Ein Deutsches Requiem, Ballet by Martin Schläpfer
Johannes Brahms composed Ein deutsches Requiem, nach Worten der heiligen Schrift, op. 45 (or A German Requiem, based on Words of the Holy Scriptures in English) between 1865 and 1868. A monumental work for orchestra, choir and soloists, it stood out in many ways. It was a sacred composition in the German language instead of the typical Latin; despite its religious nature, it was always meant to be performed in secular settings; and Brahms himself aspired to transcend religious denomination and speak to the collective humanity through his music. The great success of the complete seven-movement version's premiere on 18 February 1869 at the Gewandhaus in Leipzig indicated the composer had probably succeeded in his aspiration. Over one and a half centuries later, Viennese choreographer Martin Schläpfer takes Ein deutsches Requiem and turns it into a landmark modern ballet performance at Volksoper Wien this season.
The ballet Ein deutsches Requiem, much like its musical source material, deals with fundamental human themes. Schläpfer reimagines the everyday toiling and scraping for food, warmth and survival in ape-like, rude movements. Then he adeptly contrasts those with moments of spiritual elevation, hopefulness and goodliness that let the dancers weave completely different motion maps. Brahms’ German Requiem goes through all of seven movements, each one a study of how suffering and pain gradually transform in spiritual elevation, hopefulness and forgiveness. Schläpfer’s choreography blends perfectly with every melodic turn and every modal change in order to deliver a uniquely transporting experience.
The lasting appeal of Ein deutsches Requiem lies not only in the musical craftsmanship of Johannes Brahms but also in its non-denominational, simply human message. Martin Schläpfer takes this universal quality of the musical score and weaves a similarly open and encompassing choreography around it. With a message of inclusion, hope and salvation on the stage of Wiener Volksoper in Vienna, one of Europe’s most international capitals, this is a performance for the books that speaks the common language of every man, woman and child on earth.