Recording: Jessye Norman, soprano; Daniel Barenboim, piano [DG 449 633-2]
Published 1882

This set, standing in the middle of the songs from the "high maturity," is somewhat of an anomaly.  Usually grouped with the solo Lieder, it would be just as home among the duets.  No "true" duets would follow the masterful Op. 75 set, but this group is a sort of spiritual cousin to that one.  Since Brahms himself specified either "one or two voices," however, it could also form a sort of contrasting set to the rather heavier solo songs of Opp. 85 and 86.  If sung as duets, the songs do not contain any places where the partners would sing together in any sort of harmony, save for a brief and optional passage at the end of No. 5.  Otherwise, they are strictly dialogue songs, and as such, are very similar to those of Op. 75 (which, however, cannot be taken by one singer apiece).  The first three texts are mother-daughter dialogue settings of the poet Hans Schmidt.  The latter two are "folk texts" from the lower Rhine.  These last two songs came with "original melodies" in the dubious source Brahms favored, and he later made fine arrangements of those melodies in his great folksong collection of 1894.  The music of these two settings, however, is wholly Brahms's own.  They are contrasting boy-girl dialogues.  When taken by one singer, the set is invariably performed by a woman.  No. 4, "Vergebliches Ständchen," (not to be confused with two songs from Opp. 14 and 106 entitled "Ständchen") is one of the more popular and familiar of Brahms songs.  While rather slight in comparison to other works of the period, they are all extremely agreeable pieces, and, apart from superficial similarities to Op. 75, quite unique in the composer's output.  An interesting note is that No. 1 has the same title as the first song of the next group, Op. 85.

A fine recording of these songs performed as duets does exist,* but this guide will use Jessye Norman's wonderful solo version.

Note: Links to English translations of the texts are from Emily Ezust's 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.

1. Sommerabend (Summer Evening).  Text by Hans Schmidt.  Andante con moto.  Alternating strophic form (ABAB).  D MINOR/MAJOR, 2/4 time.
(The title Sommerabend is also used for Op. 85, No. 1.)

German Text:
Die Mutter:
 Geh' schlafen, Tochter, schlafen!
 Schon fällt der Tau aufs Gras,
 Und wen die Tropfen trafen,
 Weint bald die Augen naß!

Die Tochter:
 Laß weinen, Mutter, weinen!
 Das Mondlicht leuchtet hell,
 Und wem die Strahlen scheinen,
 Dem trocknen Tränen schnell!

Die Mutter:
 Geh' schlafen, Tochter, schlafen!
 Schon ruft der Kauz im Wald,
 Und wen die Töne trafen,
 Muß mit ihm klagen bald!

Die Tochter:
 Laß klagen, Mutter, klagen!
 Die Nachtigall singt hell,
 Und wem die Lieder schlagen,
 Dem schwindet Trauer schnell!

English Translation

0:00 [m. 1]--Stanza 1.  No introduction.  The mother's "voice" begins immediately in a low, hollow minor melody.  There are "blue" notes on "fällt" and "Tau."  Piano accompaniment is rather stark, with syncopated chords in the right hand.  The last line is repeated (and will be in all four stanzas).
0:28 [m. 21]--Stanza 2.  The daughter's response very suddenly shifts to major, and is much brighter and higher.  The piano accompaniment is in a more flowing triplet (groups of three) rhythm.  It shifts back to the syncopation at the third line.  After the repetition of the fourth line, the accompaniment settles down in a brief interlude and again turns to minor.
0:57 [m. 47]--Stanza 3.  The mother's second injunction to the daughter to sleep is set to the same music as the first after a smooth transition.  The "blue" note on "Kauz" ("screech owl") is appropriate.  Note the textual parallels to Stanza 1.
1:22 [m. 67]--Stanza 4.  The daughter's response is also set to the same bright major music as Stanza 2. Again, note the textual parallels.  The piano postlude is the same as the previous interlude, but closes on the major chord rather than turning to minor.
1:57--END OF SONG [91 mm.]

2. Der Kranz (The Wreath).  Text by Hans Schmidt.  Lebhaft (Lively).  Allegro grazioso.  Ternary form.  G MINOR/MAJOR, 6/8 time.

German Text:
Die Tochter:
 Mutter, hilf mir armen Tochter,
 Sieh' nur, was ein Knabe tat:
 Einen Kranz von Rosen flocht er,
 Den er mich zu tragen bat!

