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Saturday, November 12, 2005
  Ein deutsches Requiem, No. 4: Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music, CD 9 Tracks 38-42

There are two images of Brahms most salient in my generational memory of him (neither of which I have found online). One is of the beardless young pianist who met Jospeh Joachim while touring with Hungarian Rhapsodies. Together, they would decry the merit of Wagner's new music. The other is of the bearded, cigar smoking, heavy man in old clothes sometimes reading Wagner's scores and sometimes reflecting on the long past hardships suffered by the Schumanns. In this piece, especially in this excerpt, Brahms is somehow both of those points in his life at once.

In part, perhaps, this unity is achieved by his orchestration. The choral writing, informed by Bach chorales, provides the total ensemble with a rich center. None of the instrumental parts attempt significant contrast from the vocal parts. There is almost a sense of Klangfarbenmelodie in the orchestral doubling of the vocal lines. This concord is helped by the loudest sections of the orchestra--the brass (French horn notwithstanding) and percussion--taking a break for this movement.

We have recently heard from Gluck, Sammartini, and Berlioz in this anthology. Each of those composers used the orchestra to achieve contrast, though each with a different goal and result. Our esteemed scholars have found, in Brahms' oeuvre, a reminder of the homophonic vocal tradition that is the foundation of this "Western Music."

On the topic of Brahms, there are many wonderful comments to this post from the Helen Radice archive. 
In January 2004 I starting writing an opinion for each selection in the Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music. Now, more than a year later, I am almost finished. Soon, I will have an archive full of opinions on the music we so carelessly call "classical." And no one can stop me.

Location: Cincinnati, Ohio, United States

Director of the Contemporary Performer's Workshop... Music Teacher for St. Aloysius Gonzaga School... Principal 'Cellist of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra... Composer

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