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“Ein Deutsches Requiem, Op. 45”
April 24, 2003
There are those moments in life where one is certain that the everyday minutiae that worries one so is as insubstantial as smoke. The hands we use for mundane activities, the breath scarcely noticed as it enters and exits the body, the eye that is witness to countless images…all these instruments lay idle until music animates them.
Requiem, such a paradoxical body of music - it is the ephemeral hand of death yet vibrating with power, life and beauty. Like a perpetual tidal wave crashing on the shores of Paradise, it consumes the senses and intoxicates every fiber of the body until death seems altogether a dream. And yet, destruction hovers at the fringes of every phrase, rounding a tone here and cutting another one; cleaving the uncertainty from those who would disbelieve until one almost feels compelled to follow those magnificent voices down into the valley of death simply because one does not wish them to stop.
The stage could barely contain the host that was required to perform this dirge. There came the Concert Choir followed by the Chamber Choir, then the University Chorus and finally, the NIU Philharmonic. The stage was awash in black and white, faces turned upward, ready and expectant. Instruments guided by their players tuned their voices and prepared themselves for the massive undertaking of one Johannes Brahms and his “Ein Deutsches Requiem, Op. 45.”
There is a proven relationship between objects that travel through air at great velocities and or magnitudes. They can be seen at slower speeds to actually bend air before them and push it outward in a cone. Just as the stage could barely contain the performers, the concert hall could barely contain their music, both instrumental and vocal. When the first passage was begun, I have every confidence that could time have been slowed, there would have been a visible wave that pushed the audience back; and thus was Brahms come to Northern Illinois University.
The University’s Philharmonic was truly a talented group of individuals, but in light of the material presented that evening, they were merely the lines upon which the words had been written; the glory belonged to those magnificent voices. As the first selection began, I was comforted by light sopranos and clear male tenors as they assured me that “…blessed are they that mourn; for they shall be comforted.”
These gentle assurances were chased doggedly by such power and damnation that goose bumps ran slowly up my spine and gently pushed the hairs up at the base of my neck. “For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away.” I was being cautioned by this flood of choruses; cautioned that my days were predetermined and that accomplishment was as fleeting as the life that had attained them.
Momentary peace returned as they readied themselves for the next selection; and then there was longing. Such a palpable longing, it hung thick as vapor in the air and left me feeling incomplete and not quite sure why. They cried out for peace and hope, trying to draw it around them forcibly as they would a cloak, grasping at the material and finding it lacking to provide the warmth they sought.
Suddenly, there was a woman’s voice. It was a full soprano, vibrating with an offer of that previously sought peace. She was the voice of all mothers, the voice of the Virgin Mary, and as a mother would comfort a small child, she gave comfort – “As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you…”
Again, peace descended on the stage and I waited expectantly for what was to follow. I promise you, the next two selections that were to follow would have made the most respected and accomplished man shrink into his shoulders and become as unsure as the boy who had clung to his mother’s knee. Then suddenly, the wave descended. There was such determination in those voices, so much reckoning for an entire life compressed into these short, clipped phrases that not a body moved in that concert hall save the ones sustaining that tide of perseverance as it rode the
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