TWO MOTETS FOR MIXED CHORUS, OP. 74
In the period of his “high maturity,” around the time
of the first two symphonies, Brahms returned after fifteen years to a cappella composition on a sacred
text with his largest and most powerful unaccompanied choral work, the
first motet of this pair. Usually referred to by its first word,
“Warum,” both the assembly of texts and the compositional virtuosity of
the piece are breathtaking. Brahms was quite proud of the clever
selection of Bible verses, which rivals that of the German Requiem, particularly the
strategic placement of the New Testament reference to Job, from whence
the first section of the motet is set. Of its four sections
(which can be called “movements”), the first, itself in three parts, is
the most substantial. The motet, while full of romantic harmonies
and sensibility, is clearly modeled on similar compositions by J. S.
Bach, and like those works, it ends with a harmonization of a Lutheran
chorale melody. Brahms’s dedication of Op. 74 to the general
editor of the Complete Bach Edition (which was published during
Brahms’s lifetime and to which he subscribed) is highly symbolic.
The motet as a whole has a great emotional impact, whether it be the
anguished cries of “Warum?” in the first section or the joyous
six-voice counterpoint in the second and third sections. Brahms
published the piece with another motet thought to have been composed
not long after the Op. 29 motets, to which it is somewhat similar in
its application of Renaissance-style counterpoint. It is a “verse
motet,” meaning that each verse of the old hymn is given a different
contrapuntal treatment, all of which are based on an existing Lutheran
chorale melody (or cantus firmus).
There is canon (direct imitation) throughout the motet, but most
impressive are the canons by inversion in Versus V and the final
“Amen.” The disciplined use of the Dorian mode is also notable.
Recording: North German Radio Chorus, conducted by Günter Jena [DG
Dedicated to Philipp Spitta.
Note: The texts below for No. 1 are the from
German Luther Bible text used by
Brahms. The King James Version is used as a comparable
Reformation-era English text. Lines are matched as closely as
possible. Scriptural references are listed in both German and
English. The final Luther chorale is given in both German and in
my own English translation. A link to that translation on Emily
Ezust's site at http://www.recmusic.org/lieder
is included. The link to the English translation of the text for
No. 2 (also by myself) is at the same site. 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 for the final Luther chorale
in No. 1 and for all of No. 2 (included here) are also visible in the
SCORE FROM IMSLP (First Edition from Brahms-Institut
Lübeck--Note that soprano, alto, and tenor clefs are used.)
ONLINE SCORES FROM THE CHORAL PUBLIC DOMAIN LIBRARY (Choral Wiki):
1: Warum ist das Licht gegeben dem Mühseligen?
2: O Heiland, reiß die Himmel auf
1. Warum ist das Licht gegeben dem
Mühseligen? (Wherefore is
light given to him that is in misery?). Four distinct
sections that function as “movements.”
FIRST SECTION. Langsam und ausdrucksvoll (Slowly and
expressively). Three-part form (ABA’) with refrain. D
MINOR, 4/4 and 3/4 time. Four voices (SATB)
--Warum ist das Licht gegeben dem Mühseligen,
und das Leben den betrübten Herzen,
--Die des Todes warten und kommt nicht,
und grüben ihn wohl aus dem Verborgenen,
--Die sich fast freuen und sind fröhlich,
daß sie das Grab bekommen,
--Und dem Manne, deß Weg verborgen ist,
und Gott vor ihm denselben bedecket?
--Wherefore is light given to him that is in misery,
and life unto the bitter in soul;
--Which long for death, but it cometh not;
and dig for it more than for hid treasures;
--Which rejoice exceedingly, and are glad,
when they can find the grave?
--Why is light given to a man whose way is hid,
and whom God hath hedged in?
0:00 [m. 1]--Part 1 (A). Refrain #1. The
voices cry out on the question word “Warum?” They do this on a
D-major chord that moves to G minor, creating two illusions--first that
the piece might be in major, then that it might be in G minor (D major
leads naturally to G minor). It is with the second, quieter
statement of “Warum?” by the lower three voices that D minor is
confirmed. This motto of a loud cry, then an almost fearful,
hushed reiteration of the word punctuates the three parts of this first
main section of the motet.
