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Requiem (Reger)

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Requiem (Reger)

The Requiem, Op. 144b, is a late Romantic composition of Max Reger, also called Hebbel Requiem, a setting of Friedrich Hebbel's poem Requiem. Reger wrote it in 1915 for alto (or baritone) solo, chorus and orchestra. It is his last finished choral work with orchestra.

He had written before in 1912 a Requiem for male voice choir on the same words, as the final part of his Op. 83, and he had started to compose a setting of the Latin Requiem in 1914, which remained a fragment and was later assigned the name and work number Lateinisches Requiem, Op. 145a.


Brahms had opened the way in A German Requiem to compose a Requiem about the rest for the dead, which is not liturgical and not in Latin. The work known as Reger's Requiem, Op. 144b, is also not a setting of the Requiem in Latin, but of a German poem with the same title written by the dramatist Friedrich Hebbel, beginning: Seele, vergiß sie nicht, Seele, vergiß nicht die Toten (O soul, forget them not, o soul, forget not the dead).[1][2][3] Peter Cornelius had composed a requiem motet on these words for a six-part chorus in 1863 as a response to the author's death.[4] Reger wrote his first setting of the poem in 1912 in Meiningen, where he worked since 1911 as a Hofkapellmeister of the duke Georg II of Sachsen-Meiningen.[5] Titled Requiem it was the final part of Zehn Lieder für Männerchor (Ten songs for men's voices), Op. 83.[6] In 1914, after the outbreak of the war, he began to compose a setting of the Latin Requiem, which he intended to dedicate to the soldiers who fell in the war.[7] The work remained unfinished, just a Kyrie and a fragment of a Dies Irae. The Kyrie was later assigned the name and work number Lateinisches Requiem, Op. 145a. It was first performed by conductor Fritz Stein, Reger's friend and biographer, in Berlin in 1938.[8]

In 1915, a year before his own death, Reger moved to Jena and composed the poem again, this time for a solo voice (alto or baritone), chorus and orchestra.[9] The Requiem, Op. 144b, was combined with Der Einsiedler (The Hermit), Op. 144a, on words of Joseph von Eichendorff as Zwei Gesänge für gemischten Chor mit Orchester (Two songs for mixed chorus with orchestra), Op. 144. He wrote as a dedication in the autograph of the Requiem: "Dem Andenken der im Kriege gefallenen deutschen Helden" (To the memory of the German heroes who fell in the Great War).[8][10][11]

The Requiem was first performed 16 July 1916, after the composer's death.[12] The work was first published by N. Simrock in 1916,[13] and in 1928 by Edition Peters,[14] the performance duration given as 18 minutes.[15]


The title of Hebbel's poem Requiem alludes to Requiem aeternam, rest eternal, the beginning of the


Reger's work is in one movement, following mainly the structure of the poem but with variations, resulting in a structure:

A Seele, vergiß sie nicht
B Sieh, sie umschweben dich
C und in den heiligen Gluten
A' Seele, vergiß sie nicht
B' Sieh, sie umschweben dich
D und wenn du dich erkaltend ihnen verschließest
E Dann ergreift sie der Sturm der Nacht
A'' Seele, vergiß sie nicht

The key is D minor, as is Mozart's Requiem. The tempo in common time is marked Molto sostenuto, kept with only slight modifications by stringendo and ritardando until the most dramatic section E, marked Più mosso (moving more) and later Allegro, returning to the first tempo for the conclusion.

The short instrumental introduction is based on a pedal point for several measures, reminding of the openings of Bach's St John Passion and St Matthew Passion. In a pattern strikingly similar to the beginning of A German Requiem, the bass notes are repeated, here on an extremely low D, lower even than the opening of Wagner's Das Rheingold on E flat. In the autograph Reger wrote the many necessary ledger lines (rather than using the symbol an octave lower), perhaps in order to stress the depth. The soloist alone sings the intimate appellation (A) Seele, vergiß sie nicht in a melody simple as a chorale, repeating the first line after the second. Throughout the piece the soloist sings only these words, in the beginning and in the repeats. The chorus, divided in eight parts in B and B', illustrates the hovering in mostly homophon chords, marked ppp. In C the chorus is divided in 4 to 6 parts, set in more independent motion. In A' the soloists sings similar to the first time, but repeats the second line once more while the chorus sings B'. In D the chorus literally stiffens on a dissonant 5-part chord fortissimo on the word erstarren. In great contrast the storm of E is depicted in dense motion of four parts imitating a theme in triplets. In the conclusion the soloist begins as before but this time finally the chorus joins in the words of the appellation. The soloist introduces a new wording Vergiß sie nicht, die Toten, repeated by the chorus (espressivo, dolcissimo) on the melody of the chorale O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden which Bach used in his St Matthew Passion in five verses. The melody is not repeated as in the original but continued for half of a line. Reger is known for quoting chorales in general and this one in particular, mostly referring to its last verse Wenn ich einmal soll scheiden. The quoted words would then be Wenn ich den Tod soll leiden, so tritt du denn herfür. Wenn mir am allerbängsten (When I my death must suffer, Come forth thou then to me! And when most anxious trembling).[16] Reger completes the chorale setting in his way for the chorus, while the solo voice repeats Seele, vergiß nicht die Toten.

Debra Lenssen wrote in her thesis (2002) about Reger's music in his last choral works with orchestra:[17]
As their composer's final completed works for chorus and orchestra, Der Einsiedler and Requiem, Op. 144a and 144b, demonstrate Max Reger's mature ability when setting poems of recognized literary merit. These powerful single-movement works from 1915 defy many stereotypes associated with their composer. They manifest a lyrical beauty, a dramatic compactness, and an economy of musical means. The central theme of both is mortality and death. Chapter 1 of this study provides biographical material on Reger gleaned from current and historical materials published largely in German. Chapters 2 and 3 contain analyses of the poems by Joseph von Eichendorf and Christian Friedrich Hebbel set in Op. 144a and 144b and an identification and analysis of the harmonic, melodic, textual, structural and timbral properties of Reger's response to them in the Zwei Gesänge für gemischten Chor mit Orchester, Op. 144. The finding is that his careful control of compositional parameters in these works results in a powerful distillation of lifelong compositional habits. In these challenging works, his mastery of impulse, technique, and material is apparent. Op. 144 constitutes both a continuation of Reger's choral/orchestral style in earlier works and, by dint of the composer's death as a mid-aged man, the culmination of it.

Organ version

The Requiem employs a large orchestra[14] and requires a chorus to match. Therefore it has been performed only rarely. To make the remarkable music more accessible, composer and organist Max Beckschäfer arranged the work for voice, chorus and organ in 1985.[18] The organ version was premiered in the Marktkirche Wiesbaden, where Reger had played the organ himself when he had lived there starting in 1891.[19] Gabriel Dessauer conducted a project choir, later known as the Reger-Chor,[20] Beckschäfer was the organist. The choir, expanded by singers from Belgium to the Reger-Chor-International, performed the work again in 2001 with organist Ignace Michiels from the St. Salvator's Cathedral of Bruges, both in the Cathedral of Bruges and in St. Bonifatius, Wiesbaden (recorded live).[21] They performed it a third time in 2010 to celebrate 25 years Reger-Chor.[20]



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