Dear viewers and users of Brahms Listening Guides:

With the posting of the final solo song group, Op. 94, I was prompted to address something that has been pressing on me for some time, and that is the desire to make the guides for the solo songs more useful.  The recordings I used throughout the construction of the guides going back to 2004 were partially removed from Spotify and other digital services in the summer of 2018.  Those with Jessye Norman and Daniel Barenboim remained available, but those with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Barenboim did not.  For the past 5½ years I have been in intermittent contact with people at Deutsche Grammophon, both in Germany and the United States, with answers given to me that the Fischer-Dieskau/Barenboim recordings would return, but my last communication was in 2021.  They have not returned, and I must assume that they will not in the near future.  The Law of Murphy dictates that they probably will now come back in a month or so, but it really was time to make a change.

Back in the mid-oughts, before the age of music streaming on demand, this recording set was the only way to obtain the complete Brahms Lieder.  When I first made the Spotify playlist, the entire DG Brahms Complete Edition was available.  I obviously wished to get it available again after 2018, and made every effort to do so, as this was preferable to restructuring the timings of all the song guides for a different recording.  As it turns out, being finally driven to that option, it was not as onerous a task as it seemed.

In short, I have changed all the recordings to the CPO Brahms Lieder: Complete Edition with Juliane Banse, Andreas Schmidt, and pianist Helmut Deutsch, with occasional contributions from Iris Vermillion.  This is the best option for the complete songs that is available digitally, and it was not complete until 2013.  In making this change, I have adjusted all the timings in 31 song set guides.  This also entailed changing the internal timing references to previous strophes, etc.  I have gone over these changes a couple of times and believe I have corrected everything.  The CPO recordings tend to be either slower or faster in tempo than the older DG recordings, sometimes noticeably so.  Why did I not keep the Norman recordings, since they were available?  Because I wanted each set to be from a uniform sourc
e.  I did keep Norman’s legendary rendition of the songs with viola, Op. 91, which were not included in the CPO set, and her solo recording of the Op. 84 quasi-duets, for which I had already used the CPO set as a duet recording.  For the solo versions of eight pieces from the Zigeunerlieder, Op. 103 (arrangements that I often wish Brahms had never made), I did change to Vermillion’s CPO recordings.  The Spotify playlist will be updated accordingly with the CPO recordings, and it will finally be complete and available for the first time since 2018.  Of course, availability on Spotify is always subject to change, but this was a large portion of the complete works that was unavailable on the playlist for a long time.

This brings me to another aspect of the song recordings and guides that has troubled me for years: the issue of keys.  There is no single recording of all the songs in the original keys, most of which are for higher voice.  The most prominent singer who embarked on quasi-complete recordings of composers
’ Lieder was in fact Fischer-Dieskau, and he was a baritone.  Other fully complete sets tend to combine male and female singers.  Fischer-Dieskau refused to record songs that he felt were more suited for a woman, and in the DG set, those were taken by Norman, who was billed as a soprano but was really more of a mezzo-soprano.  In the CPO set, the low baritone Schmidt is balanced by the high soprano Banse.  One other positive aspect of the CPO set is the somewhat (but not very much) more equitable distribution of songs between the singers.  Schmidt does sing significantly more than half of the songs, but Banse takes more of them than Norman did (and not always the same ones that she did).

So back to the key problem.  Baritones like Fischer-Dieskau and Schmidt will of course sing in lower keys.  I made the decision early in the process of building the listening guides that I had to do analysis in the original keys.  There was simply no other option.  But I have made an effort (including doing many scans myself) to get all of the Peters low and middle key editions available on IMSLP (much of that was done 10-15 years ago) and link these scores in the guides.  The problem is that even with all the available scores in different keys, the recordings do not always match any of them.  This was true of the DG set, where Norman frequently sang in “middle” keys that are not available in the Peters edition on IMSLP.  In the CPO set, Banse always sings in the published high (usually original) key, and Schmidt often sings in the published low or middle key, but Schmidt is a very low baritone, and to my chagrin, I found that in 31 songs, he sings in a key a whole step lower than the lowest published Peters edition and in 5 others, he sings a half-step lower.  Amazingly, he even transposes down the Four Serious Songs (Op. 121), which were actually written for bass voice!  I do not know of and have not been able to find any source for these lower keys.  My assumption is that they must come from early publications, possibly first editions from Simrock or other original publishers that are generally unavailable today.  Or perhaps Schmidt and Deutsch did their own transpositions.

In any case, despite all of this, I made the decision to indicate in the guides which key was used for the recordings.  In cases where it was either the original key or a key available on IMSLP from Peters, I did this by placing the key in the song heading in boldface.  In the instances where Schmidt sings in a lower key, I indicated this as well, but without any boldface.  I hope this may prove useful.  Again, it was impossible to do the actual analysis with reference to anything other than the original keys.  The Op. 84 quasi-duets were interesting.  Only in No. 4 are the Norman solo version and the CPO duet version in the same key, and it is the original key.  In Nos. 1-2, the solo and duet versions are in different, but “available” keys.  In No. 3, the Norman solo version is in an unpublished “middle” key, and in No. 5, both versions are in different unpublished “middle” keys!  For the solo versions from the Op. 103 Zigeunerlieder, one reason I changed to the Vermillion CPO recordings was that she sings consistently in the “available” low keys (which on IMSLP are present in the first edition from the Brahms-Institut Lübeck), but Norman curiously sang them all a half-step below the original key, which is a half-step above the more recently published “middle” key edition from Peters (and therefore not readily available anywhere).

The songs in which Schmidt sings lower than the lowest published Peters edition are listed below.  Those marked with an asterisk are a half step lower rather than a whole step.

Op. 14, Nos. 1, 4, 7
Op. 19, Nos. 2, 3
Op. 43, Nos. 3, 4
Op. 48, Nos. 5, 6
Op. 49, Nos. 3, 5
Op. 57, No. 6*
Op. 58, Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8
Op. 59, Nos. 2*, 3, 4, 6
Op. 63, Nos. 1, 2*, 3, 4*, 6
Op. 69, No. 3
Op. 70, No. 4
Op. 85, No. 5
Op. 97, No. 2
Op. 121, Nos. 1, 2*, 3, 4

Although not the most difficult to construct, the guides for the solo Lieder have caused me the most anxiety and uneasiness since the beginning of the project, and I have done much work over the years to help make them useful.  The deletion of the recordings I used from Spotify in 2018 was frustrating, and made them less useful.  5½ years was probably too long, but I held out hope for their return.  In the end, perhaps this is better, even if the DG recordings become available again tomorrow.  I did make a very few minor edits to the actual content in some of the older guides.  I am under no illusion that the song guides are the most commonly used--in fact they may be the least used.  But there is no complete picture of Brahms the composer without this important portion of his output.

--Kelly Dean Hansen, December 25, 2023