Brahms's Vocal Duets and Quartets with Piano: A Guide with Full Texts and Translations

Brahms's Vocal Duets and Quartets with Piano: A Guide with Full Texts and Translations

by Lucien Stark


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" . . . a generous treatment of some of Brahms's most endearing and imaginative creations." —Choice

" . . . an excellent addition to the literature on vocal chamber music . . . " —Notes

In this sequel to A Guide to the Solo Songs of Johannes Brahms, Lucien Stark opens up a beautiful and largely neglected repertoire, providing the full German text for each song, along with a new English translation, notes on vocal ranges, and a wealth of engaging commentary of technical, aesthetic, and historical interest.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780253334022
Publisher: Indiana University Press
Publication date: 07/22/1998
Pages: 176
Product dimensions: 6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x (d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Lucien Stark, Professor Emeritus of Piano at the University of Kentucky, maintains a full schedule of coaching and performance.

Read an Excerpt

Brahms's Vocal Duets and Quartets with Piano

A Guide with Full Texts and Translations

By Lucien Stark

Indiana University Press

Copyright © 1998 Lucien Stark
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-253-02845-7


Three Duets for Soprano and Alto


* * *

Drei Duette fur eine Sopran und eine Altstimme mit Begleitung des Pianoforte componirt von Johannes Brahms (Three duets for solo soprano and alto voices with piano accompaniment composed by Johannes Brahms), Op. 20. Published in March 1862 by N. Simrock in Bonn; publication number 6206; German text only.

Brahms spent the summer holiday of 1858 in Gottingen with his recently married friends Julius and Philippine Grimm. There he met and became infatuated with Agathe von Siebold, the dark-haired, sweet-voiced daughter of a medical professor at the university. It is to his delight in her singing that we owe the two "Weg der Liebe" duets of Op. 20, most of the songs of Opp. 14 and 19, and, probably, "Die Schwestern," to be published in 1874 as Op. 61/1. The romance led to an informal engagement and the secret exchange of rings, but, characteristically, Brahms could not bring himself to a firm commitment to marriage. In January 1859 he wrote to her bluntly that, though he loved her, he could not "wear fetters"; anguished, she released him from whatever promises he had made, but with the stipulation that he not return. They never saw each other again.

The Op. 20 duets belong to the long-standing German tradition of Hausmusik — pleasant music of no great complexity or difficulty, suitable for performance by amateurs — the most recent noted contributors to which were Mendelssohn and Schumann. Kalbeck, with atypical intolerance, dismisses all three pieces as "routine, Biedermeier products with Mendelssohnian trimmings" and points to their "regular, short-breathed phrasing, schoolmasterly counterpoint, and trivial cadences" (Johannes Brahms, I2, 336).

While it is true that Brahms at twenty-five was not yet the supreme master of text-music synthesis that he was to become, there is much here that is strikingly original and undeniably Brahmsian, given the music's intended audience: the colorful harmonic borrowings from the opposite mode, particularly at cadences; the charming use of contrary motion between the voices and the piano in no. 2; the underlay of heartache in no. 3, which erupts in the wailing lament of the third phrase. Yet the music seems rather to accommodate the text than to embody it, and there is no more than a hint of the terse drama of the vocal writing that is to come.

The nearly constant thirds and sixths have the effect of compressing the two voices into a single, resonance-enhanced entity. Even the contrapuntal contrasts seem rather to intensify the same thought than to produce two distinct identities.

Weg der Liebe, I. Teil, Op. 20/1 (Love's pathway, part I)

Translated from the English by Johann Gottfried von Hender (1744–1803)

Über die Berge,
Über die Wellen,
Unter den Gräbern,
Unter den Quellen,
Über Fluten und See'n,
In der Abgründe Steg,
Über Felsen, über Höhen,
Find't Liebe den Weg.

In Ritzen, in Falten,
Wo der Feu'rwurm nicht liegt,
In Höhlen, in Spalten,
Wo die Fliege nicht kriecht,
Wo Mücken nicht fliegen
Und schlüpfen hinweg,
Kommt Liebe, sie wird siegen
Und finden den Weg!

Sprecht, Amor sei nimmer
Zu fürchten, das Kind!
Lacht über ihn immer,
Als Flüchtling, als blind,
Und schließt ihn durch Riegel
Vom Tag'licht hinweg:
Durch Schlösser und Siegel
Find't Liebe den Weg.

Wenn Phönix und Adler
Sich unter euch beugt,
Wenn Drache, wenn Tiger
Gefällig sich neigt,
Die Löwin läßt kriegen
Den Raub sich hinweg,
Kommt Liebe, sie wird siegen
Und finden den Weg.