0:15 [m. 4]--As the lower three
parts finish the second “Warum?” the sopranos strongly enter with the
first statement of the main melody, or “subject.” They sing the
first line of verse 20 to a melody that is initially narrow, then
broadens to two prominent upward leaps. The end of the “subject”
moves toward the “dominant” area of A minor/major, where the next entry
will take place in canon (direct imitation).
0:26 [m. 7]--The altos enter
with the subject in imitation, presenting it in A minor (a fourth
lower). The sopranos continue with the rest of the verse on a
“countersubject,” with syncopated repeated high notes, then a winding
line on “betrübten.” The alto subject makes the same
harmonic motion as did the soprano, leading to E. The alto
statement is displaced, beginning in the middle rather than at the
beginning of a bar.
0:40 [m. 11]--The tenors now
enter with the “subject” in E minor. The altos sing the
continuation (or “countersubject”) just presented by the sopranos, with
the winding line on “betrübten.” The sopranos continue with
a third line of counterpoint, repeating the words “den betrübten
Herzen” twice more. The second of these repetitions features a
prominent wide rising leap. The pattern of harmonic motion
continues, to B.
0:51 [m. 14]--As with the alto
entry of the “subject,” the bass entry is also on a half-measure, on B
minor. The tenors continue with the “countersubject,” the altos
with the two repetitions of “den betrübten Herzen” just heard from
the sopranos. The sopranos themselves sing a continuation, which
is a new version of the melody used for the second line of the verse,
“und das Leben den betrübten Herzen.” This new soprano
melody features the same wide rising leap, but a quicker descent.
The canonic entries are now completed.
1:04 [m. 18]--The sopranos,
after briefly pausing while the other voices continue, begin a fifth
entry, following the expected pattern and beginning on F-sharp
minor. The other voices continue as they should, the altos taking
the just-completed new version of the second line, the tenors the two
repetitions of “den betrübten Herzen,” and the basses the
“countersubject.” This sequence is suddenly aborted, however, as
all voices come to a stop. The basses are allowed to complete
their line by stating “Herzen” early (thus stating the entire
verse). The tenors cut off before their last “Herzen.” The
altos also place “Herzen” early, singing it on the quick descent.
The sopranos do not finish the first line, and they cut off after
stating “gegeben” twice. The cutoff chord is A major
(significantly closely related to both F-sharp minor and D minor).
1:14 [m. 21]--The sudden
“cutoff” is followed by all four voices singing together, with the
inner parts (alto and tenor) leading the outer parts (soprano and bass)
in arching lines. The voices pivot back to the home key of D
minor, quiet down dramatically, sing “den betrübten Herzen” once
more (the basses stating the words twice with more compression), and
come to an extremely dramatic and expectant half-cadence.
1:33 [m. 25]--Refrain #2.
The half-cadence is answered by the “Warum?” refrain, whose initial
crying statement is almost terrifying, but adds a new rapid quieting
within the first chord. The quiet repetition from the lower parts
is now completely closed, not merging with the succeeding music.
There is a brief pause before the next part.
1:51 [m. 29]--Part 2 (B). The counterpoint is much
less strict in this part, but there is heavy syncopation. The
tenors begin with a gentle syncopated phrase on the first line of verse
21. The altos, then the basses follow in very close
imitation. This imitation is not strict, however, and the voices
come together before the sopranos join them on “und kommt nicht.”
The soprano entry is a prominent leap. The voices sing this line
together, making a motion toward C with poignant dissonances and
2:13 [m. 34]--Another statement
of the same line follows (back in D minor), this time led by the
altos. The sopranos and tenors imitate them closely, but they
sing in direct harmony with each other. The basses are now the
voices who join at “und kommt nicht.” This time, the notes are
shorter and there is a large swelling in volume on those words.
Each part repeats these three words in different ways. The
sopranos restate all three of them once, the altos only “kommt
nicht.” The tenors state “und kommt,” then “und kommt nicht,”
then “kommt nicht.” The basses sing all three words three
times. All voices come strongly together on the last, powerful
“kommt nicht,” which has again moved toward C.
2:37 [m. 40]--The voices
strongly begin to sing the second line of verse 21 in C
minor/major. The soprano line moves steadily downward. The
alto and tenor lines have some faster moving notes at “wohl aus dem
Verborgenen.” The volume diminishes rapidly over these words, and
the music moves back toward D, ending the verse on a half cadence.
