Recording: Edith Mathis, soprano, Brigitte Fassbaender, alto; Karl Engel, piano [DG  449 641-2]
Published 1861.

Opus 20, Brahms’s first set of vocal duets, has come in for as much negative criticism as any of his works.  They are certainly much different from his later duets, or even from his contemporary solo songs (such as Op. 19).  They seem to be rather simple pieces, at least on the surface.  All of them share the same 6/8 meter, the voices frequently move together in thirds and sixths, and Nos. 2 and 3 include much strophic repetition.  No. 1 is slightly more complex, with more variation between the verses and the voices moving in imitation, rather than strictly together, in the middle verses.  But some of the negative criticism misses the point.  Brahms never published anything that he didn’t think was worthy, and it is quite clear that in his first set of duets he is emulating one of his great predecessors, Felix Mendelssohn.  The third duet adopts the idiom of that composer’s “Venetian Gondola Songs” for piano.  Brahms also enjoys his characteristic harmonic surprises in the two “Path of Love” duets. All of the texts are translations by the great German scholar Herder of folk poems.  The first two come from the same larger group of English poems with the refrain of “love will find the way (path),” but are apparently unconnected in origin.  The musical settings also have no thematic relationships.  They were included in Herder’s “Voices of the Nations” (“Stimmen der Völker”).  The third comes from an Italian source (hence the “gondola song” idiom chosen by Brahms).

Note: Links to English translations of the texts are from Emily Ezusts site at  For the most part, the translations are line-by-line, except where the difference between German and English syntax requires slight alterations to the contents of certain lines.  The German texts (included here) are also visible in the translation links.  In the case of No. 1, the “translation” is, for the most part, simply the original English text, to which Herder remained extremely close in his poetic translation.  Links to translations of Herders version as well as the original English texts are provided for Nos. 1 and 2.

ONLINE SCORE FROM IMSLP (First Edition from Brahms-Institut Lübeck) NOTE: This first edition score differs from the later 1927 Complete Edition (Gesamtausgabe), in that the strophic repetitions in Nos. 2 and 3 are marked with repeat signs rather than written out.  The measure numbers given in the guides correspond to the Complete Edition, with the repetitions written out.
ONILNE SCORE FROM IMSLP (From Breitkopf & Härtel Sämtliche Werke) NOTE: Repetitions are written out in this score.

1. Weg der Liebe I (The Path of Love I).  Text by  Johann Gottfried Herder, adapted from an English folk poem.  Allegro.  ABCBA arch-like varied strophic form.  E MAJOR, 6/8 time.

German Text:
Über die Berge,
Über die Wellen,
Unter den Gräbern,
Unter den Quellen,
Über Fluten und Seen
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 Taglicht 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.

English Translation (mostly the original English words, but accommodating Herder’s minimal poetic alterations)
Original English Text

