FOUR QUARTETS FOR SOPRANO, ALTO, TENOR, AND BASS, OP.
Brahms’s return to the genre of mixed voices with piano
accompaniment reflects the more mature style heralded by the
masterpieces of the late 1870s and early 1880s. These quartets
are quite different from the earlier dialogue-based quartets and duets
(including the Liebeslieder and
Neue Liebeslieder waltzes),
and are more tightly argued than the first two of the Op. 64 quartets,
with which they share aesthetic similarities. The pieces are unusually
unified in mood, all having a very atmospheric or nocturnal
quality. They also form a natural complement to the contemporary
unaccompanied part songs, Op. 93a. Some of these also share the
elegiac quality of Op. 92, and both sets end with a setting of a brief,
aphoristic text by Goethe. The first quartet is the composer’s
penultimate setting of Daumer, the poet whose words he used more often
than any other. One of his most gorgeous creations, the
quartet’s rapturous harmonies and gloriously illustrative piano writing
set it apart, as does its exceedingly romantic mood. The second
quartet is as melancholy as the first is rapt. Its distinctive,
turning triplet melody exudes sadness and regret, although there is a
hopeful major-key ending. The third quartet returns to the warmly
nocturnal mood of the first, including the adventurous harmonies at the
end of the second stanza and the magnificent ending, whose decreasing
activity without decreasing speed is a trademark Brahmsian
technique. The final Goethe setting uses unstable harmonies,
restless rhythms, and intricate counterpoint to set its titular
question. The response, which sets most of the poem in a new
meter and tempo, transforms a melodic figure heard near the end of the
“question” section and turns it into the main melody of the “answers.”
Recording: Edith Mathis, soprano; Brigitte Fassbaender, alto; Peter
Schreier, tenor; Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, bass; Karl Engel, piano [DG
Note: Links to English translations of the texts
are from Emily Ezust's
site at http://www.recmusic.org/lieder.
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.
SCORE FROM IMSLP (First Edition from Brahms-Institut
ONLINE SCORES FROM THE CHORAL PUBLIC DOMAIN LIBRARY (Choral Wiki):
1: O schöne Nacht
1. O schöne Nacht! (O Lovely Night!). Text by
Georg Friedrich Daumer, adapted from a Hungarian source. Andante
con moto. Rondo form (ABAB’CA’). E MAJOR, 3/4 time.
O schöne Nacht!
Am Himmel märchenhaft
Erglänzt der Mond in seiner ganzen Pracht;
Um ihn der kleinen Sterne liebliche
Es schimmert hell der Tau
Am grünen Halm; mit Macht
Im Fliederbusche schlägt die Nachtigall;
Der Knabe schleicht zu seiner Liebsten sacht -
O schöne Nacht!
0:00 [m. 1]--Introduction.
The piano begins with a large arpeggio reaching up from a very low
opening pitch and stretching up four octaves in three beats over the
chord of E major. This leads to a bar of gentle syncopations of a
third in the right hand after the beat. The arpeggio and thirds
are repeated a third higher, still outlining the same chord.
0:10 [m. 5]--Stanza 1, line 1 (A). Brahms treats the title
line as a refrain. The four voices enter and move very narrowly,
propelled by the downward-turning line in the bass. The soprano
and tenor follow this and expand it slightly. Under the voices,
the piano arpeggio is heard again, still another third higher.
This time the piano breaks into reiterated octave E’s after the
beat. After the voices drop out, these octaves continue, with the
bass of the piano echoing the line of the vocal bass before reaching
upward with two-note harmonies. The right-hand syncopations also
imitate the very narrow vocal motion, still in octaves.
0:26 [m. 13]--Stanza 1, lines
2-5 (B). The bass
presents the second and third lines with a leisurely melody that simply
outlines the E-major chord at the beginning before gradually moving to
the harmony of the “dominant” chord. The piano accompaniment
consists of the continuing two-note harmonies in both hands, the left
hand playing on the beat, moving upward, and the right hand after the
beat, moving down. The right hand abandons the previous octaves
in favor of thirds, sixths, and fourths such as those in the left hand.