2:52 [m. 43]--The altos and
tenors lead in a very gentle and serene phrase depicting verse
22. The sopranos and basses follow them, all singing in D major,
not minor. Only the altos repeat any text (“sind
fröhlich). The voices move in subtle counterpoint to the end
of the verse, slowing down in its second line with the word
“Grab.” There are also some mild chromatic notes here.
There is a full, quiet cadence in D major.
3:27 [m. 51]--Refrain #3.
The always-striking “Warum?” refrain banishes the previous serene
cadence. It is sung in its original form, without the diminishing
in the first “Warum?” The altos and basses hold the last note of
the second “Warum?” just until the sopranos and tenors begin the next
3:43 [m. 55]--Part 3 (A’). The material for verse 23
is quite similar to the canon in the first part, but it uses little
counterpoint. For variety, Brahms changes the meter to triple
time (3/4), led in by the last two beats of the previous 4/4 bar from
the “Warum?” refrain. The sopranos and tenors sing the stark,
hushed first line, which is again characterized by a large upward leap,
in unison. The altos and basses join them in harmony for the
second line, and it is highly chromatic, with many half-steps in the
upper three parts. The altos and tenors trail off with moving
lines, bringing the music, as expected, to the “dominant” chord, A.
4:15 [m. 64]--The sopranos and
tenors hold a bare fifth as the altos and basses now sing the unison
line in A minor. An alteration at the end, which inserts a skip n
the descending line, facilitates a return to D minor. The
response on the second line of the verse is more drawn out, with the
tenors and basses beginning, followed by the altos, then the sopranos
in quasi-imitation. The bass line moves up by half-steps.
The sopranos actually sing their original chromatic line from the
previous statement, but the lower parts are more florid. There is
also a large and dramatic crescendo, making the arrival at the final
“Warum?” refrain more organic and less sudden. Only the basses
repeat any text, the word “bedecket.” The basses have a large
leap upward during their second statement of the word.
4:56 [m. 77]--Refrain #4.
It is essentially in its original form, but its arrival is more
prepared, and it is notated in the triple meter (doubling the number of
bars and thus making the actual statements of “Warum?” about one-third
longer than before). It also includes the diminishing in the
first “Warum?” that was heard in the second refrain, but not the first
and third. The hushed second statement of the question word ends
the first section of the motet.
SECOND SECTION. Wenig bewegter (Slightly faster). Two
imitative statements, the first strictly canonic in four voices, the
second with more free imitation in six voices. F MAJOR, 6/4
time. Six voices (SSATBB)
--Lasset uns unser Herz
samt den Händen aufheben
zu Gott im Himmel.
--Klagelieder Jeremias 3:41
--Let us lift up
with our hands
unto God in the heavens.
5:27 [m. 85]--Statement
1. The first sopranos begin the joyous major-key canon, given
exuberance and swing by the 6/4 meter. The top four voices begin
their imitations in descending order. The second sopranos start a
half-bar later on C (the “dominant” note), the altos a full bar later
than the second sopranos on B-flat (the “subdominant”), and the tenors
a half-bar after the altos on the home keynote of F, an octave lower
than the first sopranos. All four parts complete the statement as
given by the sopranos, and all parts repeat “aufheben” and “zu
Gott.” They grow in volume to the highest pitch, then diminish
5:52 [m. 93]--Statement
2. As the altos and tenors trail off with their completions of
statement 1, the first and second sopranos begin statement 2 at a much
quieter level than the beginning of statement 1. Its opening, as
well as the beginning pitches and distances of the top four parts are
the same as in statement 1. After the tenor entry, however, the
counterpoint starts to diverge and the canon is no longer strict.
The top four voices grow in volume in preparation for the dramatic
entry of the basses.
6:04 [m. 97]--The first basses
enter at a distance of one and one-half bars from the tenors (the
longest delay between entries). The second basses come in a full
bar after the first basses. Both enter on the pitch D. Only
the first three notes of these bass entries are the same as the top
four voices. All voices then diverge and sing different
lines. The six-voice texture is full, rich, and
exhilarating. Each voice repeats different portions of the
text. The first sopranos have the most repetition, the second
basses the least, and all voices in between them repeat progressively
smaller portions of the text. Mild syncopation and several
instances of the chromatic note E-flat are heard as the counterpoint
progresses. The voices slow down at the end, and in the last bar,
the tenors and second basses split to create a sonorous eight-voice
texture at the final chord.
