the fact that he was an inaugural member of the George Shangrow Society.
We’re leaving a seat empty on the choir risers tonight for Steve. I like to think he would have found some consolation in our performance of Brahms’ Ein deutsches Requiem, and I very much hope you will too. It is a pleasure and a privilege to be making music again, and I thank you all for being here with us, whether that be physically in the concert hall or online via our livestream.
— William White
P.S. Our season continues December 18 and 19 with the renewal of a Harmonia tradition: Handel’s Messiah. Longtime attendees know what’s in store, but if you’re a newcomer you’re in for a real treat. We perform every single aria and chorus and I’ll be conducting from one of our two harpsichords, with Bob Kechley playing the other. Tickets are already selling quickly, so be sure to order yours posthaste.
About the Soloists
Soprano Kimberly Giordano, lauded by KING-FM as “smoothly eloquent” and by The Seattle Times for her “polished,” “sterling” and “honest performance,” delights audiences with her shimmering blend of elegance and emotion. Her recent solo appearances include Britten’s War Requiem at the University of Washington, a recital of Finnish music with Seattle Art Song Society and a return to Tacoma Opera singing Micaela in Carmen, in addition to engagements with Choral Arts Northwest, South Bend Chamber Singers, Kirkland Choral Society and Philharmonia Northwest. She created the role of Mrs. Fairfax in the 2016 world premiere of Louis Karchin’s Jane Eyre, later appearing on a recording of the work for Naxos, and has performed with Seattle Opera, Northwest Sinfonietta and Seattle Youth Symphony, among numerous other local ensembles. Ms. Giordano made her Carnegie Hall debut in Vaughan Williams’ Dona nobis pacem with the New England Symphonic Ensemble. A gifted performer of contemporary music, she sang Pasatieri’s poignant Letter to Warsaw with Music of Remembrance as well as the role of Kelly in the West Coast premiere of John Duffy’s Black Water, with a libretto by Joyce Carol Oates.
- Learn more: kimberlygiordano.com
Baritone Charles Robert Stephens has enjoyed a career spanning a wide variety of roles and styles in opera and concert music. His performances have shown “a committed characterization and a voice of considerable beauty” (Opera News, 1995). At the New York City Opera he sang the role of Professor Friedrich Bhaer in the New York premiere of Adamo’s Little Women, and was hailed by The New York Times as a “baritone of smooth distinction.” Other NYCO roles since his debut as Marcello in 1995 include Frank in Die tote Stadt, Sharpless in Madama Butterfly and Germont in La Traviata. He has sung on numerous occasions at Carnegie Hall in a variety of roles with the Opera Orchestra of New York, the Oratorio Society of New York, the Masterworks Chorus and Musica Sacra. Now based in Seattle, Mr. Stephens has sung with the Seattle Symphony, the symphonies and opera companies of Tacoma and Spokane, Portland Chamber Orchestra, as well as many other musical organizations across the Pacific Northwest, and joined the roster of Seattle Opera in 2010 for the premiere of Amelia by Daron Hagan. He currently serves on the voice faculty at Pacific Lutheran University and maintains a private studio in Seattle.
- Learn more: charlesrobertstephens.com
Elegy for Brahms
Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry was born February 27, 1848, in Bournemouth, and died October 7, 1918, in Rustington, England. He composed this work in 1897. Charles Villiers Stanford led the first performance shortly after Parry’s death. The score calls for pairs of woodwinds, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani and strings.
A prolific composer as well as an influential writer and teacher, Hubert Parry has been called the “father of 20thcentury British music” by music historian Kate Kennedy, due to his impact on Elgar, Holst, Vaughan Williams and Howells (among many others). Yet even in England Parry is largely remembered today for two pieces of music: the anthem “I Was Glad,” written for the 1902 coronation of Edward VII (and later played at the weddings of Prince Charles to Diana Spencer and of their son William to Kate Middleton), and the choral song “Jerusalem,” (composed during World War I, subsequently used as a suffragette anthem, and now a fixture at the Last Night of the Proms).
Although Parry excelled at music (while at Eton, he became the youngest person to successfully sit the Oxford Bachelor of Music examination), his father approved of it only as a pasttime, not an occupation, so Parry studied law and history at Oxford before taking up a career as an underwriter at Lloyd’s of London — until a side hustle writing entries for George Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians turned into a full-time job. When Grove founded the Royal College of Music, he offered Parry a position as a professor of music history. Parry would work there the rest of his life, becoming director in 1895 upon Grove’s retirement.
Parry had at one point wanted to study with Brahms, but that did not come to pass. He did spend a summer studying composition in Stuttgart, and back in England took lessons with Edward Dannreuther, a staunch Wagnerian. Although some of his works (especially early on) exhibit the influence of Wagner, it was Brahms, according to biographer Jeremy Dibble, who “epitomized Parry’s ideal of all that was artistically sincere, single-minded, and intellectually honest.” Parry’s 1883 Symphony No. 2 is particularly Brahmsian in its language, and Brahms’ “Haydn” Variations must have provided inspiration for Parry’s Symphonic Variations of 1897 (which in turn were greatly admired by Elgar, who produced his “Enigma” Variations shortly thereafter).