Over the mountains,
over the waves,
under tombstones,
under springs,
over floods and seas,
on a path through the abyss,
over rocks, over heights,
Love will find the way.

In crevices, in crannies
where the glowworm cannot lie,
in cavities, in cracks
where a fly cannot crawl,
where gnats cannot fly
and expect to escape —
Love will come, it will triumph
and discover the way!

Declare, Cupid is never
to be feared, the child!
You may deride him constantly
as a fugitive, as blind,
and lock him away
from daylight behind bars:
through locks and seals,
Love will find the way.

Though phoenix and eagle
may bend to your will,
though dragon, though tiger
may bow down obligingly,
the lioness may allow you
to carry away her prey,
Love will come, it will triumph
and discover the way!

E major; 6/8; Allegro; SA

Approximate duration: 2'15.

A B C B' A; the first strophe is repeated at the end to round out a five-part form.

Composed in September 1858, presumably in Gottingen.

A notice in the Neue ZeitungfurMusik for 6 May 1864 indicates that either Part I or Part II of "Weg der Liebe" was performed in Lucerne on 10 March 1864, the earliest documented public performance. A private performance by Ottilie Ebner-Hauer and Rosa Girzick took place at Theodor Billroth's house on the Alserstrasse in Vienna on 29 January 1878.

The original English poem, "Love Will Find Out the Way," appeared in Reliques of Ancient English Poetry (London, 1765) by Thomas Percy (17291811). Herder's German translation is found in his Volkslieder (Leipzig, 1778-1779), retitled Stimmen der Völker in Liedern in 1807. Since "Love Will Find Out the Way" has five verses, it is evident that Herder not only translated but adapted the text, most notably by deriving his third stanza from the combining of stanzas 3 and 4:

You may esteem him
A child for his might;
Or you may deem him
A coward from his flight;
But if she, whom love doth honour,
Be conceal'd from the day,
Set a thousand guards upon her,
Love will find out the way.

Some think to lose him,
By having him confin'd;
And some do suppose him,
Poor thing, to be blind;
But if ne'er so close ye wall him,
Do the best that you may,
Blind love, if so ye call him,
Will find out his way.

In Brahms's exuberant setting, the voices, buoyed by the leaping staccato eighths in the accompaniment, quickly soar to a high point in m. 9. There the bass becomes an octave-doubled line that imitates the opening vocal motive sequentially through the lowered seventh and lowered sixth to the dominant, then supports the voices in contrary motion as the harmonies find their way (as surefootedly as the Love of the text) back to the tonic key to end the section.

Stanza 2 begins with canonic imitation at the unison one measure apart and modulates to the key of the dominant. The canon seems to have been motivated more by the desire for contrast than by textual demands, though the closeness of the imitation may suggest the tightness of the crevices and crannies, and the mostly stepwise motion, the crawling of the worms and insects.

A brief piano interlude modulates from the dominant B to the key of G for stanza 3, the lowered-submediant relationship that Brahms so often associated with imagination or unreality. Some bland counterpoint affords little contrast because of the rhythmic simultaneity of the voices, but the passage in octaves at "durch Schlosser und Siegel" is a striking change of texture.

Stanza 4 is set to a variant of the music for stanza 2, with its canonic beginning and its modulation, this time from G back to B. The function of B as dominant of the home tonic is made unmistakable by the change from G[??] at "Liebe" in m. 89 to G# at "siegen" in m. 91.

An exact repetition of the opening strophe rounds out the form and ends the song. As before, the high A on "Liebe" at the beginning of the concluding phrase provides a satisfying climax, and the insinuation of a C[??] into the bass line two measures later is a true Brahmsian touch — it both recalls the lowered-submediant harmonies that are prominent throughout and adds particular poignancy to the closing repetition of the word "Liebe."

A short postlude, animato, based on the canonic melody from strophes 2 and 4, provides a brilliant ending.

Weg der Liebe, II. Teil, Op. 20/2 (Love's pathway, part II)

Translated from the English by Johann Gottfried von Herder (1744 — 1803 )

Den gordischen Knoten,
Den Liebe sich band,
Kann brechen, kann lösen
Ihn sterbliche Hand?
Was müh't ihr, was sinnet
Ihr listigen Zweck?
Durch was ihr beginnet,
Find't Liebe den Weg.

Und wär' Er verriegelt,
Und wär' Er verkannt,
Sein Name versiegelt
Und nimmer genannt,
Mitleidige Winde,
Ihr schlüpfet zu mir
Und brächtet mir Zeitung
Und brächtet ihn mir.