THIRD SECTION. Langsam und sanft (Slowly and gently)--Im vorigen
Zeitmaß (In the previous tempo). Two parts, the second of
which makes a partial return to the second section. C MAJOR--F
MAJOR, 4/4 and 6/4 time. Six voices (SSATBB)
--Siehe, wir preisen selig,
die erduldet haben.
Die Geduld Hiob habt ihr gehöret,
und das Ende des Herrn habt ihr gesehen;
denn der Herr ist barmherzig,
und ein Erbarmer.
--Behold, we count them happy
Ye have heard of the patience of Job,
and have seen the end of the Lord;
that the Lord is very pitiful,
and of tender mercy.
6:35 [m. 104]--Part 1. In
a very quiet and expressive counterpoint, the first sopranos lead the
other voices, singing the first four words of the verse from
James. The counterpoint does not include any imitation, although
a rising figure in faster notes is initially passed among the inner
voices. The harmony is major (C major), but it is darkened by a
consistently lowered leading note (a B-flat), creating ambivalence
between C and F major. Text repetitions include “selig” in the
second sopranos, “siehe” in the altos, and “preisen” in the
tenors. The tenors have a prominent rising syncopated line toward
the end of the phrase.
6:57 [m. 107]--Overlapping only
the second sopranos’ completion of the last phrase, the first sopranos
and altos lead the completion of the first sentence in the verse.
A descending line first heard in the tenors is prominent. It is
passed to other voices, most prominently the trailing second
sopranos. A B-natural is finally heard in the first basses,
helping, however tenuously, to establish C as the key center.
7:11 [m. 109]--The second
sopranos, tenors, and first basses have still to complete the words
“die erduldet haben,” the tenor presenting the descending line
again. But the second basses here begin a repetition of the
sentence (without “siehe”). They are followed by the altos, then
the first basses and first sopranos. The trailing voices take up
the repetition as well. The descending line is still
prominent. There is a swell in volume, and more B-flats continue
to darken the harmony and pull strongly toward F. All parts
except the second sopranos repeat either all or part of “wir preisen
selig,” The second basses have the most repetition, including
three full statements of the words. The volume level becomes
quiet again after the high point.
7:44 [m. 114]--The altos and
both bass parts are still trailing on “selig,” the altos with a late
rising line, when the second sopranos, who did not repeat any of the
previous text, make a syncopated entry to lead a final presentation of
“die erduldet haben.” The other voices follow, but the leading
second sopranos are the only voices to repeat a word (“erduldet,” in a
long, syncopated line). After some hints of the minor key, the
voices finally reach a hard-earned cadence in C major. The second
sopranos, who led the line, also trail the cadence, being the last
voice to resolve to the chord (a so-called “suspension”).
8:19 [m. 118]--Part 2.
The second sentence of the James verse returns to the bright tempo,
rocking 6/4 meter, and pure F-major harmonies of the second main
section. In harmonized call-and-response with a skipping dotted
(long-short) rhythm, the second sopranos, tenors, and first basses are
followed by the first sopranos, altos, and second basses, first on “Die
Geduld Hiob,” then on “habt ihr gehöret.” Brahms makes the
reference to Job musically striking to emphasize the textual connection
to the first part of the motet.
8:27 [m. 120]--There is another
call-and-response on the next phrase, but now the altos enter between
the leading and following voices (now only the outer voices, first
sopranos and second basses). There is more motion in this phrase,
mostly upward and downward scale patterns. The first basses
repeat “das Ende,” and the second basses omit “des Herrn.” There
is a rise in volume, and the inner voices lead the two outer voices
with mild syncopation on “habt ihr gesehen.” The inner voices
sing the words twice, the altos and tenors three times. The
dynamic level diminishes again.
8:45 [m. 125]--Very
surreptitiously, the first sopranos start a new phrase as the inner
voices complete their last statements of “habt ihr gesehen.” The
phrase sets the last part of the James verse, beginning with “denn der
Herr ist barmherzig.” It is quickly apparent that the music is
identical to the second statement in the second main section (from 5:52
[m. 93]). The voices enter from top to bottom, as before.
