Brahms Requiem at St Peter's

The Director of Music writes…

The Choir of St Peter’s is proud to include regular concert performances alongside the regular opus Dei of the church, and in February we are pleased to be collaborating again with the Southwell Minster Chorale (the cathedral’s voluntary choir), this time to perform Johannes Brahms‘s famous Ein Deustches Requiem – surely one of the great choral works of the repertoire.
Brahms the composer was not an ‘early bloomer’, so intimidated was he by the legacy of Beethoven’s epoch-changing genius and innovation; indeed (extraordinarily, given its physical and emotional scale), the Requiem was in fact Brahms‘s first major composition (his first symphony didn’t appear for another decade), written when he was only in his thirties. The orchestration of the Requiem is typically Romantic, calling for large wind and brass sections as well as strings, organ and harp.  To balance these orchestral large-scale forces, the work is usually performed with a choir of at least a hundred singers.
Interestingly, though, Brahms also prepared a version of the work to be performed as a piano duet with four hands on one piano. This version also incorporates the vocal parts, suggesting that it was intended as a self-contained version, probably for at-home use. However, the vocal parts can also be omitted, making the duet version an acceptable substitute accompaniment for choir and soloists – this version has found popularity in recent years, bringing the work into the realms of possibility for smaller choirs, such as that at St Peter’s!  Performances with piano, however, do seem to lack the richness, colour and sustain of the long lines that characterise Brahms‘s style. This led musical polymath Iain Farrington (commissioned, coincidentally, by our friend and colleague at St Mary’s Newark, Director of Music Dr Stephen Bullamore) to create an arrangement of the acompaniment that, whilst keeping the piano at the core of the ensemble, adds six other instrumentalists to create a satisfying and Brahmsian texture, retaining much of the original orchestration.
This arrangement gives choirs wanting to perform the work on a smaller scale the opportunity to do so, but with the variety and fullness of the orchestral version. An intriguing prospect, I hope you will agree, and I would be fascinated to hear what you think. The work will be performed at the Coffee Break Concert on Saturday 17th February and then repeated the following evening at Southwell.