Johannes Brahms was born on 7th May 1833 in the Gangeviertel district of Hamburg, the son of a double-bass player and his wife, a seamstress seventeen years her husband's senior. It was intended that the boy should follow his father's trade and to this end he was taught the violin and cello, but his interest in the piano prevailed, enabling him to supplement the family income by playing in dockside taverns, while taking valuable lessons from Eduard Marxsen.
In 1853 Brahms embarked on a concert tour with the Hungarian violinist Eduard Rem�nyi, during the course of which he visited Liszt in Weimar, to no effect, and struck up a friendship with the violinist Joseph Joachim, through whose agency he met the Schumanns, established now in D�sseldorf. The connection was an important one. Schumann was impressed enough by the compositions that Brahms played to him to hail him as the long-awaited successor to Beethoven. Schumann's subsequent break-down in February 1854 and ensuing insanity brought Brahms back to D�sseldorf to help Clara Schumann and her young family. The relationship with Clara Schumann, one of the most distinguished pianists of the time, lasted until her death in 1896.
It was not until 1862, after a happy period that had brought him a temporary position at the court of Detmold as a conductor and piano teacher, that Brahms visited Vienna, giving concerts there and meeting the important critic Eduard Hanslick, who was to prove a doughty champion, pitting Brahms against Wagner and Liszt as a composer of abstract music, as opposed to the music-drama of Wagner and the symphonic poems of Liszt, with their extra-musical associations. Brahms finally took up permanent residence in Vienna in 1869, greeted by many as the real successor to Beethoven, particularly after the first of his four symphonies, and winning a similar position in popular esteem and similar tolerance for his notorious lack of tact. He died in 1897.
There seems little doubt that the death of his mother in January 1865 was the immediate reason for the composition of A German Requiem, a large scale work that developed gradually over the years immediately following, but may well have been under consideration for some years. The second movement, at least, makes use of material from the slow Scherzo of the composer's rejected symphony of 1854 and 1855, the period of Schumann's final illness. Three of six completed movements were performed in Vienna in 1867 by the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde under the direction of Johann Herbeck, but was badly received. Brahms, as a North German Protestant, had chosen to make use of texts taken from the Lutheran Bible, drawing on the Old and New Testaments and on the Apocrypha, and such a work might well have seemed strange to Catholic Vienna, even had it been properly rehearsed for the occasion. Albert Dietrich, a young composer and conductor and a pupil of Schumann, whom Brahms had first met in D�sseldorf in 1853, sent a copy of the work to the organist and director of music of Bremen Cathedral, Karl Martin Reinthaler, who arranged the first performance of all six movements on Good Friday 1868, under the direction of the composer. On this occasion the Requiem was very successful and with the addition of a seventh movement, placed fifth in the whole work, became in the following years a valuable and esteemed element in choral repertoire both in Germany and abroad, establishing the wider reputation of Brahms. The texts chosen avoid overt Christian reference, and the composer himself suggested in private correspondence that he would have liked to substitute the word "human" for 'German' in the title. It has its roots above all in Bach and it has been suggested that Brahms may have drawn some inspiration from the much earlier work of Sch�tz. It is clearly vastly different in character from the liturgical Latin Requiem of Catholic tradition with its evocation of the Day of Judgement and its prayers for mercy on the souls of the dead.
The first movement of A German Requiem, Selig sind, die da Leid tragen (Blessed are they that mourn) makes telling use of the. lower strings in the orchestral accompaniment of the chorus, the absence of violins preserving a darker orchestral colouring as the movement slowly unfolds, with its sorrows and its consoling joys. The second movement, Denn alles Fleisch, es ist wie Gras (For all flesh is as the grass), derived from the scherzo-sarabande initially intended for a projected symphony, is a tragic funeral march, introduced by muted divided violins and violas, with the wind and an ominous drum-beat. Again shafts of light appear and both text and music suggest hope for the future, stressed as the chorus announces that the word of the Lord endures for ever and the basses proclaim the promised return of the redeemed of the Lord.
Herr, lehre doch mich (Lord, make me to know the measure of my days) starts with a baritone solo, echoed by the chorus, leading to a great fugue on the words “Der Gerechten Seelen sind in Gottes Hand” (The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God), anchored by a long-held organ-point from trombones, tuba and timpani. It was the enthusiasm of the player of the last of these instruments that had in part led to the failure of the first performance in Vienna, when the timpani drowned the sound of the chorus. The lyrical “Wie lieblich sind Deine Wohnungen” (How amiable are thy tabernacles), the heart of the German Requiem, is followed by the added fifth movement, Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit (Ye now therefore have sorrow), with its moving soprano solo, more directly inspired by the death of the mother of Brahms.