The bass parts, having more time before their imitative entries, insert
another “habt ihr gesehen” under the top voices, thus maintaining the
full six-voice harmony almost continuously. There is a swell in
volume, as in section 2.
8:58 [m. 129]--The bass parts
make their entries, and from here the music is as at 6:04 [m.
97]. There are some slight differences in declamation due to the
new text. The text repetition varies from top to bottom, but the
fourfold reiteration of “und ein Erbarmer” in the second sopranos at
the end is quite notable. Again, the tenors and second basses
split at the end to create an eight-voice texture for the last
chord. The reappearance of this music in such an organic manner
is one of the most notable moments of the motet.
FOURTH SECTION. Choral--Adagio.
Harmonized Lutheran chorale melody in six phrases, in the style of
Bach. D DORIAN/MAJOR, 4/4 time. Four voices (SATB)
Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin,
in Gottes Willen,
getrost ist mir mein Herz und Sinn,
sanft und stille.
Wie Gott mir verheissen hat:
der Tod ist mir Schlaf worden.
--Lutheran Nunc Dimittis
With peace and joy I travel to that place,
according to God's will;
my heart and soul are comforted,
gently and quietly.
As god has promised me,
death has become sleep to me.
--Translation by Kelly Dean
9:34 [m. 136]--The presentation
of the first two phrases is strong. The existing chorale melody
is in the Dorian mode with its natural central pitch of D. It is
more minor than major, but vacillates between them. There is much
motion in the three lower voices, particularly in the altos. The
second phrase reaches a half cadence with trailing motion in the inner
9:56 [m. 140]--The third phrase
is somewhat quieter. The altos have an oscillating motion within
the block harmonies. The tenors have a downward-turning line on
“Herz.” The very quiet fourth phrase descends gently to a pure
cadence in C major (a key also heavily implied by the Dorian mode on D).
10:26 [m. 144]--The suddenly
bright fifth phrase makes a motion to F major, which, with its B-flats,
should banish the Dorian mode. There is mild syncopation in the
inner parts. Unexpectedly, the last phrase reintroduces the
Dorian B-natural and a center on D. Brahms marks it “Adagio,” and
it slowly trails toward the final cadence. Although the entire
phrase suggests either the Dorian mode or the D-minor key, the final
chord is a hopeful, warm, and comforting D major.
11:07--END OF MOTET [147 mm.]
2. O Heiland, reiß die Himmel
auf (O Savior, tear open the
heavens). Text by Friedrich Spee von Langenfeld.
Tempo giusto--Adagio--Allegro. Varied strophic form (Chorale
Verse motet). F DORIAN--C MINOR--F MINOR, 3/2, 4/2 [alla breve],
and 4/4 time. Four voices (SATB) throughout.
O Heiland, reiß die Himmel auf,
Herab, herauf, vom Himmel lauf !
Reiß ab vom Himmel Tor und Tür,
Reiß ab, was Schloß und Riegel für !
O Gott, ein' Tau vom Himmel gieß;
Im Tau herab, o Heiland, fließ.
Ihr Wolken, brecht und regnet aus
Den König über Jakobs Haus.
O Erd', schlag aus, schlag aus, o Erd',
Daß Berg und Tal grün alles werd'
O Erd', herfür dies Blümlein bring,
O Heiland, aus der Erden spring.
[Here two verses omitted by Brahms]
Hie leiden wir die größte Not,
Vor Augen steht der bittre Tod;
Ach komm, führ uns mit starker Hand
Vom Elend zu dem Vaterland.
Da wollen wir all' danken dir,
Unserm Erlöser, für und für.
Da wollen wir all' loben dich
Je allzeit immer und ewiglich. Amen.
Translation Note that the two verses Brahms omitted are
included here. Brahms replaced the second “herab” (“downward”)
with “herauf” (“upward”) in line 2 of verse 1. He also replaced
“ewig” (“eternal”) with “bittre” (“bitter”) in line 2 of verse 4 (verse
6 of the poem), before “Tod” (“death”).