0:00 [m. 1]--Stanza 1 (A).  With no piano prelude, the two voices immediately set up the rocking 6/8 motion, moving in harmonies dominated by pleasing thirds and sixths.  The piano right hand doubles the voices while the left hand provides leaping, detached off-beat figures that propel the music forward. 
0:11 [m. 9]--The sixth and seventh lines are set to a distinct harmonic motion to D major and C major after a high point.  There, the piano bass shifts to the opening vocal figure in octaves while the right hand provides more connected off-beat patterns.  The seventh line recedes, then quickly builds again.  The last line moves home, and it is repeated, along with an “extra” repetition of the first two words.  Strong bass octaves, including chromatic half-steps, move opposite the vocal lines under the repeated line, which is the climax of the verse in pitch and volume.  The alto voice has some descending chromatic motion.  A brief interlude adds a tenor voice to the accompaniment and continues the right hand off-beats.
0:27 [m. 25]--Stanza 2 (B).  This strophe is set in the closely-related (dominant) key of B major.  The first two couplets are in nearly-exact canon (imitation), with the alto leading.  The arching lines move stepwise and are quite narrow.  Extra bars are added because of the canon.  The voices come together for the last two couplets.  There is a similar harmonic digression to that in the first strophe (to G-sharp), but this occurs earlier, right before the voices come together.  The accompaniment pattern continues from the preceding interlude, but it changes at the seventh line as the voices swell and briefly turn to minor.  The right hand moves to the downbeats and the left hand to low, sustained, partly syncopated octaves.  The last line is not repeated, but includes an upward-reaching climax before the cadence.
0:48 [m. 46]--An interlude that begins with the vocal cadence breaks the nearly constant piano pattern.  The left hand now plays repeated notes while the right moves to a new key, G major, with chords leading from upbeats to downbeats.
0:54 [m. 52]--Stanza 3 (C).  This verse begins quietly and is set in the more distant key of G major.  The soprano now leads, but the alto does not follow in exact imitation.  In fact, the motion of the alto voice is usually nearly opposite to that of the soprano (contrary motion).  This continues through five lines, and is continuous, without the intervening “extra” bars of stanza 2.  The whole strophe is far more chromatic than the first two and includes many half-steps.  The voices come together (the alto dropping two words, “durch Riegel”) at the sixth line in the familiar third harmony, swelling as they do.  The piano accompaniment retains the pattern of the preceding interlude.  The right hand plays repeated notes and chords while the left hand doubles the trailing alto voice.  This changes under the fifth line, where the left hand takes over the repeated notes and the right doubles the vocal harmony.
1:07 [m. 64]--The voices sing the climactic seventh line in octaves and long notes, briefly suggesting C major, before returning to third harmony and G major in the last line, whose first two words are repeated.   The right hand moves back to repeated chords, now full and rich, and the left hand then switches to the bass octaves moving against the vocal lines.   In a two-bar bridge, the repeated notes move back to the left hand.
1:18 [m. 75]--Stanza 4 (B’).  It is very similar to second strophe (B), but begins in G major.  The imitation (canon) and the “extra” bars are present.  The original “off-beat” accompaniment pattern returns.  When the voices come together at the third couplet, they wrench the harmony upward to the key of B major, a motion completed at the climax of the fourth and last couplet.  Ironically, as the music reaches the key of the first B, the actual material begins to diverge from it, particularly in the accompaniment, where repeated chords (similar to the pattern in C) are now heard in the right hand. 
1:38 [m. 95]--This interlude is similar to that between B and C at 0:48 [m. 46], but now moves (finally) back home to E major.
1:43 [m. 100]--The text and music of stanza 1 (A), are repeated exactly to round off the song.
2:05 [m. 120]--The first interlude is expanded into an exuberant postlude.  The repeated patterns of the added tenor voice reveal its relationship to the canonic melody of stanzas 2 and 4.
2:18--END OF DUET [128 mm.]

2. Weg der Liebe II (The Path of Love II).  Text by Johann Gottfried Herder, adapted from an English folk poem.  Poco adagio molto espressivo.  Simple strophic form.  C MAJOR, 6/8 time.

German Text:
Den gordischen Knoten,
Den Liebe sich band,
Kann brechen, kann lösen
Ihn sterbliche Hand?
Was müht 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 schlüpftet zu mir
Und brächtet mir Zeitung
Und brächtet ihn mir.

Wärst fern über Bergen,
Wärst fern überm Meer:
Ich wandert’ durch Berge,
Ich schwämme durchs Meer;
Wärst, Liebchen, ein’ Schwalbe
Und schlüpftest am Bach,
Ich, Liebchen, wär’ Schwalbe
Und schlüpfte dir nach.

English Translation (literal translation of Herder's German)
Original English Text

