GESANG DER PARZEN (SONG OF THE FATES) FOR SIX-VOICE CHORUS
AND ORCHESTRA, OP. 89
The last of the four one-movement secular works for
chorus and orchestra, this powerful piece is in some ways reminiscent
of the Schicksalslied (Song of Destiny), Op. 54, but is
even more grim and fatalistic, and a complement to the more
“optimistic“ fatalism of the Nänie,
Op. 82. The text is from Goethe‘s Greek play Iphigenia auf Tauris. The
seven stanzas have irregular lengths of five, six or seven lines, but
the stark dactylic meter (stressed syllables followed by two unstressed
ones) is fairly consistent. Brahms set the poem for
six-voice choir with his usual divided altos and basses. The
voices sing in block harmonies to a surprising extent, but there are
some sections of close counterpoint and imitation. The
orchestration is unusually large for such a brief work. The full
wind complement includes four horns, piccolo, and contrabassoon as well
as trombones and tuba. The timpani play a prominent role. While
technically through-composed, so much material is similar through the
composition that it does not have that effect. The piece moves
with a deliberate but inexorable pace, the only real period of respite
being the 3/4 section setting the sixth stanza. There are tremendous,
forceful sections as well as quiet, ominous ones. The stark
setting of the last stanza, with prominent piccolo, muted strings, and
circular harmonies, was a favorite passage of twentieth-century
composers who liked to consider Brahms as a “progressive”
Recording: Berlin Radio Chorus (Chorus Master: Dietrich Knothe); Berlin
Philharmonic, conducted by Claudio Abbado [DG 435 683-2]
Dedicated most respectfully to His Highness Duke Georg of
Note: The link to the English translation of the text is from Emily
site at http://www.recmusic.org/lieder.
For 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.
SCORE FROM IMSLP (First Edition from Brahms-Institut
Lübeck--Note that soprano, alto, and tenor clefs are used in the
Gesang der Parzen (Song of the Fates). Text by
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, from the play Iphigenie auf Tauris.
Maestoso. Continuous through-composed form with return of stanza
1 (music and text) after stanza 5. D MINOR, 4/4 time (stanza 6 in
Es fürchte die Götter
Sie halten die Herrschaft
In ewigen Händen,
Und können sie brauchen,
Wie's ihnen gefällt.
Der fürchte sie doppelt
Den je sie erheben!
Auf Klippen und Wolken
Sind Stühle bereitet
Um goldene Tische.
Erhebet ein Zwist sich,
So stürzen die Gäste,
Geschmäht und geschändet
In nächtliche Tiefen,
Und harren vergebens,
Im Finstern gebunden,
Sie aber, sie bleiben
In ewigen Festen
An goldenen Tischen.
Sie schreiten vom Berge
Zu Bergen hinüber:
Aus Schlünden der Tiefe
Dampft ihnen der Atem
Ein leichtes Gewölke.
Es wenden die Herrscher
Ihr segnendes Auge
Von ganzen Geschlechtern
Und meiden, im Enkel
Die ehmals geliebten,
Still redenden Züge
Des Ahnherrn zu sehn.
So sangen die Parzen;
Es horcht der Verbannte,
In nächtlichen Höhlen
Der Alte die Lieder,
Denkt Kinder und Enkel
Und schüttelt das Haupt.
NOTE: The fourth and fifth stanzas are joined here.
0:00 [m. 1]--INTRODUCTION.
The full orchestra makes a powerful entrance. After the leaping
opening gesture, a three-note figure that turns down and back up
becomes prominent and will remain so throughout the piece. It is
treated in counterpoint between the strings. The orchestra
continues its dramatic presentation with forceful downward scales and
prominent timpani rolls.
0:23 [m. 6]--The orchestra
subsides slightly, but there are still surging strings with syncopation
over bar lines, along with short rising lines in the winds and low
strings. There is then a further receding of volume.
