Delving into the music of Alberic Magnard is to reach deep into the heart of French culture. Magnard was a subtle, aristocratic composer, trading in understatement. If you enjoy the delicate chromaticism of Gabriel Fauré, or Albert Roussel’s early works, such as his First Symphony, Poème de la forêt, you will love Magnard. If you are looking for the more obvious charms of Berlioz, Dukas, Franck or Saint-Saëns, you may be disappointed. Magnard is like Franck, but turned inward and away from Franck’s saccharine religiosity. Despite all the forte moments one could want, this is music best heard with the lights low and a log in the fireplace.
Brahms, always a musical preservationist, revered the liturgical works of Heinrich Schütz (1585–1672), the greatest German Baroque composer before J. S. Bach. When Brahms penned his crepuscular Ein deutsches Requiem, much of his intention – musically and textually – was modeled after careful study of Schütz’s longest work, the Musikalische Exequien (Musical Exequies) of 1636. Both works are titled similarly (for Schütz’s Exequies is “in Form einer teutschen Begräbnis – Missa,” in the form of a German Burial Mass)
In 1865 Johannes Brahms set to work on his A German Requiem, following the death his mother, Christine Brahms, who died in February of that year. Formally, it is his most original work—later his genius found a secure place in traditional forms, above all the symphony. Before expanding on that, I should take Brahms’ example in remembering my own teachers, especially since one of them once had a principle which has some oblique relevance to A German Requiem, or at least to my own experience of it.