Apr. 10, 1998

The Lives of the Heart

by Jane Hirshfield


Today's Reading: "The Lives of the Heart" by Jane Hirshfield from THE LIVES OF THE HEART, published by HarperPerennial (1997).

The Allied army liberated the German concentration camp, BUCHENWALD, on this day in 1945. It was one of the first and biggest camps in Nazi Germany, set up in 1937 and holding about 20,000 prisoners. Buchenwald had no gas chambers most of the inmates worked 12-hour shifts as slave laborers in nearby factories. Still, hundreds died every month there from disease, malnutrition, exhaustion, and torture.

THE GIFT OF THE MAGI by O. Henry was published on this date in 1906. It's a Christmas story, but came out in April anyway as part of a short story collection called The Four Million. O. Henry was famous for his trick endings and this was one of the best: a young husband and wife who have hardly anything to their name want to get nice Christmas presents for each other. He sells his prize watch to buy her a set of combs; she cuts her beautiful hair and sells it to buy him a watch-chain.

Johannes Brahms' GERMAN REQUIEM was premiered on this date in 1868, and made the obscure 35-year old composer a household name in his native Germany. He'd worked at the piece on-and-off since his early 20s when his friend Robert Schumann died. A requiem is a funeral mass, and the one Brahms wrote was different from just about any other composer. Most others used Latin texts from the Catholic church; Brahms chose passages from his own Bible, translated into the German by Luther. And where other requiems made a big deal about praying for the souls of the dead, Brahms' requiem was meant to console those left behind, the living.

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