Denn wir haben hie keine bleibende Statt (Here on earth we have no continuing city), introduces the baritone solo with the words “Siehe, ich sage euch ein Geheimnis” (Behold, I shew you a mystery), the sound of the last trumpet (der letzten Posaune) accompanied by the brass choir of trombones and tuba in solemn chords and music that as it progresses brings fleeting suggestions of Mozart's treatment of parts of the Dies irae. The movement ends with a massive fugue, introduced by the altos with the words “Herr, Du bist w�rdig zu nehmen Preis und Ehre” (Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power). The whole work, in which a musical and textual balance is maintained, ends with a movement that corresponds to the opening. “Selig sind die Toten, die in dem Herren sterben” (Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord) balances the first “Selig sind, die da Leid tragen” (Blessed are they that mourn). As so often in the German Requiem, the mood if not the idiom of Bach is suggested in a movement at the heart of which the dead rest from their labour, finally to find peace in the Lord, as the work moves to its meditative close.
The soprano Miriam Gauci has emerged as one of the most exciting new voices on the international opera scene. Born in Malta, she studied in Milan and made her debut at La Scala in 1985 as Prosperina in the first modern revival of Rossi's Orfeo, returning the following season in Die Frau oh ne Schatten and La Sonnambula. She made her American debut in Santa Fe in 1987, when she sang the role of Madama Butterfly, a role she later recorded for the Naxos label, followed by Mimi in La Boh�me in Los Angeles, Li� in Turandot in Hamburg and Ginevra in Giordano's La Gena delle Bette at the Wexford Festival. Miriam Gauci has appeared in major opera-houses throughout Europe with a wide repertoire, ranging from Donna Elvira to Anna Bolena and Luisa Miller.
The baritone Eduard Tumagian made his debut at La Scala in the role of Nabucco, under the direction of Riccardo Muti. He has since appeared at the same opera-house in the first staging of Flavio Testi's opera Richard III in 1987 and in Verdi's I due Foscari and I Vespri Siciliani in 1988 and 1989. He has also appeared at the Opera in Paris, in Lyon, Toulouse, Montpellier, Hamburg, Frankfurt, Munich, Vienna, Zurich and Amsterdam. He made his first stage appearance at the opera in Bucharest, his native city, and after victory in a number of international competitions he was invited to appear at the Opera of the Rhine in Strassburg, where he sang the roles of Posa, Germont, Rigoletto and Scarpia. In 1985 he sang the part of Napoleon in a concert performance of Prokofiev's >War and Peace under Mstislav Rostropovich which was later recorded. Eduard Tumagian made his American debut in 1986 in la forza del destino in Pittsburgh and later roles in America have included Nabucco under Riccardo Muti in Philadelohia and New York.
Slovak Philharmonic Choir
The Slovak Philharmonic Choir was formed in 1946 from the mixed choir of Radio Bratislava and has performed, over the years, a wide repertoire of music. The Choir, since 1990 directed by Jan Rozehnal, has performed under some of the most distinguished conductors, from Claudio Abbado and Lorin Maazel to Vaclav Talich and Yuri Temirkanov, and has appeared in concerts and festival performances throughout Europe. Recordings by the Choir include the oratorio The Legend of St. Elizabeth by Liszt for Hungaroton, awarded the Paris Grand Prix du Disque in 1974 and a number of works for Naxos and Marco Polo.
Czecho-Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava)
The Czecho-Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava), the oldest symphonic ensemble in Slovakia, was founded in 1929 at the instance of Milos Ruppeldt and Oskar Nedbal, prominent personalities in the sphere of music. Ondrej Lenard was appointed its conductor in 1970 and in 1977 its conductor-in-chief. The orchestra has given successful concerts both at home and abroad, in Germany, Russia, Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Spain, Italy, Great Britain, Hong Kong and Japan. For Marco Polo the orchestra has recorded works by Glazunov, Gliere, Miaskovsky and other late romantic composers and film music of Honegger, Bliss, Ibert and Khachaturian as well as several volumes of the label's Johann Strauss Edition. Naxos recordings include symphonies and ballets by Tchaikovsky, and symphonies by Berlioz and Saint-Sa�ns.
Alexander Rahbari was born in Iran in 1948 and was trained as a conductor at the Vienna Music Academy as a pupil of von Einem, Swarowsky and Osterreicher. On his return to Iran he was appointed director of the Teheran Conservatory of Music and took a leading position in the cultural development of his country. In 1977 he moved to Europe, winning first prize in the Besan�on International Conductors' Competition and the Geneva silver medal. In the 1986-87 season he appeared for the first time with the BRT Philharmonic and in September 1988, accepted appointment as principal conductor.