0:00 [m. 1]--VERSUS I, line 1
(3/2, Tempo giusto). The verse is presented in dense
quasi-imitation at a close distance, with all voices nearly, but not
quite coming together at the end of each line. The tenors lead on
an upbeat, followed by basses on a downbeat, then sopranos on an upbeat
(all in unison), and finally altos (who enter on C instead of F) on a
downbeat. The sopranos sing the original chorale melody.
The other three voices sing its first three notes, then diverge.
The Dorian mode on F has a strong pull toward both C minor and E-flat
major, and Brahms must overly emphasize F as the central pitch.
0:13 [m. 6]--VERSUS I, line
2. At the second line, the men begin as the women finish the
first line. The altos, then the sopranos, follow the men on the
line. The end of line 2 pulls toward another related major key,
A-flat. The men finish the line earlier than the women.
0:20 [m. 10]--VERSUS I, line
3. As the women finish, the men begin the third line, stating
“reiß ab” twice. The altos begin one beat after the men,
the sopranos a full bar later. The text is thus staggered at a
very close distance between the parts. Line 3 is set in A-flat
major, briefly abandoning the Dorian mode.
0:27 [m. 14]--VERSUS I, line
4. At line 4, the voices are almost together. The altos and
tenors begin early, however, the tenors a beat behind the altos.
Both repeat “reiß ab.” The sopranos and basses enter,
restore the Dorian mode with the note D-natural, and bring the voices
together for the cadence on “für,” the sopranos descending toward
it with the original melody.
0:37 [m. 19]--VERSUS II, line 1
(3/2, Tempo giusto). The sopranos again have the original chorale
melody, and they enter at the same point and in the same rhythm as in
Versus I. The lower parts, however sing in much faster
notes. The verse begins with the basses singing the first line of
the chorale melody in diminution (notes half as long). The altos
imitate them on C. Then the sopranos enter with the slower
line. Finally, the tenors enter, also on C. After their
initial presentations, the lower parts diverge from the melody and add
more fast counterpoint. The basses repeat the text three times,
the altos twice.
0:49 [m. 24]--VERSUS II, line
2. None of the lower voices sings the chorale melody for line
2. The tenors lead it, beginning before the sopranos and basses
conclude line 1. The altos follow, then the basses. The
sopranos sing their longer melody for line 2 as the altos and basses
enter. The lower parts have descending lines separated by large
leaps. The tenors repeat the text three times, the basses twice,
and the altos repeat “im Tau herab.” Their second statement of
“Tau” is a long “melisma,” with five notes on “Tau.” Motion to
A-flat, as in line 2 of Versus I.
1:01 [m. 29]--VERSUS II, line
3. The voices are almost together at line 3, only the basses
trailing. This line begins with the sopranos on the longer
chorale melody. The altos, then the tenors, then the basses
(after completing line 2) follow in succession, with falling lines
depicting the rain. The altos and tenors sing the line
twice. As in Versus I, the line is in A-flat.
1:09 [m. 33]--VERSUS II, line
4. The basses are one note ahead of the sopranos as line 4
begins, but the voices come nicely together, the altos and tenors
following the soprano chorale melody. As in Versus I, they sing
the last chord on “Haus” together and conclude in F Dorian. The
entire verse has been characterized by the lower voices singing faster
than the soprano chorale melody.
1:20 [m. 37]--VERSUS III, line
1 (3/2, Tempo giusto). The chorale melody moves from the sopranos
to the tenors. The tenors begin the verse. This time,
instead of counterpoint, the three other voices shout out in two short
energetic responses in block chords to the tenors’ line on “O Erd
schlag aus.” After this, the tenor chorale melody begins to be
decorated with turning triplet rhythm. The other voices follow
suit with an upward leap of a fourth, altos, then basses, then
sopranos. Their triplets, however, are much more florid than
those of the tenors, who still stay close to the original melody.
The altos sing “schlag aus” three times, the others twice. The
voices end the line together, the sopranos even briefly turning from
Dorian to the standard minor key.
1:31 [m. 41]--VERSUS III, line
2. The basses lead the line with an arpeggio in faster
notes. They are followed by the sopranos, then the altos on the
same gesture. The tenor chorale melody enters last. When
the tenors come to “alles,” they again set triplet rhythm in motion,
this time decorating the chorale melody more and singing lines as
florid as the others. Again, the others begin with the leap of a
fourth, altos, then sopranos, then basses. The voices all repeat
portions of “grün alles werd” in varying combinations. Most
strikingly, the tenors sing “alles” three times in a row. At the
end of the line, the voices transition from triplets to straight rhythm
in preparation for line 3. The motion to A-flat is not as strong.