0:49 [m. 12]--The violas,
cellos and bassoons lead a reduced orchestra in halting figures that
become ever quieter in preparation for the first choral entrance.
1:26 [m. 20]--STANZA 1.
The first two lines are quietly presented by the three male parts in
block harmony in a very steady, grim minor-key march. They are
underscored by ominous timpani beats and rolls as well as low strings
and bassoons. The three female parts then restate the lines
exactly an octave higher.
1:44 [m. 24]--The men continue
with the last four lines of the stanza in the same style and scoring,
but swell markedly on the penultimate line, only to recede just as
quickly. They end on an open, questioning unison cadence.
The thumping timpani and the ominous sounds of low strings and bassoons
continue. The women begin to imitate the men’s presentation
exactly an octave higher, but their parts are altered at the end to
move to a complete, closed unison cadence coinciding with the return of
the introduction music. Clarinets join the orchestra on the
2:16 [m. 32]--Return of the
first part of the introduction music, displaced metrically by half a
2:35 [m. 36]--STANZA 2.
The full choir enters in harmony and with great power on the first two
lines. There is a brief suggestion of the related major key (F
major). The full orchestra now accompanies. The same march
rhythm is used. The second line is then repeated in longer note
values as the trombones make a prominent entrance and the strings play
an angular long-short rhythm.
2:51 [m. 40]--The next two
lines are set in close counterpoint, the men following the women at a
distance of half a bar with half a line on each imitative entry.
The strings continue their angular dotted rhythm, passing between
higher and lower instruments. On the fifth and last line of the
stanza, the women and men come together on a slightly smoother melodic
line. They sing it twice. The angular string rhythm
continues unabated, however. The entire passage is brighter, in F
major moving toward C major.
3:23 [m. 48]--STANZA 3.
The strings end their angular rhythm. The stanza begins
immediately with the full six parts in unison. The entry is at
full force, with the entire orchestra playing descending lines against
the choir. The words “ein Zwist sich” are repeated as the voices
again move into harmony. The key moves to F minor, following the
F major of the previous passage. The next three lines are set to
the march rhythm and basic melodic shape of Stanza 1, with an ominous
descent on “in nächtliche Tiefen.”
3:50 [m. 55]--The previous
three lines (lines 2-4 of the stanza) are repeated to similar, but
varied music. Notably, the tenors sing a line in longer notes,
eliminating “so stürzen die Gäste” and lengthening
“geschmäht und geschändet.” This time, the last line
(“in nächtliche Tiefen”) is repeated by all parts as the music
greatly subsides. Despite the harmonic differences in the
repetition, the music remains in F minor. A plaintive, isolated
bassoon line leads to the next lines.
4:12 [m. 61]--The next line
(line 5 of the stanza) is set to another passage of close
imitation. The altos and basses (both now in unison) move in
contrary motion, altos going down and basses going up. They are
followed by the sopranos and tenors, who reverse the directions of the
contrary motion (sopranos up, tenors down). The line is then
repeated with thinner texture as the altos and basses again
split. The first basses sing only “und harren,” passing
“vergebens” to the dovetailing second basses. The tenors are
absent in the entire repetition. The women’s parts, with the
second altos more active, add an extra repetition of “harren.”
The passage, with light pulsing wind and low string accompaniment,
moves to B-flat minor. A mournful, angular violin entry bridges
to the next line.
4:37 [m. 66]--The sixth line is
set in a similar way, but now the tenors and second basses (in contrary
motion, tenors up, second basses down) are followed by the joined altos
and first basses (altos down, first basses up). The scoring is
even lighter and avoids the pulsing. The second basses add a very
low, trailing downward repetition of “gebunden” that seems to lead
toward the key of C. Suddenly, the entire choir enters together
brightly on the last line (“gerechten Gerichtes”), with a strong motion
to C major. The line is stated twice, followed by almost joyously
5:05 [m. 72]--STANZA 4.
