The requiem that simply refused to die

Critic's Choice

Classical Music

May 19, 2002|By Tim Smith

George Bernard Shaw thought the German Requiem by Brahms was so "execrably and ponderously dull that the very flattest of funerals would seem like a ballet, or at least a danse macabre, after it." Shaw, whose literary and humorous flair made him the most entertaining music critic of Victorian England (he still can't be beat for style), tried to put one more nail into the score's coffin by declaring that it could be "patiently borne only by the corpse."

Few listeners agreed with the critic's relentless assaults on Brahms or the German Requiem, which has been widely embraced as a sublime masterpiece since its premiere in 1868.

Commemorating his mother, who died in 1865, Brahms turned not to the traditional Latin text of the Requiem Mass (he wasn't Catholic, for starters), but to the German text of the Lutheran Bible. The verses he extracted convey an underlying theme - "Blessed are they that mourn" - and are set to music of exquisite tenderness, compassion and hope.

The Handel Choir of Baltimore, led by Elam Ray Sprenkle, will perform the German Requiem at 3 p.m. today at Kraushaar Auditorium, Goucher College, 1021 Dulaney Valley Road. Remaining tickets, $14 to $25, will be available at the door.

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