1:42 [m. 46]--VERSUS III, line
3. In this line, the basses begin just as the upper voices
conclude line 2. They sing a jaunty leaping line in straight
rhythm. The sopranos follow them, then the tenors enter with the
chorale melody, followed immediately by the altos. When the
tenors reach “Blümlein,” they decorate the word (and vary the
chorale melody) with a large descent in triplets. Only the
sopranos respond with a descending triplet line, the others remaining
in straight rhythm. The sopranos and altos state the line twice,
the basses three times. The last of the alto and bass repetitions
cut off “O Erd.” The sopranos add an extra “O Erd
herfür.” The voices end the line together, singing it in
A-flat as in the previous verses.
1:54 [m. 51]--VERSUS III, line
4. This line is the most florid of all, and is extended.
The altos begin it immediately after line 3, again with a rising
arpeggio. The sopranos and basses imitate together in contrary
motion. As the tenors enter with the chorale melody, the altos
immediately begin the decorations in a mixture of triplets and straight
rhythms. The tenors follow with an long decoration of
the chorale melody in triplets on “Erden.” As the line is
extended, the basses and sopranos start singing the triplets as well,
and the sopranos soar upward, creating a strong conclusion to the
verse. The tenors repeat no text, but the other three voices all
repeat various combinations of “aus der Erden spring.” Brahms
marks that the final flourish should slow down noticeably.
2:11 [m. 57]--VERSUS IV, line 1
(4/2 [alla breve], Adagio, C MINOR). There is a dramatic change
for this verse. The triple meter is abandoned in favor of the
archaic slow 4/2. The tempo is slowed down greatly. The
chorale melody moves down to the basses. The Dorian mode is
abandoned, and the verse is in C minor. The tenors begin the
expressive, searching verse with two-note groups that plod slowly
upward. The basses follow with the highly varied chorale melody,
moving in long, slow notes. Right after this, the sopranos and
altos enter together, singing in harmony with each other. It is
soon clear that the sopranos are singing in an exact imitation by
inversion (turning the line upside down) of the tenors. The
tenors have an upward octave leap on “größte,” and the
sopranos turn that leap upside down. The altos continue in free
counterpoint. After the tenors complete the line, they repeat it
with several internal word repetitions. The altos and sopranos do
this too, placing emphasis on the plodding two-note groups, which now
move mostly downward. The counterpoint is free here as the voices
“wait” for the basses to finish the chorale line. The repetitions
have a brief swell and diminishing in volume.
2:46 [m. 62]--VERSUS IV, line
2. The top three voices continue to trail downward on
“größte Not.” The basses begin the second line of the
verse in a variant of the chorale melody with chromatic
half-steps. The tenors take the text of this line next, bridging
right into it from their two-note groups of the previous line.
The tenor line reaches to a high pitch as the sopranos and altos
enter. The altos begin slower than the sopranos, and it seems
that they are singing in imitation by inversion to the basses, but this
is soon abandoned. The tenors sing a rising chromatic line on
“bittre” right after the sopranos sing it on “Augen.” There are
no line repetitions in this verse, although the sopranos repeat
“bittre.” The line moves to E-flat minor (not to a major key, as
in the other verses).
3:08 [m. 66]--VERSUS IV, line
3. The altos begin as the sopranos and tenors end the word
“Tod.” They are briefly exposed on repeated notes. The
sopranos enter, also on repeated notes, as do the basses, but since the
basses’ repeated notes are those of the chorale melody, they move much
slower. Finally, the tenors enter with the repeated notes.
All four parts repeat notes on different pitches. The line swells
greatly in volume as the tenors and sopranos reach high points on
“starker.” The word “starker” is repeated in all parts. The
sopranos and altos repeat the entire clause “mit starker Hand.”