0:42 [m. 21]--The tenor takes
over for the fourth and fifth lines with a slightly more active melody
that leaps up and down. The piano begins to play triplet
arpeggios in the left hand with somewhat more filled out motion in the
right, still placing the most emphasis after the beat. The tenor
repeats “liebliche Genossenschaft,” beginning with a slight
syncopation. He also ends his line on the “expectant” dominant.
0:55 [m. 28]--Stanza 1, line 1
(Refrain, A). The tenor
leads into the refrain with another slightly syncopated entry.
After he states “O schöne,” the other three voices enter for their
presentation of the line as at the beginning (including the piano
arpeggio). The tenor must repeat “schöne” after his
lead-in. The small piano interlude that followed the first
presentation of the refrain is omitted.
1:05 [m. 33]--Stanza 2, lines
1-3 (B’). The alto sings
the first line (twice) and the first part of the second line to the
same melody the bass had used at 0:26 [m. 13]. Revealingly, the
piano accompaniment under her is almost exactly the same as the music
of the interlude that had preceded
the bass entry! After this “interlude” music is complete, the
right hand breaks into a more flowing syncopated line as the alto
completes her phrase.
1:20 [m. 41]--The soprano takes
the rest of the second line and the third line, beginning in a similar
manner to the tenor at 0:42 [m. 21]. The soprano line quickly
diverges, however, repeating “mit Macht” and expanding to six leaps to
the top note (the tenor only had two). She is much more exuberant
and does not settle to a gentle half-cadence as he did. The piano
part is completely new, breaking into a much faster motion with
left-hand arpeggios and right hand trills that graphically illustrate
the singing of the nightingale. The name of the bird (“die
Nachtigall”) is repeated.
1:28 [m. 45]--As the soprano
completes “die Nachtigall” with the expected motion to the keynote E,
the harmony in the piano makes a strong and sudden motion (in a
so-called “deceptive” cadence) to the distant key of C major. The
cascading right hand arpeggios are in faster groups of six. The
piano very quickly quiets down in preparation for the next line.
1:32 [m. 47]--Stanza 2, line 4 (C). Brahms marks that this
passage should be quite subdued (sotto
voce in the piano and mezza
voce in the voices). The tenor and bass present the line
with a rapt C-major duet. There is a distinct countermelody in
the top voice of the piano above fast arpeggios in the right hand and
slower ones in the left. The word “sacht” (“quietly”) is repeated
four times, with rests between the repetitions. The piano breaks
into triplets alternating between the hands, the right hand playing on
the vocal rests. This creates the effect of two 4/4 bars
superimposed on 2 bars (plus 2 beats) of the prevailing 3/4. The
first and third statements of “sacht” are over a mysteriously dissonant
“diminished seventh” harmony.
1:46 [m. 54]--The last beat of
the bar [m. 53] restores the 3/4 meter. The tenor and bass
continue their duet, leading into the repetition of the line by all
four voices. When the women enter, they sing to the harmonized
countermelody heard in the piano with the previous tenor/bass
duet. The piano itself begins the previous tenor melody in its
top voice, later imitating this in its bass. This is a very
elegant alternation of music between voices and piano. Because
the tenors and basses led into the repetition, they repeat the word
“seiner” and the line is extended by one bar. The repetitions of
“sacht” are the same as before, except that the women join the
harmonies and the piano right hand is an octave lower.
2:01 [m. 62]--Stanza 2, line 5
(Refrain, A’). The
voices enter strongly on the last beat of m. 61, restoring again the
3/4 meter and holding their chord for another full bar. With the
piano, which begins playing the faster arpeggios again, they sing
another “diminished seventh” harmony. This helps them to pivot
very smoothly back to the home key of E major. They then settle
down and continue their statement of “O schöne Nacht” as before,
but holding one chord longer and repeating “schöne” to extend it
by yet another bar. More left hand arpeggios are also added under
the extended right hand after-beat octave syncopations.