The voices are again in close imitation, in a passage similar to 2:51
[m. 40] in Stanza 2. Again, the men follow the women at the
distance of a half-bar. The angular strings are again present,
but now they play in triplet rhythm. The music is in F major (as
in the Stanza 2 passage), but moves to E-flat at the second line.
As in the Stanza 2 passage, the voices come together on the third line,
which is repeated and moves toward C major. The line is again
much smoother, but the angular strings in triplet rhythm continue.
5:35 [m. 80]--The last two
lines of the stanza are set in a similar manner to the first line of
Stanza 3, but the choir is not in full unison (the sopranos and basses
are). The strings abandon their triplets, but continue to play
angular figures in straight rhythm, along with the winds. The
passage is at full force and still grows stronger. The key slides
upward, to D-flat/C-sharp instead of the F minor heard after the Stanza
3 line. The harmonies here are primarily major.
5:50 [m. 84]--STANZA 5.
The first three lines are set in a very similar manner to lines 2-4 of
Stanza 3, with descending lines reminiscent of the opening. They
key is now C-sharp minor. The two alto parts follow the others at
a distance of a bar. The tenors then briefly drop out. The
text repetition varies between the parts. Only the two bass parts
repeat all three lines in their entirety. The women repeat lines
two and three with extra interjections of “der Atem.” The altos,
entering later, do not repeat “dampft ihnen.” The tenors, because
of their pause, do not repeat line three, singing it for the first time
as the other parts repeat it. The passage is greatly agitated and
excited, with frantic tremolo strings and even more buildup. A
huge climax arrives as the sopranos reach a high note on “Atem” with
blazing trombones and powerful descending lines reminscent of the
introduction in both voices and instruments.
6:16 [m. 90]--The last two
lines of the stanza suddenly subside. The fourth line is again
set in close imitation, this time with the men following the women at a
distance of a bar under soaring winds. The last line (“ein
leichtes Gewölke”) is stretched out greatly as the instrumental
texture subsides to held wind chords and quiet arching string
lines. The descending sopranos lead the other parts. The
first altos trail behind them. The first basses and tenors invert
the motion to an ascent. All parts repeat the entire line at
least twice, the sopranos three times. The sopranos, tenors and
first basses add an extra repetition of “leichtes.” The second
basses and second altos have longer notes. At the end, the
sopranos have a gently upward arching line, imitated closely by the
tenors. All instruments but flutes and clarinets drop out.
7:02 [m. 100]--STANZA 1
REPRISE. The voices from the previous passage reach a unison
cadence on C-sharp with flutes and clarinets, but as they do, the
timpani, low strings, horns, and bassoons enter with a mildly clashing
note (A) that wrenches the music up a half-step to the home key of D
minor. These low instruments establish the ominous rumbling from
the first vocal entry. The bassoons have a prominent, isolated
descending line. The trombones lightly punctuate the entry of the
voices. The first two lines of Stanza 1 are heard from the men,
then the women, as before.
7:36 [m. 108]--The last four
lines are now stated by the entire choir in harmony, rather than in
imitation. The swelling on the penultimate line and subsequent
receding is retained. As in the women’s statement the first time
the stanza was sung, clarinets now prominently join the instrumental
accompaniment. The voices end on the open, rather than the closed
unison cadence. The violas, accompanied by bassoon, horns, and
other strings, lead a quiet transition to the major key for Stanza
6. It is very similar to the lead-in from the introduction at
0:49 [m. 12]. Timpani are absent for the rest of the work until
the last chords.
8:14 [m. 116]--STANZA 6.
The key switches to major (still on D), but more importantly, the meter
shifts to a gently flowing triple time (3/4). Brahms includes an
unusual German direction--“sehr weich und gebunden” (“very softly and
connected”). The voices sing in block harmonies, entering on an
upbeat as the orchestra completely drops out. They sing the first
three lines a cappella, the trombones entering very quietly at the end
of the third line. There are some slight minor-key tinges.
