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Brahms Parergon in the eyes of Johannes X. Schachtner

The “German Requiem” of Johannes Brahms is “one of the great monoliths of music history“. Indeed, beyond its sheer musical quality, this Requiem moves people so strongly because – in contrast to Verdi’s Requiem, for example –contains such intimate, consoling and moving moments. “I had the good fortune to occupy myself with this work as a conductor a number of times,” explains  Johannes X. Schachtner, “and each time my fascination with the work’s independent conception, directness of musical language and its astounding precision grew.” It is a fact that Brahms was accused of a certain stubbornness and attachment to tradition, during the late 19th century, because of his faithfulness to older genres and forms. Arnold Schönberg, who gave twentieth-century modernism its most important impulses with his dodecaphony, steadfastly resisted this verdict. Schachtner comments on this as follows:
”Schönberg‘s aphorism about ‘new wine in old bottles’ has been quite overworked in this connection. But it does fit in the case of the Requiem, of course. When one pursues this trace, one can find amazing things precisely in the history of the work’s composition and performance. At the first performance in Vienna in 1867, the following works were played after the first two movements: parts from Händel’s ‘Messiah’, a violin solo by Joseph Joachim as well as the alto solo ‘Erbarme dich’ from the St. Matthew Passion. At the performance of six movements on Good  Friday 1868 in Bremen, today considered the world premiere, the Messiah aria ‘Ich weiß, dass mein Erlöser lebet’ was sung instead of the soprano solo.“
Johannes X. Schachtner knows that one cannot draw any easy conclusions about the style of the Brahms Requiem based on these details pertaining to its performances. Nonetheless, as he says, “one sees these works in a correlation, one can sense an inner connection between them.”
This is exactly the point where the composer‘s “Parergon to the German Requiem”
begins: it is intended to expose and make musically palpable those internal correlations without the music-historical gimmick attaining any importance in its reception. “The dramaturgy of my seven-movement compilation follows that of the Requiem”, explains the composer.
“For this reason I have supplemented the two world premieres with three special works: two Schütz motets and the Prelude to the Bach Cantata ‘Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis’. These three works could be found in the extensive private library of Johannes Brahms, and one can also find gestural and motivic traces of them in the German Requiem’. They probably did indeed provide impulses for his composition. I do not start from the premise of a performance for large orchestra, but from a performance with piano four hands that was also customary during Brahms’s lifetime. In this way, new and sometimes very independent piano parts were created for all the original works.”
In this work, Schachtner was also inspired by the continuo realisations of Bach arias, which he studied in great detail. “Just as the beginning and end are framed by newly composed meditations, I have finally replaced the violin solo by Joseph Joachim with a reflection of my own. Another work slipped into this one that, for me, has always had an inner sonic correlation with the Brahms Requiem: the theme of the Ghost Variations of Schumann, also varied later by Brahms himself.
The fact that this work also had consequences for Brahms is shown by his ‘Vier ernsten Gesänge’ (Four Serious Songs) composed shortly before his death. Especially the first movement reveals the tone of the ‘German Requiem’. This movement forms the sixth movement of my Parergon, and in this way Brahms himself speaks in this subsidiary work.”

World Premiere
Parergon to the German Requiem
of Johannes Brahms
for soprano, baritone, choir and piano four hands
freely adapted from compositions

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