2:14 [m. 68]--The bass leads
into a second statement of “O schöne Nacht” that emphasizes the
“dominant” harmony and swells in volume, increasing the tension.
The soprano repeats no words, the alto and tenor “schöne,” and the
bass “schöne Nacht.” The piano continues its now moving (not
repeated) octave after-beat syncopation with short left-hand arpeggios.
2:22 [m. 71]--The soprano now
leads into a final statement of the refrain that settles to the close
with heavy cross-rhythms, the soprano singing a beat before the
others. The piano returns to its repeated octave E’s, still after
the beats. All voices except the soprano begin with “schöne”
and all voices repeat “O schöne.” The warm final chord,
which brings the voices together, is supported by the familiar E-major
arpeggio, which is then reiterated with a faster rolled chord.
2:43--END OF QUARTET [76 mm.]
2. Spätherbst (Late Autumn). Text by Hermann
Allmers. Andante. Varied strophic form. E MINOR, 3/4
Der graue Nebel tropft so still
Herab auf Feld und Wald und Heide,
Als ob der Himmel weinen will
In übergroßem Leide.
Die Blumen wollen nicht mehr blühn,
Die Vöglein schweigen in den Hainen,
Es starb sogar das letzte Grün,
Da mag er auch wohl weinen.
0:00 [m. 1]--Stanza 1, line
1. Low bass piano octaves set the song in motion. The lower
three parts, in repeated chords, lead into the faster melody presented
by the soprano. The piano begins a characteristic accompaniment
with detached triplet arpeggios in the bass and chords or octaves, also
detached, in the right hand. The effect is imitation of plucked
strings. The soprano, on “tropft,” introduces a highly
characteristic downward turning melody in triplets. The alto,
harmonized by the tenor, imitates the turning melody.
0:14 [m. 6]--Stanza 1, lines
2-3. The soprano leads into a statement of the downward turning
“triplet” melody a step lower, on “Wald.” The soprano moves
faster than the other parts. The bass skips the word “Wald” to
catch up to the soprano, while the alto and tenor again trail her with
a harmonized imitation. The bass and soprano proceed with line 3
as the alto and tenor complete their line with “Heide.” Line 3 is
a gently arching melody. The alto and tenor still lag behind with
the text. The piano continues its pattern.
0:26 [m. 11]--Stanza 1, line
4. The soprano swells to a passionate high note on “Leide,” where
she again sings the downward turning figure. As she finishes her
line, she drops out. The alto catches up with the text in time to
imitate the downward turning figure on “übergroßem.”
The tenor does not harmonize it in rhythm this time, and sings on
slower notes, sometimes moving with the bass. The bass himself
has sung “übergroßem” on much longer notes so that he can
add a second trailing voice behind the alto on “Leide.” The lower
three parts finish the word “Leide” together as they settle down, the
bass having held it from the imitation. The soprano, alto, and
bass have sung the same triplet melody in a chain of descending octaves.
0:40 [m. 16]--Stanza 2, line
1. The piano briefly breaks its constant motion for the lead-in
from the lower three voices. It is much shorter this time, only a
beat and a half before the soprano enters. Her line is the same
as in stanza 1, but the other three parts are different, especially the
tenor, who harmonizes not only the alto’s imitation of the triplet melody, but also the soprano’s
first presentation (on “wollen” and “nicht”). The piano right
hand is also changed. It has longer connected chords instead of
detached chords and octaves.
0:48 [m. 20]--Stanza 2, lines
2-3. Again, the soprano is the same as in stanza 1. The
alto is very close. The tenor and bass are again quite varied,
with the tenor harmonizing both the soprano and the alto in the triplet
melody (on “schweigen” and “in”). The piano right hand still
plays connected chords. The parts all come back to their stanza 1
forms during line 3.
