Orchestre des Champs-Élysées, Collegium Vocale Gent
Philippe Herreweghe, conductor
Fauré | Brahms | Stravinsky
Philippe Herreweghe has selected sacred music by three composers whose works are rarely performed together. Richly orchestrated highlights such as Stravinsky’s “Symphony of Psalms” and Fauré’s “Requiem” are flanked by by Brahms' early "Begräbnisgesang" for mixed choir and wind instruments.
Stravinsky’s decision to compose a vocal symphony based on Latin psalm verses commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Boston Symphony Orchestra irritated audiences in 1930. How did the bon vivant of objectivity and religion fit together? Russian composers up to Shostakovich referred more often, more or less openly, to old biblical poems, poetic musings on transcendence. In his choice of texts and the style of setting them to music, Stravinsky was entering a dimension beyond the religious: The psalms predate the first schism of the scriptural religions (the separation of Christianity from Judaism), while he referenced orthodox modes in the two outer movements and Western church traditions in the fugal second movement.
Brahms composed this choral work at the age of 25, during his stay in Detmold, where he worked from 1857 to 1859 not only as a pianist and piano teacher, but also as a choir director and conductor. During this time, he was intensively involved with early music and an echo of his preoccupation with Bach can still be heard.
Gabriel Fauré did not choose to write a work of horror with his Requiem, but of hope for a transformation. He thus placed himself in a discussion in which Brahms also participated with his Requiem and Mahler with his “Resurrection Symphony”. The spiritual nerve points resemble those in Stravinsky’s “Symphony of Psalms”: lamentation, supplication, praise of God, salvation.
In ecclesiastical practice, requiems were celebrated not only for funerals but also for commemoration. Seen in this light, this concert is a requiem for Stravinsky, with larger pieces serving as the framework to Brahms "Bgräbnisgesang" as the middle. In "Begräbnisgesang" Brahms does refer to this tradition of funeral music and deleted the strings from the score. Nevertheless this choral work is not exclusively tied to church practice. He wrote to his publisher: "We sing not merely at the grave and not from the grave, but for the funeral and in memory of the funeral." Robert Schumann died in 1856 and the choral work is to be understood as a commemoration of his friend and patron.
Philippe Herreweghe, the artist well versed in history, juxtaposes Stravinsky in constellations rarely considered.
Gabriel Fauré (1845 – 1924)
Requiem op. 48 (Original Version from 1893)
for soprano, baritone, choir and orchestra
Johannes Brahms (1833 – 1897)
Begräbnisgesang op. 13 (1858)
for mixed choir and wind instruments
Igor Stravinsky (1882 – 1971)
Symphony of Psalms (1930, rev. 1948)
for choir and orchestra