The requiem reinvented: Brahms‘s Ein deutsches Requiem and the transformation from literal to symbolic.

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Pamela D. J. McDermott (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Welborn Young

Abstract: Johannes Brahms was the first composer to claim the requiem genre without utilizing the Catholic Missa pro defunctis text. Brahms compiled passages from Luther‘s Bible for his 1868 Ein deutsches Requiem, texts that focused on comfort for the living rather than judgment and pleas for mercy on behalf of the deceased. The absence of the traditional text and the change in message created a discrepancy between the genre named in the title and the language and content of the text, and engendered debate concerning the work‘s genre classification. This unresolved debate affects understanding about the development of the genre after 1868.

This study applied semiotic theory to the question of genre classification for Ein deutsches Requiem. Marcel Danesi‘s The Quest for Meaning: A Guide to Semiotic Theory and Practice (2007) outlined a method for organizing information relevant to encoded meaning in signifiers such as signs, symbols, and icons. This theory was applied to Ein deutsches Requiem in order to uncover and document encoded meaning behind the word "requiem" in Brahms‘s title.

Robert Chase‘s Dies Irae: A Guide to Requiem Music (2003) and Memento Mori: A Guide to Contemporary Memorial Music (2007) provided data from the earliest requiem manuscripts to twenty-first century requiems. Analysis of these data resulted in clearly defined systems of convention related to the genre over time. Identification of the specific practices of requiem composers by era was foundational for an accurate description of the genre both before and after Ein deutsches Requiem.

This semiotic study examined "requiem" as a literal term and as a signifier, and defined its moment of signification as it relates to the musical genre. Consideration of historical, comparative, and cultural contexts described how communication through "requiem" as a symbol was achieved. Further analysis outlined the impact of this symbolic requiem on the genre after 1868. The question of genre classification was resolved, enabling a new understanding of the evolution of the requiem genre.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2010
Brahms, Ein deutsches Requiem, Genre, Music history, Requiem, Semiotic
Brahms, Johannes, $d 1833-1897 $t Deutsches Requiem.
Requiems $x Analysis, appreciation.
Music $y 19th century $x History and criticism.

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