The pandemic has been a tough time for choirs. But Rideau Chorale has persevered. The result: a sold-out December concert, albeit at reduced capacity, with more than 700 additional views online, and now there are plans for an encore in April.
“So, we thought we should do it again,” says Rideau Chorale chairperson Elizabeth Tromp. “Especially as we push towards what is hopefully the end of the pandemic.”
With Matthew Larkin at the helm again, Rideau Chorale began preparing Johannes Brahms’ The German Requiem. Larkin is an organist, composer and choral and orchestral conductor known for his enthusiastic and engaging leadership style and well known to Ottawa and Glebe residents.
The choir began rehearsal in January, only online due to public health concerns until the first in-person rehearsal in mid-February.
“It was fantastic to see each other again,” says tenor and Glebe resident Michael Koros. “Even though, well, I couldn’t actually see anyone because of the masks.”
The German Requiem is one of Brahms’ largest and best-known choral works. Brahms, one of the “Three Bs” of music alongside Bach and Beethoven, worked with many leading musicians of his time. He was a virtuoso pianist himself and one of the leading Romantic composers.
Unlike many liturgical works of its time, the text Brahms used was from the Lutheran Bible and the words are in German rather than Latin.
“It is wonderful to perform such a beautiful piece,” says alto and Glebe resident Isabella Grigoroff. “While I speak German, many choir members are not familiar with the language, so that adds a layer of work to our collective effort.”
As with many of the great compositions of the time, the Requiem was written over a number of years.
Brahms was great friends with acclaimed pianist Clara Schumann and her husband, composer Robert Schumann. Shortly after Robert attempted suicide in 1854, Brahms composed an early version of the second movement of the requiem. Robert was admitted to a sanatorium at his request, where he died two years later. Brahms remained close friends with Clara, assuming responsibility for the household and her business matters.
Most of the Requiem was composed after Brahms’ mother’s death in 1865. It premiered in 1868.
“Every voice has challenges,” says Koros, “but every voice is beautiful. And when they all fit together, it’s pretty great.”
Rideau Chorale’s concert “Renewing Courage” will take place on April 2 at Southminster Church. The title was chosen to underline Rideau Chorale’s commitment to keep singing through the pandemic. It’s drawn from a letter Clara Schumann wrote about Brahms: “… heaven has sent me a friend who has borne all my sufferings with me, and truly does only what can cheer me; a young composer, Johannes Brahms, a great favourite of my Robert’s. He has so truly supported me, ever renewing my courage when it threatened to fail – in short he is a friend to me in the highest and finest sense of the word.”
“Brahms has been a friend to us these past months,” says Grigoroff, “renewing our courage too. It’s something we want to share with our community.”