In 1883 – the same year as the premiére of his third symphony – Brahms began work on six short songs for unaccompanied choir; his 6 Lieder and Romances, each with lyrics written by several different German poets and writers, with little link between them.
The first song, Der Bucklichte Fiedler, uses a traditional Rhenish – from Rhineland – folk song, telling a jolly story of a fiddler from Frankfurt. Brahms begins with a simple song form, with verses broken by a swift pause at the end of the first page, before moving into a much more folk-y style with a triple-time section breaking up the otherwise standard song structure.
Das Mädchen follows, written by Siegfried Kapper, who died only four years before Brahms began to compose his lied. Still in folk-like spirit, this graceful song tells the story of a girl, and her… unusual… conversation with her reflection she sees in the mountains. All I’ll say is here is a translation… It’s also worth noting Brahms’ unusual time signature in this lied – he effectively writes in 7/4, splitting it into 4 and 3, with the occasional extra 3 bar.
Brahms’ third song in this cycle is O Süsser Mai, by Achim von Arnim, another German writer, born in 1781. This bittersweet lied refers to the sweet month of May, reflected in Brahms’ gorgeous use of tonality in his interpretation, tonicising several minor and major keys in the first line alone.
Fahr Wohl by Friedrich Rückert, a contemporary of Arnim, literally means ‘Farewell’, and beautifully describes the change of season, set with Brahms’ carol-like, lilting melody, each verse concluding with a sighing motif, lamenting ‘Farewell!’ Brahms sets this lied in the autumnal key of Ab major – although the choir in my video transposes it down a semitone.
Der Falke is the fifth lied in the cycle, again written by Siegfried Kapper, the same author as Das Mädchen, the second song. Der Falke means ‘The Falcon’, and features another poetic description of the beauty of the mountainous region in which the words, and the music, were written. In Brahms’ interpretation, the heroic-sounding brisk rhythms bring to mind the majesty of the falcon, as described by Kapper.
Brahms concludes his 6 lieder and romances with a setting of Goethe, one of the most quoted authors in Romantic German music – just look at how many interpretations of ‘Faust’ there are in orchestral music alone! Beherzigung translates as ‘Take this to heart’, and in his setting, Brahms makes use of a gavotte-like style, closing his set of lieder in a proud fashion.
Hope you have found this interesting! Also, thank you to https://lieder.net, which is where any translations have come from – my German is pretty much limited to tempo markings and Strauss tone poem titles at the moment… 🙂
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