Brahms's German Requiem stands at the end of a long line of Lutheran funerary music. Luther reworked funeral responsories into a new, totally Biblical form, and later Lutherans collected anthologies of Biblical texts on death and dying. Such sources were used by later composers, including Schüütz and Bach, to compose funeral pieces on Biblical texts together with appropriate chorales. Brahms's opus 45 is similar in that its text is made up of Biblical verses assembled by the composer, and connections may be drawn between chorale usage in this work and the composer's Protestant upbringing in Hamburg on one hand, and in his knowledge of two cantatas by Bach (BWV 21 and 27), on the other. The text and structure of the work accord with general, north German Protestantism, and the famous letter to Reinthaler, which many have taken as a demonstration of Brahms's general humanistic tendencies, shows Brahms to be standing aloof from the theological controversies of his day in favor of a basic understanding of Biblical authors. Part of the problem was that the first performance was scheduled for Good Friday in Bremen cathedral; Reinthaler, the organist, and the cathedral clergy would have preferred passion music of some kind and what Brahms gave them was something different. Brahms surely knew of the distinctive Lutheran observance of "Totensonntag," the commemoration of the dead on the last Sunday in the church year (the Sunday before Advent). There are many similarities between Brahms's Requiem and Friedrich Wilhelm Markull's Das Gedäächtnis der Entschlafen (The Remembrance of those Who Sleep) of ca. 1847. Since Markull's work is subtitled Oratorium füür die Todtenfeier am letzten Sonntage des Kirchenjahres (Oratorio for the Celebration of the Dead on the Last Sunday of the Church Year), it is possible that Brahms had the same occasion in mind when composing his German Requiem.
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