sets a poem by the dramatist Friedrich Hebbel (1813–1863): the piece is sometimes known as the ‘Hebbel Requiem’ to distinguish it from the so-called ‘Latin Requiem’ that Reger began in 1914, though he got no further than an opening movement, Totenfeier
, and a fragment of the Dies irae
. Little of the consolatory quality of the Christian Requiem Mass finds its way into the Hebbel setting, which is dedicated ‘to the memory of the German heroes fallen in the Great War’: from the tolling pedal Ds that dominate the introduction and persistently recur thereafter, through the hollow chords to which Reger sets the words ‘See, they [the dead] hover around you’, to the anguished, expressionistic evocation of the ‘shuddering’, ‘forsaken’, ‘cold’ souls, the piece seems determined to expose death in all its grim horror. This emphasis is all the more poignant given that Requiem
, alongside its companion piece Der Einsiedler
, was not premiered until July 1916, two months after Reger’s own death. In the work’s final moments, however, the tonality shifts hesitantly from minor to major: though the sentiments expressed by the text remain identical to those of the start (‘Soul, forget not the dead’), the uneasy calm that Reger conveys at the end of this unorthodox work suggests that some measure of religious faith—whether Catholic or Protestant—remained intact as his life approached its partly self-inflicted end.
from notes by Michael Downes © 2010