Die Mutter:
 Ei, sei deshalb unerschrocken,
 Helfen läßt sich dir gewiß!
 Nimm den Kranz nur aus den Locken,
 Und den Knaben, den vergiß!

Die Tochter:
 Dornen hat der Kranz, o Mutter,
 Und die halten fest das Haar!
 Worte sprach der Knabe, Mutter,
 an die denk' ich immerdar!

English Translation
0:00 [m. 1]--2-bar piano introduction is halting and hesitant to establish the 6/8 "flow."
0:04 [m. 3]--Stanza 1.  Daughter's first mock "complaint" is set to a mock-melancholy melody in G minor.  The piano accompaniment gains momentum as the voice enters, losing its "halting" character and becoming light, with a continuous flow of 16th notes in both hands.
0:12 [m. 8]--The flow in both hands of the piano stops, with the left hand continuing, then the hands alternating the continuing rhythm.  For the third line of the stanza, the music moves to a major key (B-flat, relative to G minor).  The last four words are repeated in slower, drawn-out notes.  The piano also slows down to the "halting" character of the introduction.  The daughter's last word arrives with a two bar piano transition to the next stanza.
0:30 [m. 17]--Stanza 2.  The mother's response is set in a contrasting key arrived at in the previous transition (D major).  Her line has a bit of a sweeping character and the continuous "flow" is now in the right hand of the piano.
0:41 [m. 22]--The mother's third line (giving the daughter unwelcome advice) makes the opposite modal shift from the daughter's, suddenly turning to D minor, where her stanza ends.  Here the flowing accompaniment is again in both hands for two bars.  The mother repeats her last four words, the latter two being slowed down.  Her last word arrives with a quick motion to the home key of G and the introductory "hesitant" two bars from the opening.
0:58 [m. 31]--Stanza 3.  The daughter's reply begins as in stanza 1, but reaches higher for "fest das Haar."  A full bar now separates this music from the last two lines.
1:08 [m. 36]--Instead of moving to B-flat major, as before, the last two lines of the daughter's stanza are now set in the "home" major key of G, which is higher and brighter.  The "flowing" accompaniment gains more sweep.  The singer repeats not only the daughter's "Mutter," but also the entire last line to a slowed accompaniment.  With the daughter expressing her true feelings, the music is more excited than what has gone before.  The excitement continues into the four-bar postlude, where the "flowing" accompaniment resumes and is finally cut off by three sharp chords.
1:42--END OF SONG [50 mm.]

3. In den Beeren (Among the Berries).  Text by Hans Schmidt.  Sehr lebhaft (Very lively).  Alternating strophic form (ABA'B').  E-FLAT MAJOR, 2/4 time.

German Text:
Die Mutter:
 Singe, Mädchen, hell und klar,
 Sing' aus voller Kehle,
 Daß uns nicht die Spatzenschar
 Alle Beeren stehle!

Die Tochter:
 Mutter, mag auch weit der Spatz
 Flieh'n vor meinem Singen,
 Fürcht' ich doch, es wird den Schatz
 Um so näher bringen.

Die Mutter:
 Freilich, für so dreisten Gauch
 Braucht es einer Scheuche,
 Warte nur, ich komme auch
 In die Beerensträuche!

Die Tochter:
 Mutter, nein, das hat nicht Not:
 Beeren, schau, sind teuer,
 Doch der Küsse, reif und rot,
 Gibt es viele heuer!

English Translation

0:00 [m. 1]--Exuberant 4-bar introduction, with syncopation in the right hand.
0:03 [m. 5]--Stanza 1 (A).  The mother's imperative begins in the exuberant vein of the introduction, whose rhythm continues in the piano. The last note of line 3 and line 4 make a sudden dark turn toward G minor.  An interlude of chords with inner motion follows.
0:19 [m. 25]--Stanza 2 (B).  The preceding chords have moved to the distant key of B major, where the first three lines of the daughter's response are set.  Her music is more subdued than the mother's at first, but the same accompaniment continues in the piano until line 3, where smooth runs begin.
0:29 [m. 37]--Moving the opposite direction from the mother, the daughter's last line makes a very bright turn back home to E-flat, and is repeated with even more exuberance.  The four-bar introduction follows to lead to the mother's next verse.
0:38 [m. 49]--Stanza 3 (A').  The mother's second verse is set almost exactly as the first, with a subtle "color" note (C-flat) added to the first two lines.  The modulating "inner motion" chords follow as before.
0:54 [m. 69]--Stanza 4 (B').  The daughter's response begins as before, in B major.  The third line is expanded and repeated for emphasis, the vocal line becoming smoother and the "smooth runs" in the piano more colorful.
1:07 [m. 85]--The last line is nearly the same as at 0:29, moving to E-flat and repeated with the exuberant rhythm, but the top note is held and drawn out for an extra bar (on the word "viele").  The introduction is repeated with a final chord to close the song.
1:26--END OF SONG [98 mm.]

