Brahms away! 

Getting to know the Savannah Philharmonic's featured October composer

The Savannah Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus is back this week with a program that includes A German Requiem, one of the most ambitious and dramatic works of the German–born Johannes Brahms (1833–1897).

One of the best–known composers of the Romantic period, Brahms wrote symphonies, concerti, chamber music, piano works, choral compositions, and more than 200 songs.

This performance, inside the dazzling Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, will feature the soloists Rebecca Flaherty (soprano) and Allen Henderson (bass). The Phil will also perform Brahms’ Tragic Overture, and Beethoven’s Egmont Overture.

Peter Shannon, as always, is the musical director and conductor.

Here are a few pointed facts about Brahms, who is buried in the Zentralfriedhof in Vienna, between Beethoven and Franz Schubert.

Brahms was a perfectionist, to the point where he would destroy his manuscripts, even after the work had been performed, if he felt he could do it better. In 1890 he undertook a massive “housecleaning,” doing away with numerous incomplete works or otherwise abandoned compositions.

He was also famously grumpy and sarcastic, and was known to have a pretty bad temper. There’s a famous story in one of the composer’s biographies: At one gathering of his friends he attacked everyone in turn, then got up to leave with the words, “If there is anyone here I have not insulted, I beg your pardon.”

“Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted,” is the translation of the opening line to A German Requiem, Brahms’ longest composition, and written for chorus, orchestra and soloists. Sacred but non–liturgical, the libretto for the piece, composed by Brahms himself, uses text from the German Luther Bible.

Brahms’ First Symphony includes a section that bears more than a passing resemblance to “Ode to Joy,” from Beethoven’s famous Ninth. One conductor of the day even referred to the Brahms work as “Beethoven’s Tenth.” Brahms was a great admirer of Herr Beethoven, who died five years before Brahms was born. Anyway, allusion to other composers was commonplace in the 19th Century. “Any ass can see that,” Brahms said when such things were brought to his attention.

In a parallel with Beethoven and his mysterious “Immortal Beloved,” Brahms was involved for many years with pianist Clara Schumann, widow of composer Robert Schumann. After the death of her husband — an early Brahms booster — they spent a good deal of time visiting one another, and the rumors flew, but since Brahms  in his typical fashion destroyed all their correspondence, no one will likely ever know if she was indeed his beloved.

Savannah Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus

Where: Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, 222 E. Harris St.

When: At 7:30 p.m. Oct. 21

Tickets: $36, $55 and $100

Online: savannahphilharmonic.org



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Bill DeYoung

Bill DeYoung

Bill DeYoung was Connect's Arts & Entertainment Editor from May 2009 to August 2014.

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