Wär'st fern über Bergen,
Wär'st fern über'm Meer:
Ich wandert' durch Berge,
Ich schwämme durch's Meer;
Wär'st, Liebchen, ein' Schwalbe
Und schlüpfest am Bach,
Ich, Liebchen, wär' Schwalbe
Und schlüpfte dir nach.

Can mortal hand break,
can it loosen
the Gordian knot
that Love has tied?
Why trouble yourself, why ponder
crafty strategy?
Through whatever you undertake,
Love will find the way.

And if He were imprisoned,
and if He were unrecognized,
His name concealed
and never mentioned,
sympathetic winds,
you would blow to me
and bring me tidings
and bring him to me.

If you were far away over mountains,
if you were far away across the sea,
I would walk across mountains,
I would swim across the sea;
beloved, if you were a swallow
gliding at the brook,
I'd be a swallow too, darling,
and glide after you.

C major; 6/8; Poco Adagio molto espressivo; SA.

Approximate duration: 2'30.


Composed in September 1858, presumably in Göttingen.

Either Part I or Part II of "Weg der Liebe" was performed in Lucerne on 10 March 1864, according to a notice in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik for 6 May 1864; this was the only documented early performance.

Herder's German translation is found in his Volkslieder (Leipzig, 17781779), retitled Stimmen der Völker in Liedern in 1807. There it is separated from, but seems to be a continuation of, "Weg der Liebe, I. Teil." In fact, Part II does not appear with Part I in Percy's Reliques of Ancient English Poetry as many have presumed. An annotation in Herder's index reveals that Part II is from "D'Urfeys [Thomas D'Urfey (1653-1723)] Collection of Songs and Ballads, Vol. 5, p. 34," where it "runs on at considerable length [steht weitläuftiger]. Here are only the best strophes."

In verse 3, line 2, Herder wrote "Wär'st weit über'm Meer"; Brahms replaced "weit" with "fern," perhaps for its parallelism with line 1.

The setting is in strong contrast to that of Part I in its quiet intensity, aura of heartfelt personal emotion, harmonic richness, and serene tempo. The voices are rhythmically synchronous throughout except for two passing tones in the alto, and they sing almost entirely in parallel thirds and sixths. All of the phrases are of four measures, including the piano postlude at the end of each strophe. Yet any impression of squareness is minimal because the elegant accompaniment provides continuity and a sense of dramatic progression.

The opening measure establishes quiet motion in constant eighth notes, which continues throughout. The piano's melody moves in contrary motion to that of the voices in phrase 1 and bridges the gap between phrases. In phrase 2 it is the bass line that moves in contrary motion to the voices and doubling piano melody. The left hand's inner voices in phrase 3 move contrary to the right hand; continuing motion in the accompaniment again joins the vocal phrases. The piano melody's attempt at independence from the voices in phrase 3 becomes a reality in phrase 4, and the bass moves in contrary motion to both.

Among the trademark Brahmsian harmonic usages are the early turn to the subdominant (in m. 5) and its minor inflection (in m. 8); the many borrowings from the minor mode, especially in phrase 3 and the postlude; and the chromatic and enharmonic alteration of the diminished seventh in m. 12 into the dominant seventh in m. 13 of the Neapolitan in m. 14 — a heightened touch of pathos before the return to the sunny tonic major for the strophe's conclusion.

The lovely postlude seems both to encapsulate and to resolve the preceding drama. Performers should take into account that the interior fermatas signal only the ends of strophes rather than full-fledged interruptions of movement.

Since the two parts of "Weg der Liebe" are related only by subject matter and the recurring title phrase, and not by either poetic origin or musical material, there seems not to be the compelling case for pairing them in performance that can be made, for example, for "Scheiden und Meiden" and "In der Ferne," Op. 19/2 and 3, "Sommerabend" and "Mondenschein," Op. 85/1 and 2, or the two parts of "Liebe und Frühling," Op. 3/ 2 and 3. As is also true of "Regenlied" and "Nachklang," Op. 59/3 and 4, each part of "Weg der Liebe" is so complete in itself that in coupling them one risks dilution, rather than enhancement, of their considerable separate effect. (In both cases the objection lessens when the pair is performed in the context of the complete opus.)

Die Meere, Op. 20/3 (The seas)

Text by Wilhelm Müller (1794 — 1827), after the Italian

Alle Winde schlafen auf dem Spiegel
der Flut;
Kühle Schatten des Abends decken die
Müden zu.
Luna hängt sich Schleier über ihr
Schwebt in damernden Träumen über
die Wasser hin.

Alles, alles stille auf dem weiten
Nur mein Herz will nimmer mit zur
Ruhe geh'n.
In der Liebe Fluten treibt es her und
Wo die Stürme nicht ruhen, bis der
Nachen sinkt.