So it was that the April 1897 death of Johannes Brahms struck an emotional blow with Parry. “The great heroes of the world are so rare,” he remarked the following month in an address to RCM students eulogizing Brahms, “that it is fortunately but seldom in the brief spell of our lives that we have to try and realise what parting with them means.” Around this time, according to biographer Bernard Benoliel, Parry “put aside all creative work and by May 29 he speaks of ‘taking every moment’ to get on with the orchestral Elegy for Brahms,” presumably intended for an upcoming RCM memorial concert.
In spite of this apparent urgency, other projects prevented Parry from putting the finishing touches on his Elegy and it remained unperformed until after Parry’s 1918 death (due to influenza contracted during the global pan- demic that had begun that year). Elegy for Brahms was in fact premiered at an RCM memorial concert for Parry himself, with some minor alterations by his colleague Charles Villiers Stanford (who conducted). A second performance did not take place until 1977; Adrian Boult conducted the first recording the following year. Tonight’s concert presents what is likely only the second U.S. performance of this piece.
“Parry uses the romantic orchestra with delicacy to convey his own sense of hollowness and loss,” writes Benoliel. “The work culminates in a radiant coda, which in its last upward gesture recalls Strauss’ Death and Transfiguration.” Phillip Brookes (who prepared a performing edition of the score) also notes passages that exhibit the influence of Wagner and Tchaikovsky, but contends that “the spirit of Brahms hovers over everything—the second subject [introduced by clarinets] could even have been scored by the German master. In the end, though, the strongest personality of all is Parry’s own, a fitting quality for a very fine work.”
— Jeff Eldridge
Ein deutsches Requiem, Op. 45
Brahms was born in Hamburg on May 7, 1833, and died in Vienna on April 3, 1897. He may have been sketching new ideas for his German Requiem as early as 1861 (eventually reusing material composed as early as 1855), but Brahms produced the bulk of the composition between February and October of 1866. The first three movements premiered in Vienna during December 1867, and Brahms had added another three by a concert on Good Friday 1868 at Bremen Cathedral. He then composed the fifth movement, first heard at a private concert in Zürich on September 12, 1868. The full seven-movement work had is first performance in Leipzig on February 18, 1869, with Carl Reinecke leading the Gewandhaus Orchestra. In addition to soprano and baritone soloists and four-part chorus, the work calls for pairs of woodwinds (plus piccolo and contrabassoon), 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, harp and strings.
As a student of music history, the agnostic Brahms knew Latin Requiem masses of earlier composers, but he found Lutheran liturgies in the German language more congenial. The idea for the German Requiem, the work that first won Brahms musical fame throughout Europe, seems to have been quite clear in his mind by April 1865, when the composer mentioned it in letters to Clara Schumann. Brahms had been thinking about composing such a work for some time, and he had drafted sections of the opening movements as early as 1861. He appears by 1865 to have settled on the basic structure of the piece, and to have selected the individual texts.
Brahms began the composition of the Requiem in earnest during February 1866. The four movements of an earlier Bach-style cantata for solo baritone, chorus and orchestra eventual became movements 1, 2, 3 and 7 of the Requiem, and by August of that year the bulk of the piece (all but the eventual fifth movement) was complete. Brahms revised the work over the next several months, discussing the changes with some of his correspondents, including violinist Joseph Joachim and Clara Schumann, to whom he presented the vocal score on December 30, 1866. The first three movements debuted in Vienna on December 1, 1867, while a concert in Bremen on Good Friday 1868 included three more. Brahms then revised these six movements and completed what became the fifth movement during May 1868. The Requiem received its first complete performance at Leipzig in February 1869.
What impelled the relatively young Brahms to compose a work dealing with the subject of death? His motives appear to have been complex. Brahms’ musical moods often tended to be dark: Joseph Hellmesberger, who as longtime concertmaster of the Vienna Philharmonic was able to observe the composer closely, commented: “When Brahms is in extra good spirits, he sings ‘The grave is my joy.’ ” Brahms wrote his Requiem without having received a commission, and with no clear prospects for a performance. Its composition probably arose, therefore, not out of a desire for profit, but out of Brahms’ need to express his own thoughts and feelings about mortality.
Serious labor on the piece likely began as a result of the death of his mother in 1865. Brahms did mention that his work was spurred on by her memory, and the textual excerpts from Martin Luther’s German translations of the Old Testament, the New Testament and the Apocrypha that he chose to set refer to a motherly consolation of the bereaved. Brahms had also been deeply affected by the 1856 death of Robert Schumann, his friend and benefactor, and had considered composing some sort of musical memorial to him. (The Requiem’s second movement had its genesis as a rejected slow movement from Brahms’ first piano concerto, composed shortly after Schumann’s death.) As Brahms scholar Michael Musgrave has concluded, “it seems unlikely that there was only one personal influence on the Requiem”; the deaths of his mother and of Schumann were for Brahms “a stimulus to the completion of existing ideas, rather than the source of them.”