4. Vergebliches Ständchen  (Futile Serenade).  Allegedly a folk text from the lower Rhine, but really written by the compiler, Anton Wilhelm Florentin von Zuccalmaglio.  Lebhaft und gut gelaunt (Lively and with good humour).  Strophic form.  A MAJOR, 3/4 time.

German Text:
 Guten Abend, mein Schatz,
 guten Abend, mein Kind!
 Ich komm' aus Lieb' zu dir,
 Ach, mach' mir auf die Tür,
 mach' mir auf die Tür!

 Meine Tür ist verschlossen,
 Ich laß dich nicht ein;
 Mutter, die rät' mir klug,
 Wär'st du herein mit Fug,
 Wär's mit mir vorbei!

 So kalt ist die Nacht,
 so eisig der Wind,
 Daß mir das Herz erfriert,
 Mein' Lieb' erlöschen wird;
 Öffne mir, mein Kind!

 Löschet dein' Lieb';
 lass' sie löschen nur!
 Löschet sie immerzu,
 Geh' heim zu Bett, zur Ruh'!
 Gute Nacht, mein Knab'!

English Translation

0:00 [m. 1]--Very brief introduction anticipates the first vocal gesture.
0:02 [m. 3]--Stanza 1.  The boy's first verse establishes the lighthearted mood and the musical material of the basic strophe.  The opening rising gesture is characteristic.  The piano initially doubles the voice in octaves.  The verse also establishes the text pattern of the strophes.   After the second line, the piano alone repeats the music of the first line, while the voice joins for a full repetition of the second.  This happens in each verse.  At the third line, the piano becomes less active, consisting of punctuating chords.  The first three syllables (two or three words) of the last (fifth) line receive two repetitions before the entire line is sung again in full.  In this case, line five is a virtual repetition of line four as well.  In this performance, the singer slows down slightly for the first statement of line five.  A slightly expanded version of the piano introduction, adding three extra rising notes before the original gesture, links the verses.
0:24 [m. 23]--Stanza 2.  The musical material of the vocal line is the same as stanza 1 (though sung by a different character), but Brahms gives the piano accompaniment more decorative motion before and during the repetition of the second line (almost reversing the right and left-hand motion).  The pattern of text repetition is the same.  Notice how the singer varies her voice to distinguish the girl from the boy.  The "pause" on the first statement of line five is more pronounced as well.  The "linking" introduction suddenly shifts to minor.
0:49 [m. 43]--Stanza 3.  While the vocal strophe is basically the same for the boy's new entreaty, it is now sung in the tonic minor (A minor), as the "link" anticipated.  This matches the text perfectly, as does the varied accompaniment, which now has a faster, more ominous motion in octaves for the first two lines.  The mode shifts back to major for the repetitions of line five.  The "link" is now varied, doing away with the longer notes and adding an additional rising gesture so that it ends higher and more forcefully on the home keynote.  It is also now harmonized, with the left hand playing chords and octaves instead of imitating the right hand's runs.
1:11 [m. 63]--Stanza 4.  The girl's final verse is the same as that of stanza 2, but notably, the opening "upbeat" is cut to match the text and the strophe begins on the downbeat, unlike the other three stanzas.  The accompaniment is again varied, being now fully harmonized and acquiring a light and "skipping" character (replacing the punctuating chords) at the third line.  The "pause" is again emphasized by the singer in this recording.  A short postlude resembling the last interlude (with the higher-rising line) closes the song (and apparently the window) with forceful chords.
1:40--END OF SONG [84 mm.]

5. Spannung  (Tension).  Folk text from the lower Rhine in Zuccalmaglio's collection (see #4 above).  Bewegt und heimlich (With secretive motion).  Ternary form with strophic elements.  A MINOR/MAJOR, 3/8 time.