All the winds are asleep on the tide's
the cool shadows of evening cover the
Luna hangs veils over her face,
hovers over the water in glimmering

Everything, everything is quiet on
the broad sea!
Only my heart refuses to join in the
It is tossed to and fro on torrents of
where the storms will not abate until
the skiff sinks.

E minor; 6/8; Andante; SA.

Approximate duration: 2 '45.

Strophic; the second strophe is extended through repetition of the last line of text.

Composed in April 1860 in Hamburg.

The first public performance was given in Munich on 30 November 1889 by Mathilde von Schelhorn and Marie Schmidtlein with Joseph Giehrl at the piano.

The text is the second of the Lieder vom Meerbusen von Salerno in Lyrische Reisen und epigrammatische Spaziergänge (1827); it also appears in Die Volksharfe, Sammlung der schönsten Volkslieder aller Nationen (Stuttgart, 1838), which was Brahms's source.

The setting is a Mendelssohnian barcarolle — one is reminded of the "Venetianische Gondellieder" from the Lieder ohne Worte for piano, Opp. 19/6, 30/6, and 62/5. As in the Mendelssohn models, erotic turmoil and melancholy lurk just below the surface, and mounting tension shatters the placid regularity of phrasing into emotionally charged irregularity as the piece progresses.

At the outset the piano introduces the inexorable rocking motion that will continue to the end. It doubles the tranquil first vocal phrase and continues its melody into the lower octave, spanning the gap between phrases and darkening its doubling of the text's less serene second line. The second phrase acquires an upbeat of two eighths and modulates to the relative major — a signal that change is imminent.

The dramatic crux of both text and music is in the third line. Almost immediately the introduction of a C# and A# drive the music toward B minor, the AH clashing curiously with the M just preceding. The soprano's grace note in m. 14 is like a little sob; the expected four-measure phrase breaks off with a gasp after two, and the second part is extended by a prolonged descending wail, to a total of nearly six measures.

The final phrase, in pianissimo contrast to the climactic phrase 3, loses first its C#, then it's A#, to return to the tonic key. It begins with two eighths before the barline but, since there is no harmonic movement to the downbeat, the effect is rather of an initial three-beat measure than a two-eighth upbeat.

In the second strophe a repetition of the last line of text becomes a codetta in the tonic major, the poet apparently finding some sweetness in the prospect of ceasing to struggle against the torrents of love. The piano, however, doubles darkly in the lower octave as in phrase 2, and the postlude returns sadly to the minor mode.


Four Duets for Alto and Baritone


* * *

Duette für Alt und Bariton mit Begleitung des Pianoforte componirt und Frau Amalie Joachim gewidmet von Johannes Brahms (Duets for alto and baritone with piano accompaniment composed and dedicated to Frau Amalie Joachim by Johannes Brahms), Op. 28. Published in December 1863 by C. A. Spina in Vienna; publication numbers 17,958-61; German only.

The contralto Amalie Joachim (1839-1898), née Schneeweiss, was the wife of the famed Hungarian-born violinist Joseph Joachim (1831-1907), a close friend and leading champion of Brahms. She first gained a reputation in opera under the professional name Weiss but confined her activities to the concert stage after her marriage. She introduced many of Brahms's Lieder and was a renowned interpreter of his Alto Rhapsody; the two songs with viola, Op. 91, were written for her. Brahms sent her the published Op. 28 duets in January 1864 as a belated Christmas gift.

These four duets represent a considerable change in approach from those of Op. 21. All four of the texts are dialogues, almost demanding the treatment of the two voices as separate entities. But the music can tell us more than is possible in the printed poetry. Is there communication or a failure to communicate? Are the viewpoints compatible or opposing? Does the exchange bring the participants closer or drive them apart? Therein lies the drama of the Op. 28 duets.


Excerpted from Brahms's Vocal Duets and Quartets with Piano by Lucien Stark. Copyright © 1998 Lucien Stark. Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
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Table of Contents

Three Duets for Soprano and Alto (Op. 20)
Four Duets for Alto and Baritone (Op. 28)
Three Quartets (Op. 31)
Liebeslieder (Op. 52)
Four Duets for Soprano and Alto (Op. 61)
Three Quartets (Op. 64)
Neue Liebeslieder (Op. 65)
Five Duets for Soprano and Alto (Op. 66)
Four Ballads and Romances for Two Voices (Op. 75)
Five Romances and Songs for One or Two Voices (Op. 84)
Four Quartets (Op. 92)
Zigeunerlieder (Op. 103)
Six Quartets (Op. 112)
Little Wedding Cantata (posthumous)
Poets and Translators
Friends and Associates
Selected Bibliography
Index of Titles and First Lines

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