BEGRÄBNISGESANG (BURIAL SONG) FOR CHOIR AND WIND
INSTRUMENTS, OP. 13
Recording: North German
Radio Chorus, conducted by Günter Jena; Members of the North
German Radio Orchestra [DG 449 646-2]
An early masterpiece that is both tragic and hopeful, this unusual
work was one of the first published pieces for chorus, along with
the contemporary Ave Maria,
Op. 12. It was written in 1858, two
years after the death of Robert Schumann, and it can be reasonably
speculated that Schumann’s memory is behind this miniature
Requiem. It can also be seen as a sort of preliminary study
both for the slow marches of the German Requiem in one
sense and for the one-movement choral/orchestral works such as the
Rhapsody and the Schicksalslied in
another sense. The use of a wind band accompaniment is
inspired. It suits perfectly the character of the
piece. There are no flutes or trumpets, Brahms instead
opting for the darker tones of oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns,
trombones, and tuba. He also includes timpani, which will
play a very large role (and somewhat anticipate their use in the German
Requiem). The omission of strings was meant
to allow for open air performances; he originally intended to
include low strings. They are not missed. Brahms was
still treating orchestral writing with caution at this
point. The entire style of the work exudes archaism.
The minor-key melody of the outer sections is Brahms’s own
composition, but it is very characteristic of an old Lutheran
chorale. The old, quasi-liturgical text contributes to this
character. The wind scoring suggests Brahms’s familiarity
with the Renaissance Venetian composer Giovanni Gabrieli and his
compositions for antiphonal brass choirs. The middle section
in major, setting the fourth through sixth stanzas, reflects his
study of J. S. Bach cantatas. The work’s pacing is
superb. Brahms builds inexorably toward the climax at the
beginning of the third stanza. He reserves the sopranos
until the phrase immediately preceding the climax, making their
entry extremely dramatic. They drop out again for the brief
closing return of the opening music. The short work has a
shattering impact, and should be better known.
Note: The link to the English translation of the text is from
Emily Ezust’s site at http://www.recmusic.org/lieder.
the most part, the translation is line-by-line, except where the
difference between German and English syntax requires slight
alterations to the contents of certain lines. The German
text (included here) is also visible in the translation link.
FROM IMSLP (First Edition from Brahms-Institut Lübeck)
SCORE FROM IMSLP (From Breitkopf & Härtel Sämtliche Werke)
(Burial Song). Text
by Michael Weiße. Tempo di Marcia funebre. Ternary
form with abbreviated return (ABA
). C MINOR, 4/4 time.
Nun laßt uns den Leib begraben,
Bei dem wir kein’n Zweifel haben,
Er werd am letzten Tag aufstehn,
Und verrücklich herfürgehn.
Erd ist er und von der Erden
Wird auch wieder zu Erd werden,
Und von Erden wieder aufstehn,
Wenn Gottes Posaun wird angehn.
Seine Seel lebt ewig in Gott,
Der sie allhier aus seiner Gnad
Von aller Sünd und Missetat
Durch seinen Bund gefeget hat.
Sein Arbeit, Trübsal, und Elend
Ist kommen zu ein’m guten End.
Er hat getragen Christi Joch,
Ist gestorben und lebet noch.
Die Seel, die lebt ohn alle Klag,
Der Leib schläft bis am letzten Tag,
An welchem ihn Gott verklären,
Und der Freuden wird gewähren.
Hier ist er in Angst gewesen,
Dort aber wird er genesen,
In ewiger Freude und Wonne
Leuchten wie die schöne Sonne.
Nun lassen wir ihn hier schlafen
Und gehn allsamt unser Straßen,
Schicken uns auch mit allem Fleiß
Denn der Tod kommt uns gleicher Weis.
A Section (Stanzas 1-3)
0:00 [m. 1]--Stanza
1. Half the basses intone the first line to a chorale-like
melody with the bassoons. The words are somewhat
“mis-accented” (normally, “uns” would not be placed on a strong
beat), creating the illusion that Brahms is using a pre-existing
melody. The altos, tenors, and the other half of the basses
repeat the line in harmony, accompanied by a trombone and
tuba. This pattern of statement and response continues for
the other three lines, which together form a complete, closed
melody. The statements and responses dovetail into each
other on the third and fourth lines. Each statement and
response is two bars, but the last two of each go into a third
bar, creating the “dovetailing” effect.