1:01 [m. 25]--Stanza 2, line
4. With the exception of the smooth piano chords in the right
hand, line 4 begins exactly as in stanza 1 in all four parts, with the
triplet melody on “weinen” in the soprano and “auch” in the alto.
But at the point where the bass imitation would be expected, there is a
change. The alto instead repeats her triplet melody, now on
“weinen,” and makes a beautiful shift to the major key. The
soprano does not drop out. This extends the line by a bar.
The bass follows with a varied version of the triplet melody. The
piano, in an inner voice, doubles the triplet melodies of the alto and
bass. The top three parts repeat “auch wohl weinen,” the bass
“wohl weinen,” with the second “weinen” on his triplets.
1:14 [m. 30]--The trailing alto
and tenor add an extremely gentle, lilting cadence in the major
key. The bass extends his line with a third “weinen” and is in
fact the last voice to end. The piano breaks its pattern and
inserts rests. These subvert the triple meter in the final bars
of postlude that trail the vocal cadence.
1:31--END OF QUARTET [33 mm.]
3. Abendlied (Evening Song). Text by
Friedrich Hebbel. Andante. Two-part form with common
opening passage (ABA’C). F MAJOR, 4/4 time.
Nacht sich und Tag:
Wie das zu dämpfen,
Wie das zu lösen vermag.
Der mich bedrückte,
Schläfst du schon, Schmerz?
Was mich beglückte
Sage, was war's doch, mein Herz?
Freude wie Kummer,
Fühl ich, zerrann,
Aber den Schlummer
Führten sie leise heran.
Und im Entschweben,
Kommt mir das Leben
Ganz wie ein Schlummerlied vor.
0:00 [m. 1]--Stanza 1 (A), lines 1-2. The piano
establishes the pattern that will be constant throughout the
stanza. The left hand bass is played in octaves with a constant
two-bar formula, first a rising arpeggio, then a broken downward
cadence gesture. This is moved according to the harmonies.
The right hand follows the octaves with descending chords after the
beat. After a two-bar introduction establishing the pattern, the
voices enter with the first two lines, all singing together in gentle
harmony with a descending melody. The bass voice somewhat follows
the piano bass, and the inner voices trail behind at the end of each
0:15 [m. 7]--Stanza 1, lines
3-4. The piano follows the same pattern, but now the right hand
after-beat chords arch up and down. The voices still sing
together. Line 3 makes a striking harmonic motion to D major, but
line 4 quickly restores the home key of F after the soprano reaches her
highest pitch. This line swells dramatically in volume. The
words “zu lösen vermag” are repeated (the soprano nearly an octave
lower) to confirm the cadence and settle back down. The two-bar
introduction is then repeated.
0:33 [m. 15]--Stanza 2 (B), lines 1-2. The piano
suddenly drops out. The bass presents a descending melody on line
1, imitated by the alto and tenor harmonizing in sixths. The
piano then enters in stark bass octaves, also imitating the descending
line of the vocal bass. The lower three voices then sing line 2
in very quiet, mysterious harmony, the piano still playing only bare
bass octaves. The questioning line is repeated, growing very
strongly in volume. These lines also move to D, first minor, then
0:48 [m. 21]--Stanza 2, line
3. The piano drops out again as the voices reach their high
point. The soprano, who has rested, enters on a high note (F), as
the others sing their last “Schmerz.” The voices come together
and become quiet again. They move back again to the home key (F),
the soprano singing plaintive half-steps. The voices reach a
dissonant “diminished seventh” on “beglückte.”
0:53 [m. 23]--Stanza 2, line
4. The voices continue to sing on unstable, tension-filled, but
very quiet diminished seventh chords. The piano enters, again
playing the bare octave bass line. After “Sage,” there is a pause
from voices and piano. When they re-enter, the piano is still on
bare bass octaves. The voices have diminished sevenths on “was”
and “doch,” then pause again before finally resolving to a half-cadence
on “Herz.” A piano bridge with arpeggios in contrary motion leads
back to the opening music.
