Brahms famously described his Ein deutsches Requiem(A German Requiem) as a “human” requiem. “I think it’s a requiem for those living and those who mourn and those that have been left behind,” the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra’s chorusmaster Warren Trevelyan-Jones, who will conduct the MSO Chorus in a version for choir and piano four hands in October, tells Limelight. “I think it’s something that we can all relate to – we all suffer loss, we all suffer hardship, we live in a troubled world.”

Warren Trevelyan-Jones Warren Trevelyan-Jones. Photo courtesy of Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

While the title the piece ended up with – A German Requiem– might have nationalist associations today, at the time Brahms was simply referring to the language used, the vernacular German rather than the traditional Latin of the Requiem masses by Mozart and Verdi. Brahms used instead texts from Luther’s Bible, and rather than focusing on prayers for the dead, favouring instead texts that comfort the living.

“I would say it goes a little beyond religious faith,” says Trevelyan-Jones. “It’s more humanism, it’s the raw human emotions that come to the fore after a loss.”

For Brahms, that loss was the death...