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April 05 2011

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Myra Hess plays Brahms Intermezzo opus 117 no. 1 (rec 1941)

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Johannes Brahms (1833-1897):

from Drei Intermezzi opus 117 (1892),
1. Andante moderato in E flat major.

Played by Myra Hess (recorded in 1941). She plays it with tenderness, expression, spirituality, purity and simplicity, but without eroticism, narcissism, mannerism or sentimentality.

"On a smaller and more intimate scale than the surrounding sets of Op. 116, Op. 118 and Op. 119, the composer described these pieces as "lullabies to my sorrows". Here we find Brahms at his most tender and introspective, with only one outburst (in the third Intermezzo) of the characteristic Brahmsian fieryness. The Intermezzi were inspired by a Scottish poem from Herder's Volkslieder, and bear this inscription:

Schlaf sanft mein Kind, schlaf sanft und Schön !
Mich dauert's sehr, dich weinen sehn.

(Sleep softly my child, sleep softly and well !
It hurts my heart to see you weeping.)"

Piano Society.

Painting by Berthe Morisot (1841-1895)

April 04 2011

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Brahms, Vier ernste Gesänge (1/2)
(Quatre chants sérieux-four serious songs) op. 121,

Hans Hotter & Gerald Moore Piano,
rec, 11 & 12-11 1951, London.

I: Denn es gehet dem menschen,
II: ich wandte mich um und sahe an alle,


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Text DE & EN - Brahms - Vier ernste Gesänge, op. 121

German - Luther translation
English: James Bible 2000


1.Lied | 1st song - Ecclesiastes 3, 19-22

Denn es gehet dem Menschen wie dem Vieh;
wie dies stirbt, so stirbt er auch;
und haben alle einerlei Odem;
und der Mensch hat nichts mehr denn das Vieh:
denn es ist alles eitel.

Es fährt alles an einem Ort;
es ist alles von Staub gemacht,
und wird wieder zu Staub.
Wer weiß, ob der Geist des Menschen
aufwärts fahre,
und der Odem des Viehes unterwärts unter
die Erde fahre?

Darum sahe ich, daß nichts bessers ist,
denn daß der Mensch fröhlich sei in seiner Arbeit,
denn das ist sein Teil.
Denn wer will ihn dahin bringen,
daß er sehe, was nach ihm geschehen wird?


19  For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity.
20  All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.
21  Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?
22  Wherefore I perceive that there is nothing better, than that a man should rejoice in his own works; for that is his portion: for who shall bring him to see what shall be after him?

2. Lied | 2nd song  - Ecclesiastes 4, 1-3

Ich wandte mich und sahe an
Alle, die Unrecht leiden unter der Sonne;
Und siehe, da waren Tränen derer,
Die Unrecht litten und hatten keinen Tröster;
Und die ihnen Unrecht täten, waren zu mächtig,
Daß sie keinen Tröster haben konnten.

Da lobte ich die Toten,
Die schon gestorben waren
Mehr als die Lebendigen,
Die noch das Leben hatten;
Und der noch nicht ist, ist besser, als alle beide,
Und des Bösen nicht inne wird,
Welches unter der Sonne geschieht.


1  So I returned, and considered all the oppressions that are done under the sun: and behold the tears of such as were oppressed, and they had no comforter; and on the side of their oppressors there was power; but they had no comforter.
2  Wherefore I praised the dead which are already dead, more than the living which are yet alive.
3  Yea, better is he than both they, which hath not yet been, who hath not seen the evil work that is done under the sun.


Vier ernste Gesänge - Four Serious Songs, for voice & piano - Johannes Brahms, op. 121 | Information from

On March 26, 1896, Brahms' lifelong friend and champion, Clara Schumann, suffered a stroke. Brahms, who considered Clara to be the "greatest wealth" in his life, was deeply shocked and forced to confront the fact that she might soon die. To cope, he immersed himself in work, completing the Vier ernste Gesänge (Four Serious Songs), Op. 121, by his birthday, May 7, 1896.

Brahms compiled the texts for the Vier ernste Gesänge from Martin Luther's translation of the Bible -- mostly passages from the apocryphon, Ecclesiastes. The four songs represent a progression of thought about, and reaction to, death, and by virtue of their subject hardly require the adjective, "serious." Appearing after a decade in which the composer wrote no original songs, these four songs are truly unique in Brahms' output: they show no trace of folksong influence, they are not in strophic form, and they occasionally adopt a harsh, dramatic quality that is quite beyond his other songs. Brahms refused to have them performed, suggesting that they were of great personal importance to him.

"Denn es gehet dem Menschen" (It is for a person [as it is for an animal]), from Ecclesiastes 3:19-22, focuses on the transience of life. The text notes that people, just like animals, must die. In D minor, Brahms' setting conveys this transience through changes in tempo, meter and texture. The song proceeds with a turning melody, never leaving D minor; a quiet shift to a 3/4 meter and Allegro tempo bring with it denser and more complex harmonies, climaxing with the appearance of a new texture and the question, "Who knows if the soul of a person rises upward?". "Ich wandte mich und sahe an alle" (I turned and looked upon everyone), sets Ecclesiastes 4:1-3. The opening notes, over a stumbling accompaniment, anticipate the beginning of the next song. This is the most recitative-like of the four songs.

The text for "O Tod, o Tod, wie bitter bist du" comes from Ecclesiastes 41:1-2; Brahms alters the opening text, "O Tod, wie bitter bist du" (O death, how bitter you are) to "O Tod, wie wohl tust du dem Dürftigen" (O death, how good you are to the poor) when it returns for the second time. A musical metamorphosis accompanies this textual one, reflecting a shift in attitude from the bleak to the reassuring. Death, although final, alleviates suffering. The fourth and final song, "Wenn ich mit Menschen- und mit Engelzungen redete" (If I speak with the tongues of humans of angels), is drawn from 1 Corinthians 13; it is both a paean to, and a eulogy for, love. ~ John Palmer, Rovi
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