1:09 [m. 29]--Stanza 3 (A’), lines 1-2. The music is
as in stanza 1, lines 1-2, but without the introduction.
1:18 [m. 33]--Stanza 3, lines
3-4. These lines begin similarly to the corresponding lines in
stanza 1, but instead of moving to D, the goal is a half-step lower,
D-flat, with darker colors. To help with the transition back to
F, the word “leise” is stretched out with long held notes. The
following descent is also slower, roughly doubling the values of the
corresponding moment on “lösen” in stanza 1. The rise and
fall in volume is much less dramatic, the previous forte not indicated here by Brahms.
1:30 [m. 39]--Stanza 4, lines
1-2 (A’, continued). For
the first two lines of the last stanza, Brahms lengthens the material
of A. The lower voices
enter on a long upbeat, and all sing in a narrow range. The
soprano’s entry sweeps down on line 1, then back up on line 2.
Also in line 2, the piano finally begins to break from the constant
pattern, holding bass notes over bar lines.
1:39 [m. 43]--Stanza 4, lines
3-4 (C or Coda). For
these lines, the motion gradually decreases. This has already
begun with the piano bass. The right hand chords after the beat
are reduced to thirds, and they are sustained. The piano bass
begins to be more static, placing emphasis on a descending octave
F. The voices, propelled by soprano and bass, sing gently rocking
phrases. They pause after “ganz” and again after “wie.” The piano
right hand also inserts pauses there. The piano drops out for the
1:55 [m. 49]--At “vor,” the
voices avoid a full arrival and lead into a very quiet repetition of
the two lines. The melody is a third lower. The piano
accompaniment is reduced to longer chords on weak beats, the bass now
only playing the rising and falling octave F’s. The moving line
is now in soprano and tenor, and the soprano adds extra rests after
“mir” and in the middle of “Leben.” “Schlummerlied” is again sung
without piano, but the moving lines are now in alto and tenor instead
of soprano and alto.
2:14 [m. 56]--The voices
finally reach their full cadence on “vor.” The piano enters with
them for a postlude. The bass is the same two-bar pattern used in
stanzas 1 and 3, but with note values twice as long. The right
hand, entering after the beat, plays figures recalling the gentle
rocking motion in the last section. Finally, the bass is reduced
to one falling octave with a right hand response on the second half of
each bar. A warm, rich rolled chord ends this extremely
2:36--END OF QUARTET [60 mm.]
4. Warum? (Why?). Text by Johann
Wolfgang von Goethe. Lebhaft (Lively)--Anmutig bewegt (Gracefully
moving). Two contrasting sections, the second of which contains
three subsections resembling varied strophes. B-FLAT MAJOR, 4/4
and 6/8 time.
NOTE: This piece is not to be confused with the great motet Op. 74, No.
1, also often called “Warum?”
Warum doch erschallen
himmelwärts die Lieder?
Zögen gerne nieder
Sterne, die droben
Blinken und wallen,
Zögen sich Lunas
Zögen die warmen,
Gern uns herab!
SECTION 1 (Lebhaft--4/4).
0:00 [m. 1]--The piano ascends
in powerful, vigorous chords on the “dominant” harmony of the home
key. They play in dotted (long-short) rhythm. At the last
moment, the harmony is diverted unexpectedly to G-flat major, where the
voices enter together powerfully on the question word “Warum.”
The soprano continues with the question on a wide melody (a downward
arpeggio and a dissonant upward leap), moving from G-flat to B
major. The strong chords of the piano in dotted rhythm are heard
again under her line.
0:10 [m. 6]--The voices all
enter again on “Warum” as the soprano finishes her line. The
alto, overlapping with the soprano, begins her own statement, moving to
C major. When the other voices enter again, overlapping the alto,
the men state “Warum” and the soprano repeats the second line with the
continuing alto. The bass then begins his statement of the line,
with a more conventional motion from C to F major. The
dotted-rhythm piano chords again underpin both the alto and bass lines.