0:00 [m. 1]--Stanza (strophe) 1.  One measure of pulsating low bass C’s prepares the vocal entrance.  These bass C’s continue under the first phrase.  The voices move together, mostly in thirds and sixths.  The right hand of the piano plays full chords moving in the opposite direction from the voices.  The chords connect to the second phrase, where the piano line doubles the voices, but a new bass line is added, the harmony moves briefly toward F major and minor, and the pulsing notes move away from C.  The mood is expressive, subdued, and somewhat hypnotic.
0:22 [m. 10]--The third phrase introduces highly colorful harmonies that are borrowed from the minor key.  The piano becomes more active, with the hands moving steadily in opposite directions above the solid bass line.  The piano basically follows the voices, but they have longer held notes.  The end of the phrase briefly touches on the expressive “Neapolitan” harmony of D-flat.  The fourth and last phrase artfully moves back to the C-major harmony, now with pulsating chords that follow the soprano.  The alto becomes independent, introducing two passing notes that go against the 6/8 swing.  The phrase rises to a brief climax.  The cadence merges into the postlude.
0:39 [m. 17]--The expressive postlude reintroduces the pulsing bass, includes some poignant chromatic notes, rises to another brief climax, and concludes with a beautiful turn figure leading to a pure C-major cadence.  It is the same length as the vocal phrases, not counting the initial bar that overlaps the vocal cadence.  The last bar is similar to the introductory bar at the beginning of the duet.
0:52 [m. 22]--Stanza (strophe) 2.  The music is the same as in stanza 1.
1:10 [m. 30]--Third and fourth phrases, as at 0:22 [m. 10].
1:26 [m. 37]--Piano postlude, as at 0:39 [m. 17].
1:40 [m. 42]--Stanza (strophe) 3, again with identical music.
1:57 [m. 50]--Third and fourth phrases, as at 0:22 [m. 10] and 1:10 [m. 30].
2:15 [m. 57]--Piano postlude, as at of 0:39 [m. 17] and 1:26 [m. 37].  It slows to the end, and the last measure comes to a full stop where the previous interludes had merged into the “introductory” pulsating C’s.
2:34--END OF DUET [61 mm.]

3. Die Meere (The Seas).  Text by Johann Gottfried Herder, adapted from an Italian text.  Andante.  Binary strophic form (ABAB).  E MINOR, 6/8 time.

German Text:
Alle Winde schlafen
auf dem Spiegel der Flut;
kühle Schatten des Abends
decken die Müden zu.

Luna hängt sich Schleier
über ihr Gesicht,
schwebt in dämmernden Träumen
über die Wasser hin.

Alles, alles stille
auf dem weiten Meer!
Nur mein Herz will nimmer
mit zu Ruhe gehn.

In der Liebe Fluten
treibt es her und hin,
wo die Stürme nicht ruhen
bis der Nachen sinkt.

English Translation

0:00 [m. 1]--The piano introduction sets up the style of the “Venetian Gondola Song.”  The left hand plays solid bass notes, then leaps up and sways back down.  The right hand, harmonized mostly in thirds with some fourths, is highly embellished.
0:14 [m. 5]--Stanza 1 (A).  As in the first two duets, the voices move mostly in thirds and sixths, but the minor key gives this motion a new poignancy.  The piano right hand doubles the voices, then connects the two phrases with the dotted rhythm of the introduction.  The second phrase (lines 3-4) initially continues the doubling in the piano, but it is now an octave below the voices.  It has a two-note upbeat absent in the first phrase.  The cadence is in the relative major key of G.  The rocking left hand leads into the next verse.
0:38 [m. 13] –Stanza 2 (B).  The first two lines are in the key of B minor, which is closely related to E minor.  The soprano has an expressive decoration on “Schleier.”  The voices have a very expansive extension on the word “Gesicht” that leaps up and then gradually works down in syncopation.  It has the effect of a despairing cry and extends the phrase by almost two bars.  The second couplet returns to the mood of stanza 1, gradually moving from B minor back to E minor.  The phrase begins with an upbeat, but the downbeat is disguised by a held note in the soprano and a continuous motion in the alto.
1:07 [m. 23]--The introduction is repeated, now obtaining the two-note upbeat characteristic of the second phrases of each stanza.
1:20 [m. 27]--Stanza 3 (A), set to the music of stanza 1, as at 0:14 [m. 5].
1:43 [m. 35]--Stanza 4 (B).  It is set to the music of stanza 2, as at 0:38 [m. 13], with the soprano decoration on “Fluten” and the prolonged extension on the word “hin.”  The end of the second phrase is altered to avoid the final cadence in E minor, and it essentially matches the ends of the first phrases of stanzas 1 and 3, complete with the connecting dotted rhythm.
2:13 [m. 45]--The last phrase and the text of the last couplet are repeated with a sweet turn to the home major key.  Other than that major key, the cadence is as in stanza 2.  The effect of this repetition is like a small coda that brings some hope to the prevailing gloomy mood.
2:28 [m. 49]--The postlude is a variation of the introduction and the interlude, beginning (with the two-note upbeat) in the major key of the last vocal phrase.  After a couple of measures, it turns back to minor, banishing the hope of the major-key vocal cadence and closing the duet in a melancholy way.
2:50--END OF DUET [52 mm.]