Brahms insisted that his Requiem was intended for all humanity: in 1867, he would say about the title of his work, “I will admit that I could happily omit the ‘German’ and simply say ‘human.’ ” Its themes of melancholy, acceptance of death, and comfort to the living apply to many occasions. It appears that Brahms chose his texts according to personal preference and cultural identity rather than religious conviction. He spoke of the Bible as “not a dogmatic interpretation of religious commandments, but a cultural and emotional repository of views and values.” He avoided in his Requiem any specific reference to Jesus Christ or godly salvation, focusing instead on the very human emotions elicited by the death of a loved one. The Requiem, like many other vocal works of Brahms, deals with the fleeting nature of life, the need for solace following loss, the hope of a final attainment of peace, and a reward for struggle. It is not intended to be a mass for the dead, but instead offered as a comfort and consolation for the living.
The Vienna debut of the Requiem’s first three movements was not exactly a resounding success. A percussionist misinterpreted Brahms’ printed dynamics, playing the repeated D’s in the third movement’s mighty fugal section so loudly that he drowned out the rest of the ensemble. Jeers and catcalls sounded in the audience, while reviewers proved equally vociferous. Critic Eduard Hanslick, after commenting that he “felt like a passenger rattling through a tunnel in an express train,” nevertheless wrote:
The German Requiem is a work of unusual significance and great mastery. It seems to us one of the ripest fruits to have emerged from the style of the late Beethoven in the field of sacred music. Since the masses for the dead and mourning cantatas of our classical composers the shadow of death and the seriousness of loss have scarcely been presented in music with such power. The harmonic and contrapuntal art which Brahms learnt in the school of Bach is inspired by him with the living breath of the present.
The subdued “baritone” instruments of the orchestra begin the first movement of the Requiem with music that creeps almost imperceptibly out of the void. Chorus enters alone and initially alternates with orchestra as Brahms weaves a blanket of comfort in the key of F major around texts taken from St. Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount and from Psalm 126.
The B♭-minor second movement deals with death’s inevitability and counsels patience, concluding in hope. It opens with a funeral march (albeit in triple meter) for full orchestra with a pulsing timpani at its heart. The chorus sings the chorale “All flesh is like grass” four times, with increasing force. At the movement’s end, however, a jubilant B♭-major passage assures the Lord’s redeemed of eternal joy and gladness.
Brahms paints the opening of the third movement with a D-minor brush in dark, stony colors, as a baritone soloist and chorus discuss the frailty of humanity, the futility of life and the the fear of death. In response, to this gloomy dialogue, the composer builds a great four-part choral fugue in the strong key of D major upon the solid foundation of a persistent low D sustained for 36 measures. The fugue’s comforting text comes from the Wisdom of Solomon: “But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God and no torment shall touch them.”
The beloved chorus that follows, with a text from Psalm 84, forms the pivotal center of the Requiem. In contrast to the drama of the preceding fugue, this lyrical E♭-major movement simply shimmers. A fughetta marked by shifting rhythmic accents appears near the end.
A solo soprano appears only in the fifth movement, which presents the ideas of the Requiem’s final three movements: the redeeming power of faith and the promise of eternal life. At the 1868 Bremen performance (prior to this movement’s composition), soprano Amelie Joachim (wife of Joseph) sang “I know that my redeemer liveth” from Handel’s Messiah, perhaps suggesting to Brahms that a similar aria had a place in his own work. The composer might have had his mother in mind when he selected the text from Isaiah, which repeats over and over: “I will comfort you, as one whom his own mother comforts.”
The sixth movement is the Requiem’s most dramatic, featuring the solo baritone’s flamboyant oration and the triumphant “last trumpet” heralding the death of Death. (Martin Luther’s Bible uses the word posaune — trombone — rather than the more familiar trumpet, thus Brahms allows the trombone section a moment of glory.) A masterful fugue follows, perhaps exceeding in magnificence the fugue of the third movement.
The German Requiem’s finale brings the work full circle, returning to the opening key of F major. Both outer movements pronounce benedictions: the first upon those who mourn the dead, the last upon the dead themselves. In the closing measures, sopranos soar to a high A before the harp (an instrument rarely heard in Brahms’ orchestral music) follows them skyward and the chorus whispers a final beatitude.
After Brahms gave Clara Schumann the German Requiem’s score, she wrote to him: “I am completely filled with your Requiem. It is an immense piece that takes hold of one’s whole being like very little else. The profound seriousness, combined with all the magic and poetry, has a wonderful, deeply moving and soothing effect.” Brahms thus fulfilled Robert Schumann’s 1853 prophecy, made when the two composers first met: “When he lowers his magic baton before the combined forces of chorus and orchestra, they will give him strength to reveal even more marvelous insights into the secrets of the spiritual world.”
— Lorelette Knowles