Franz Lachner
(b. Rain am Lech, 2 April 1803 - d. Munich, 20 January 1890)

Requiem in D minor op. 146 (1856, rev. 1871)
for two sopranos, alto, two tenors, bass, four-voice chorus and orchestra

On 2 April 1856 Franz Lachner, the doyen of composers and conductors in southern Germany, stepped to the rostrum of the Odeon in Munich. The occasion was auspicious: it was his birthday and name day, and the program consisted entirely of his own music, the first such occasion in his twenty years as a conductor in the Bavarian capital. The heart of the program was a new work clearly written in memory of, and in deference to, Wolfgang Amadé Mozart, the centenary of whose birth was being celebrated that same year: the Requiem in D minor. Its effect on the public was electrifying: the audience was convinced that they had witnessed the birth of a new masterpiece. Banquets were held in Lachner’s honor, and the Münchner Neueste Nachrichten of 4 April gave expression to the words on everyone’s lips:

«It is not going too far to place this work, in the power and nobility of its conception and the beauty of its rigorous contrapuntal design, directly alongside Cherubini’s Requiem, which, after Mozart’s, is considered so far to be the most perfect of its kind. In truth, the appearance of this creation of genius is a source of delight, particular in an age such as ours, in which mindless frivolity or high-strung overtension grows more prevalent from day to day.»

It was perhaps the greatest success in Lachner’s long life. Yet a mere eight years later his career in Munich came to a sudden halt and he was forced to enter an early retirement. What had happened?

Franz Lachner was the most gifted of a generation of musical children born to a poor family in rural Bavaria. In his early twenties he traveled to Vienna, where he studied with Simon Sechter and became an intimate friend of Schubert (later biographers made pilgrimages to Lachner as a source of lively Schubert anecdotes). His life even impinged briefly on that of the great Beethoven when he was commissioned by a Viennese publisher to prepare of vocal score and piano four-hand arrangement of the Missa Solemnis. The publication never came about, but Lachner’s standards and qualifications were now set at the highest level. By 1836 he had been made a conductor at the Court Opera and the Academy of Music in Munich. He rose to become general music director at the Opera (1852) and a leading figure in Bavaria’s intellectual life, receiving an honorary doctorate from Munich University (1853) and enjoying friendships with Eduard Mörike and Moritz von Schwind, among others. He raised the opera’s orchestra to a pitch of perfection and was admired by all for his abilities as a conductor, even earning grudging praise from the congenitally hypercritical Hans von Bülow. He conducted the Munich premières of Tannhäuser (1855) and Lohengrin (1858) at a time when Wagner was still a political exile in Switzerland. He also turned out a voluminous body of compositions - symphonies, chamber music, a cappella church pieces - that led Schumann to call him «the most talented and knowledgeable of all composers in southern Germany.»

The downward turn in Lachner’s career came in 1864, when the eighteen-year-old Ludwig II ascended to the throne of Bavaria and brought Wagner to Munich to realize his ambitions of a Gesamtkunstwerk. With his inborn talent for intrigue, Wagner soon succeeded in having Lachner sidelined and upstaged by his own protégés, especially von Bülow. Lachner did the honorable thing and petitioned for early retirement. For years the royal authorities temporized, assuming that Wagner would soon disappear and Lachner could return to his former positions. But the damage had been done, and in 1867 Lachner was granted an extended leave of absence that was a retirement in everything but name. He then set about the task of ordering his life’s work as a composer and preparing his unpublished music for publication. One of the foremost of his concerns was the Requiem of 1856.

As early as 1864 Lachner turned to Schott in Mainz with an offer to publish the Requiem. Although basically in agreement with the quality and nature of Lachner’s music, the great publisher doubted the commercial advantages of such a large venture and procrastinated for years. Finally the composer turned to Leipzig, where he found a willing ear in the publisher Robert Seitz. In early 1871 Lachner made one major revision to the score, composing a new final movement (Lux aeterna) to replace the original repeat of the Kyrie fugue. He also arranged for a singing German translation from Franziska Hoffnaass (1832-1892), an amateur belletrist who would later achieve fame as the wife, scribe, poetess, and tireless diarist of Lachner’s most celebrated pupil, the composer Joseph Rheinberger (1839-1901). The revised bilingual Requiem was then lavishly published by Seitz in Leipzig and Weimar in full score, vocal score, and sets of orchestral and choral parts (1871), followed by an arrangement for piano four-hands by Lachner’s pupil Leo Grill (1872). A short while later a similarly lavish bilingual edition was published by Franz Ries in Dresden, likewise in full score, vocal score, sets of orchestral and choral parts, and a piano-duet arrangement (1872). The stage was now set for what was to become known as the «Lachner Renaissance.»

The Lachner Renaissance proceeded from Leipzig, where the aging composer was portrayed as a victim of the Wagner cult and lionized in conservative musical circles. The triumphant revival of the Requiem in Leipzig was followed by performances in Vienna (1872), Dresden (1872 and 1874), Berlin (also 1872 and 1874), Mainz (1873 and 1891), and Hamburg (1876), to name only the major musical capitals of Germany. As one sign of the work’s impact, the libretto was published in 1872 by Meinhold in Dresden and by Hartung in faraway Königsberg. The work was appreciated for its closeness to the Mozart tradition, the skilful workmanship of its counterpoint (especially in its four double-fugues, the Kyrie, Quam olim I and II, and the concluding Lux aeterna), and its ability to capture the many contrasting meanings and moods of the Mass for the Dead. By the 1890s Lachner’s Requiem had, however, receded before the more brilliant and dramatic examples of Berlioz, Brahms, and Verdi, and was more commonly grouped with Schumann’s posthumous Requiem as an example of depth of feeling achieved through simplicity of means. Hermann Kretzschmar summed up the general view of Lachner’s magnum opus in his famous concert guide of 1888:

«From the early 1870s it marched for a relatively long period of time through the concert halls and was given a warm reception. It is a remarkably plain and simple composition that finds everywhere just the right musical delineation for the spirit of the words. The attitude and the style of an earlier period spring to life once again within it, as a result principally of its virtues: intelligible melodies and graceful vocal forms. The solo vocalists stand out to good effect, sometimes in well laid-out but too expansive numbers. The passage in the Introit in which the ‘Et lux perpetua’ enters for the second time, and the opening of the Dies Irae with its augmented sixth chord, are the work’s outstanding inventions, and they leave behind a lasting and deep impression.»

A century later a second «Lachner Renaissance» took place, this time proceeding from Munich. Although the revival has focused primarily on his orchestral and chamber music, interest in the Requiem was sufficient to warrant the work’s republication in full score, vocal score, and parts by Ries & Erler of Berlin (1990). Since then the Requiem has been performed with increasing regularity, surprising today’s listeners with the very qualities that earned its composer the unqualified respect of his contemporaries.

Bradford Robinson, 2005

For performance material please contact the publisher Ries und Erler, Berlin. Reprint of a copy from the Musikbibliothek der Münchner Stadtbibliothek, München.