Rare Romantic Requiems in Avignon

In a thoughtful comment on my post about Bernstein's Mass a reader suggests exploring some other 'flawed masterpeices' from the same genre. And here is my own contribution to the hunt for hidden gems.

Robert Schumann is one of my favourite composers. But I have to confess to never having heard a live performance, or owning a CD (although there are several in the catalogue), of either of his Requiems. So when we were in Avignon recently, and found that not just one, but both these works were being programmed in a single concert we leapt at the opportunity to hear them.

Schumann's Requiem Opus 148, scored for SATB, choir and orchestra, was composed in 1852, and follows the conventional liturgical format. The Requiem for Mignon Opus 98b of 1849 is a less conventional work celebrating Mignon from Goethe's Wilhelm Meisters Wanderjahre. These works were programmed with Schumann's Nachtlied Opus 108 for choir and orchestra with its pre-echoes of Brahms' Requiem (Brahms dedicated his Requiem to Schumann).

The venue for the concert was the 15th Century Eglise St Pierre in Avignon. The interior is so exquisite that it would have been a pleasure to hear a chorus of frogs croaking in it. But there were no concerns about the performance quality by L'Orchestre Lyrique de Region Avignon-Provence, L'Ensemble Vocal D'Avignon, and the six soloists under the dynamic, and highly musical, direction of Vincent Barthe (this young conductor is a name to look out for based on this performance).

So what of the two Requiem's? Great works from a master, but not masterpieces would be my judgement. They reminded me of Richard Strauss' comment "I am not a first rate composer, but rather a first rate second rate composer." But the two Schumann Requiems really deserve to be programmed instead of the all too frequent repeats of the more popular 'war horses' such as the Verdi. So why aren't they heard more often? There may be a contributory commercial reason. The Requiem Opus 148 requires four soloists but is really a work for chorus and orchestra. More fundamentally, like his Violin Concerto, these works were denounced by Schumann's friends after his death as second rate works composed while the master's mind was disintegrating; and it was also suggested that he had little sympathy for sacred subjects. The Opus 148 was not performed until eight years after the composer's death. The Violin Concerto's time came in the 1930's, perhaps the first decade of the 21st Century will be the time for these other deserving works?

Requiems are a recurring destination on an overgrown path, and the wealth of information on the web never ceases to amaze me.. A very useful resource is the Requiem Survey. It has 2247 classical, vocal requiems in its database from 1550 composers, and includes fragments and unfinished works.

The database contains some good programme notes, and lists recordings. For instance the Messa per Rossini mentioned in my Wiki brings collabarative music full circle post is well documented - worth visiting.

This post is dedicated to Brother Roger Schutz, founder of the Taizé community. Born May 12th 1915, died August 16th 2005


Anonymous said…
Until yesterday, I hadn't been aware of the sad nature of Brother Roger Schutz's death. Thank you for this dedication and for remembering him.

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