Last night my husband and I acquired free tickets to Brahms’ Deutsche Requiem at the Sage, Gateshead, performed by the Royal Northern Sinfonia and Choir. The programme also included the work ‘Requiem’ by the Japanese composer Takemitsu. Having never seen a live performance of the Brahms – though having written much about the music – I was struck by the two soloists. They were not only physically isolated from the rest of the voices (being at the front of the stage whilst the choir was high up behind the orchestra) but they were musically isolated, not really interacting. A long time seemed to pass before the soloists were called upon. When the male voice enters, it sounds very much like a bereaved Brahms pleading for a purpose in life through his grief. In the next movement, it is all too easy to read the female solo voice as Brahms’ mother’s – singing to comfort ‘as one is comforted by his mother’. The fact that one stands up to sing, sings and sits back down followed by the other doing the same, and back to the first, left me willing them to sing together (despite the fact I knew this didn’t happen in the music). It is unsatisfying, but it perhaps reflects the fact that Brahms could no longer sing with his late mother. Does this reflect the fact that death can only ever happen on an individual level? That death is always isolating?
There is a lot in my PhD about the move of the Requiem to the personal level from the institutional during the Romantic era. Interpreting Brahms’ Requiem in the way I have here makes it all the more personal.