8:32 [m. 122]--The winds and
strings begin a repetition, standing in for the voices in a wordless
restatement of the music from the first line. The voices
themselves enter for the second and third lines. The winds
continue, but all strings except cellos drop out. The trombones
again punctuate the ending of the third line.
8:50 [m. 128]--The strings
gently connect to the next lines with sighing gestures. The
tenors then lead the other voices except the sopranos (who are
completely absent here) in the last four lines of the stanza. The
voices are a cappella again except for some bare octaves from the
horns. The music is still flowing and gentle, with some mild
syncopation. Only the tenors sing the word “ehmals,” but it is
quite prominent. The trombones join at the last two lines, where
there is some extension. The notes become longer and the
syncopation more prominent. The first altos stretch their notes
out, the second altos end early, and the men repeat “des
Ahnherrn.” The tenors add a third repetition of those words, and
all men sing “zu sehn” twice.
9:39 [m. 144]--The sopranos
make a dramatic re-entrance to lead in a repetition of the last four
lines. The melody is essentially the same, but the vocal
counterpoint is more closely aligned. All voices now sing
“ehmals.” The winds accompany lightly, along with plucked string
chords. The cellos begin an isolated line at “ehmals.”
Again, there is extension on the last line, with a prominent trombone
entry. The sopranos sing the previous tenor line. The lower
voices sing with the sopranos in mostly block harmony, but with varying
text repetition of “des Ahnherrn” and “zu sehn.” As the sopranos
reach the last note, it is lengthened, and the other parts state the
last line again under them in long syncopated notes. The sopranos
themselves drop down and repeat “zu sehn” again. All instruments
except clarinets and bassoons drop out.
10:34 [m. 161]--STANZA 7.
As the voices hold and resolve their final motion on “sehn,” the horns,
closely followed by trumpet and oboe, surreptitiously enter with the
opening leaping gesture from both the introduction and Stanza 1.
They are followed by a more prominent entry of the piccolo (making its
first appearance), and the violins. These instruments lead back
to the 4/4 meter (of which the first bar is m. 162) and the minor
key. All strings are now muted until the end. The sopranos
and second basses sing the first line of the stanza on bare
octaves. The altos and first basses follow them. The
three-note turn figure is treated in imitation between piccolo,
violins, and violas in very short notes.
10:51 [m. 164]--The second line
is sung by tenors and second basses, moving down in unison with a very
striking harmonic detour to F-sharp. The harmonic motions of this
last stanza are often noted as forward-looking. The bare voices
are accompanied by strings, who abandon the three-note turn figure in
favor of mixed triplet and straight motion. Bassoons and horns
play long notes. The winds in triplets take over from the strings
as the altos and first basses, then sopranos and tenors, sing the third
line on bare F-sharp octaves.
11:15 [m. 168]--Altos and first
basses make the same striking harmonic motion and downward unison
descent on the fourth line (as heard by tenors and second basses
before), this time to B-flat (the overall motion is circular).
The winds continue against this, now in syncopated rhythm, the violas
and cellos taking the long notes (the scoring is essentially
reversed). The horns drop out. Now the
sopranos, tenors, and second basses, followed by altos and first
basses, sing the fifth line on bare B-flat octaves against long notes
in winds and strings. The piccolo makes another entry, and the
first violins reach very high to double it.
11:41 [m. 172]--A brief vocal
pause as the contrabassoon and low strings play a note. All
voices now sing the last line in the “striking” unison descent and
harmonic motion, now reaching back to the home keynote of D. The
notes are very detached. The brass is absent from the
accompaniment, and the violins are staggered behind the voices.
At the last word, “Haupt,” on the bare D, the long-absent timpani enter
on a quiet roll. Two solemn wind chords, now with the brass
instruments, are heard over the roll after the choir drops out.
The strings maintain the unison D.
12:42--END OF WORK [176 mm.]
(Runoff after chord ends at 12:29)
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