German Text:
 Gut'n Abend, gut'n Abend, mein tausiger Schatz,
 Ich sag' dir guten Abend;
 Komm' du zu mir, ich komme zu dir,
 Du sollst mir Antwort geben, mein Engel!

 Ich kommen zu dir, du kommen zu mir?
 Das wär' mir gar keine Ehre;
 Du gehst von mir zu andern Jungfrauen,
 Das hab' ich wohl vernommen, mein Engel!

 Ach nein, mein Schatz, und glaub' es nur nicht,
 Was falsche Zungen reden,
 Es geben so viele gottlosige Leut',
 Die dir und mir nichts gönnen, mein Engel!

 Und gibt es so viele gottlosige Leut',
 Die dir und mir nichts gönnen,
 So solltest du selber bewahren die Treu'
 Und machen zu Schanden ihr Reden, mein Engel!

 Leb' wohl, mein Schatz, ich hör' es wohl,
 Du hast einen Anderen lieber,
 So will ich meiner Wege geh'n,
 Gott möge dich wohl behüten, mein Engel!

 Ach nein, ich hab' kein' Anderen lieb,
 Ich glaub' nicht gottlosigen Leuten,
 Komm' du zu mir, ich komme zu dir,
 Wir bleiben uns beide getreue, mein Engel!

English Translation  [Note: the obscure word "tausiger" in stanza 1 is not translated here.  It is possibly "precious" or perhaps "one in a thousand."]

0:00 [m. 1]--Piano introduction sets up the rocking, furtive motion of the first two strophes.
0:05 [m. 4]--Stanza 1.  The boy's first entreaty continues the rocking and secretive, yet somewhat dark and restless 3/8 motion.  The minor tonality lends a sense of urgency, or the "tension" of the title.  The accompaniment is syncopated with brief rests in the right hand at the beginning of each figure.  Note the setting of "mein Engel" ("my angel") which occurs at the end of each stanza.  The introductory music is repeated as an interlude.
0:26 [m. 5]--Stanza 2.  The girl's first response is an exact repetition of the boy's first music (hinting at simple strophic form).  These two verses, however, are the first or A section of a ternary form.  The interlude is slightly changed to move to E minor.
0:48 [m. 25]--Stanza 3.  The next pair of verses form the middle, or B section.  Brahms indicates that they should be slightly faster.  The vocal line is now in a higher register and the piano accompaniment (at least in the right hand), is somewhat more active, increasing the "tension."  The faster notes of the right hand and the slower notes of the left are both grouped in ways that run counter to the prevailing 3/8 meter of the vocal line (except in the third line).  The ratcheting up of the key to E minor also serves the purpose of increasing the drama.  The interlude is dispensed with between stanzas 3 and 4.
1:07 [m. 25]--Stanza 4.  Again, the girl's response is set to the same music as the the boy's previous strophe.  A new interlude moves back to A minor and the return of the material of the first two verses.
1:29 [m. 45]--Stanza 5.  The last two verses make up the return, or A' section.  The boy's vocal line is essentially the same as in verse 1 (and the girl's in verse 2), but the accompaniment is again more moving, particularly now in the left hand.  The interlude/introduction from the beginning now again links the verses.
1:48 [m. 65]--Stanza 6.  The last stanza, the girl's final response, finally and effectively releases the ever-increasing "tension," as is appropriate for the resolution in the text.  The tension is released by a sudden and magical change of mode to A MAJOR.  The vocal line is similar to that in stanzas 1, 2, and 5, but is set somewhat higher (usually a third higher).  The one exception is line 2, which is essentially the same and briefly returns to minor (appropriate for the text).  Brahms again marks that the speed should increase, and he helps this with a now very active accompaniment.
2:04 [m. 82]--In another surprise, the last two lines are repeated, with a change in direction (up instead of down) in line 3, and an exact repetition of line 4.  Here, Brahms writes an optional harmony for the male singer to join if the song is done as a duet (a sixth below the girl).  The "coming together" is part of the resolution of the tension between them for most of the song.  Since this is the only spot in all five songs of the opus where vocal duet harmony is indicated, and that harmony is not crucial, it still works very well as a solo.*  A very brief piano postlude settles things down for the close of an extremely effective small drama.
2:18--END OF SONG [92 mm.]
*A recording of the opus as duets exists with Juliane Banse, Iris Vermillion, Andreas Schmide, and Helmut Deutsch on CPO Records.
Note: The guides for numbers 4 and 5 were slightly edited for accuracy in analysis on 8/2/06.