0:18 [m. 11]--The tenor’s
presentation of the line is quite different. All voices enter
together again, with the tenor beginning his line while the bass
finishes it. Things settle down, however, the piano being reduced
to F-major chords, then bass octaves. The women repeat “Warum”
twice, then continue with “doch erschallen,” as does the bass, who only
states “Warum” once and trails them slightly. The tenor’s moving
line introduces a new, wider-ranging downward-upward leaping
sequence. The motion is home to B-flat.
0:25 [m. 15]--The soprano takes
over the tenor’s leaping sequence, bringing it to the forefront.
All voices sing “himmelwärts die Lieder,” the soprano and tenor
repeating “himmelwärts” twice. Under all of this, the piano
begins a new, less assertive accompaniment in flowing arpeggios.
The music has settled on B-flat.
0:31 [m. 18]--The voices, after
a pause, present two more isolated statements of “die Lieder.”
The soprano does not sing in the second one. The harmony of both
these and the piano arpeggios becomes active. Through a so-called
“augmented sixth” chord on the first “die Lieder,” the key moves to D
major. This change of key places the final question mark on the
inquiry. The piano, under the last “Lieder,” moves to oscillating
bare octave D’s in both hands, continuing them in a one-bar bridge to
the second section.
SECTION 2 (Anmutig bewegt--6/8).
0:42 [m. 23]--Subsection 1,
lines 3-5. The answers all begin with “Zögen,” a subjunctive
word meaning “would pull,” “would lure,” “would
draw,” “would entice,” etc. The voices
enter in the new meter in gracefully flowing block harmony, in the main
key of B-flat. The main melody is the leaping sequence sung by
the tenor and the soprano around 0:25 [m. 15]. The piano plays
flowing, arching arpeggios. These break apart into isolated
rising arpeggios in lines 4 and 5. The men lag slightly behind
the women in line 4. Line 5 moves to F major.
0:56 [m. 30]--Subsection 2,
lines 6-7. The piano bridges to the next subsection and back to
B-flat. It begins as had the first one., with line 6 slightly
varying line 3. The piano right hand plays melodic octaves before
“Lunas” is repeated, with the men trailing the women. The music
moves to G-flat major, a key heard early in Section 1. The piano
breaks as “Lunas” leads into line 7, then plays isolated rising
1:14 [m. 38]--Subsection 3,
lines 8-10. The piano bridge is similar to the previous
one. The motion back to B-flat is more abrupt. Line 8 is
similar to line 6. In line 9, the women begin before the men, but
stretch “wonnigen” out, the soprano holding a long note and the alto
repeating the word. Under this, the piano breaks again, as it had
at the corresponding spot in subsection 2. The music changes keys
again, this time to D major, another prominent key in Section 1.
After two rising arpeggios, the piano breaks again under line 10, where
the voices sing together, the bass lagging slightly behind. The
piano enters again under “Götter.”
1:32 [m. 46]--Subsection 3,
line 11. For the last line, Brahms breaks apart the men and
women, who sing in canon (direct imitation), both pairs singing in
thirds. The women’s entrance moves back to B-flat. The men
enter as the women reach their last note and syllable. The piano
plays the isolated rising arpeggios from here until the end.
1:40 [m. 50]--The women enter
before the men sing “herab.” They lead a second canon on the
line. This time, rather than moving in strict thirds, the alto
has a beautifully leaping and sighing line on “gern.” The men
imitate them with only a short breath at a much closer distance than in
the first canon. The bass has the leaping, sighing line.
The women hold “uns,” allowing the men to catch up. All four
voices sing the final sonorous “herab” together. The final piano
arpeggios under the last vocal chord quietly slow to the end.
2:12--END OF QUARTET [55 mm.]
(runoff after 2:03)
END OF SET
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