1:07 [m. 17]--On the last
note of the final response (where another “dovetail” would have
begun), the instruments begin an eight-bar interlude. The
oboe imitates the horn’s rising line, the trombones providing
sonorous harmony and the bassoons playing a drum-like
rhythm. At the end, the timpani itself enters, taking over
the drum rhythm from the bassoons and adding rolls to each upbeat.
1:40 [m. 25]--Stanza
2. The lower voices ominously begin with repeated
notes. When there is motion, it is narrow and brief, always
by step. Against this, a descending phrase in dotted
(long-short) rhythm is heard from bassoons and trombone, along
with the continuous thumping pattern of the timpani. A
steady crescendo begins in the second line and is greatly
intensified in the third, with the entry of the clarinets.
The sopranos finally make their first entry on the fourth line in
a very dramatic fashion. This line swells to a huge climax
on the last note, with the descending phrase now wailing from the
horns, the clarinets and bassoons crying out in repeated chords.
2:19 [m. 35]--Stanza
3. The full choir now sings a richly harmonized version of
the chorale melody from stanza 1. The four lines run
straight together without the responses. The third and
fourth lines are somewhat altered to avoid the “dovetailing”
effect. The stanza maintains the intensity of the preceding
climax throughout, with the timpani, horns, bassoons and clarinets
punching out a clashing triplet rhythm against the melody, which
is doubled by oboes and trombones.
2:51 [m. 43]--On the last
note of the preceding stanza, the full band begins another
interlude. It is similar to the previous one at 1:07 [m.
17], but is reduced to six bars and lacks the direct
imitation. It begins at the loud level of the preceding
music, but quiets quickly into a transition to the gentler middle
section, the timpani devolving into a murmuring continuous triplet
B Section (Stanzas 4-6)
3:15 [m. 49]--Stanza
4. A sudden, but refreshing shift to major heralds the
arrival of the contrasting section. For this stanza, Brahms
directs that only half the choir should sing (half of each
part). They sing in gentle harmony, moving together under a
consoling melody. The basses only enter on the third line,
anticipating it by a couple of beats. A low clarinet line in
triplet rhythm (going against the main rhythm) is the most
prominent part of the accompaniment. The oboe doubles the
main melody in the last two lines, with the bassoons doubling the
basses. A brief bridge passage including timpani echoes the
4:01 [m. 62]--Stanza
5. The other half of the singers joins. For the first
line, the sopranos sing fragments, with the altos imitating them
below in a canon
(strict, round-like imitation). The basses are imitated by
tenors in a similar manner for the second line. Clarinets
play in thirds with rising arpeggios in the bassoons.
Trombones join for the men’s second line. For the first
time, the music moves away from C, toward F major in the first
line and A major in the second. Each motion has hints of
4:31 [m. 70]--For the
third and fourth lines, the altos, tenors, and basses enter in
succession without the sopranos, now in three-voice
imitation. This is the most highly contrapuntal passage
(vocal lines moving independently) in the entire piece. The
third line moves to E-flat, and the fourth back home to C.
Throughout, a clarinet joins the bassoons on the rising arpeggios,
with continuing trombone and tuba background.
4:55 [m. 76]--Stanza
6. The verse begins in overlap with the basses’ completion
of the word “gewähren” from the previous imitative passage.
The music is that of stanza 4, which means the basses do not enter
until the third line, so the overlap is “safe.” Differences
from stanza 4 include the inclusion of the entire choir, a louder
dynamic level, and especially the fuller instrumentation.
The low clarinet triplets are still there, but now the oboe
doubles the main melody from the beginning. On the last two
lines, the oboe joins the clarinets on the triplet rhythm, playing
a different, harmonizing line. The same echoing bridge
passage follows. Thereafter, the timpani are left alone to
lead into the last stanza.
A' Section (Stanza 7)
5:45 [m. 89]--Stanza
7. The minor mode returns and the music of the opening
stanza is reprised for the last one, including all four statements
and responses, as well as the “dovetailing” effect. Again,
the sopranos are absent. The scoring is different. Now
the altos present the statements, with the tenors and divided
basses singing the harmonized responses. The alto statements
are doubled by bassoon and horn, while bassoons alone accompany
the responses. On the last response, tuba and timpani join,
and after the voices end, the trombones and clarinets enter for a
final major chord (the so-called “picardy third,” a closing major
chord in a minor-key piece).
7:08--END OF WORK [106 mm.]
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