The line is centered on B-flat and E-flat major. The chord on
which all parts arrive on “Hand” is very dissonant (an “augmented”
3:33 [m. 69]--VERSUS IV, line
4. The top three parts resolve the previous dissonance with their
next chord. The basses trail the top parts with the long chorale
melody, but the top three parts move mostly together on long, chromatic
lines, returning to the drooping two-note groups of line 1. The
volume diminishes gradually. The top three parts state the whole
line twice, the sopranos and tenors adding an extra statement of “von
Elend.” The music slows even more, and Brahms marks the last bar Lento. The final cadence is
an unexpectedly soothing C major chord, as the upper parts resolve over
the last bass note.
4:12 [m. 74]--VERSUS V, line 1
(4/4, Allegro, F MINOR). For the exuberant final verse, there are
still traces of the Dorian mode, but standard F minor gradually takes
over completely. The altos begin with what sounds like a variant
of the chorale melody. The tenors enter next, with free inversion
of the altos. When the sopranos, then the basses, come in, the
decorative alto and tenor parts conceal that the two outer parts are
singing a canon by inversion on a fast version of the chorale
melody. The sopranos sing in the original form and the trailing
basses turn it upside down. The inner parts add repetitions of
“all danken dir” in their lines.
4:23 [m. 80]--VERSUS V, line
2. The tenors begin the next line before the basses complete
their imitation, dovetailing with the sopranos and altos. The
altos then enter in near inversion of the tenors. Entering much
sooner than before, and at a half-bar closer distance to each other,
the sopranos and basses continue their canon by inversion on the
chorale melody. There is no repetition except for “für und
für” in the altos. As in the first three verses, there is a
motion to A-flat.
4:31 [m. 86]--VERSUS V, line
3. Again, the tenors begin, overlapping with the completion of
the basses’ imitation, followed very closely by the altos. The
lines of the two inner parts are not as closely related. The
sopranos enter quickly with their fast chorale melody, but the bass
imitation by inversion is now delayed for two bars (twice as long as in
line 1). Because of this, the top three parts begin line 4 well
before the basses end line 3, and line 3 is quite compressed in the
upper parts, the only repetition being “all loben dich” in the tenors,
whose line is extended to keep the basses from being “left behind.”
4:38 [m. 90]--VERSUS V, line
4. This time, the altos lead the line, overlapping the ending of
the tenors, and especially the basses, on line 3. They are
followed in quick succession by the sopranos, then tenors and basses,
who enter immediately after completing line 3. The alto and
soprano lines are very similar, the tenor line more free. The
basses still imitate the sopranos in inversion, this time at a distance
of one and a half bars (so the distance of imitation has been different
in all four lines). This line is more syncopated than the
others. The soprano/bass canon breaks, with the basses holding
“ewiglich” on longer notes. The sopranos drop out as the other
voices complete the verse, with much syncopation in the altos and
tenors. The altos repeat “ewiglich,” the tenors “je allzeit
immer.” The lower parts end on a half-cadence in preparation for
the final “Amen.”
4:51 [m. 98]--AMEN. The
“Amen” is a trademark Brahmsian canonic tour de force. Now completely
in F minor, it begins as soon as Versus V ends. The sopranos,
altos, basses, and tenors enter, in that order, at a distance of half a
bar. For the first “Amen,” the altos imitate the sopranos
exactly, one step higher. The tenors imitate the basses, also a
step higher. The tenor/bass line is itself a canon by inversion
(opposite vertical direction) of the soprano/alto line. All
voices sing fast sequences of four-note groups.
4:55 [m. 100]--Before the first
“Amen” ends in the tenors and basses, the sopranos begin a second
“Amen” statement that is much longer and has more syncopation with less
uniform motion. The voices enter in the same order (soprano,
alto, bass, tenor), but the imitation is arranged differently.
Now the basses imitate the sopranos two octaves and one step
lower. They also turn the soprano line upside down. The
tenors imitate the altos a fifth lower, also by inversion. This
“double canon” by inversion is more complex than the “paired inversion”
of the first “Amen.” All voices complete this “Amen” in strict
inversion. Each takes a short break, then the pattern continues
with more short “Amen” statements (three in the tenors, four in all
other voices). The imitation finally breaks after the sopranos
reach their highest note on a strong syncopation right before the
penultimate bar, which is an inserted 3/2 measure before the final
cadence. The last chord is a bright major chord, although the
“Amen” is otherwise completely in minor.
5:23--END OF MOTET [108 mm.]
END OF PAIR
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