Recording: Women of the North German Radio Chorus, conducted by Günter Jena; Gerhard Dickel, organ [DG 449 646-2]

Published 1864.

This piece has contextual connections to almost all the other short choral works of the Hamburg period.  It fits with the other sacred pieces for women’s chorus, such as the Ave Maria, Op. 12, or the Three Sacred Choruses, Op. 37.  Unlike those works, it is in three-part vocal harmony throughout rather than four.  The secular songs for women‘s chorus with horns and harp, Op. 17, are mostly for three voices, providing another connection.  The organ accompaniment connects the Psalm to both the Ave Maria and the Geistliches Lied, Op. 30 for mixed chorus; the use of 4/2 (alla breve) time in the middle section is another link to Op. 30.  The minimal use of counterpoint in favor of block harmonies creates a contrast to Op. 30 and Op. 37, but a connection to the folk-like Marienlieder, Op. 22, as well as the Ave Maria and the songs with horns and harp.  Despite these observations, the piece is a bit of an anomaly. It is in fact his only complete Psalm setting, or complete setting of any biblical chapter (the motet Op. 29, No. 2 sets part of Psalm 51, and the Triumphlied, Op. 55 much of Revelation 19).  It is also distinguished by the rather high tessitura (general range) of the first sopranos.  The sectional form responds to the changing moods of the Psalm, while the busy organ accompaniment is much more prominent than in the Geistliches Lied or the organ version of the Ave Maria.  Brahms waffled a bit on the accompaniment.  While the organ is extremely idiomatic and effective, he did stipulate a possible (and extremely ineffective) four-hand piano version.  The first performance also included utterly unnecessary string support of the organ (the optional parts are included in some scores).  Perhaps this uncertainty led him to turn increasingly to a cappella choral pieces.  The Psalm has much more musical content than the single-movement Geistliches Lied or Ave Maria, but about the same performance time due to the rather fast tempo of the second and third sections.

Note: The text below is the German Luther Bible text used by Brahms.  The King James Version is used as a comparable Reformation-era English text.  Lines are matched as closely as possible.  The versification of Psalms in German Bibles is typically different from the KJV.  In this case, the attribution (omitted here) is given the verse number of 1 in German Bibles.  The English verses 1-4 are shifted accordingly to 2-5.  The English verses 5 and 6 are combined as one verse (verse 6) in the German versions.  To avoid confusion, references to verse numbers in the guide below will correspond to the English KJV versification.


ONLINE SCORE FROM IMSLP (First Edition from Brahms-Institut Lübeck.  Note that the title page incorrectly identifies the Psalm as No. 23.)
ONLINE SCORE FROM IMSLP (From Breitkopf & Härtel Sämtliche Werke.  Includes optional string parts in smaller notation.)

Psalm 13. 
Non troppo lento--Allegro--Allegro non troppo.  Three-part through-composed form.  G MINOR/MAJOR, 6/4 time--Cut time (4/2 or alla breve)--6/4 time.

German Text:
--Herr, wie lange willst du mein so gar vergessen?
Wie lange verbirgest du dein Antlitz vor mir?
--Wie lange soll ich sorgen in meiner Seele
und mich ängsten in meinem Herzen täglich?
Wie lange soll sich mein Feind über mich erheben?
--Schaue doch und erhöre mich, Herr, mein Gott!
Erleuchte meine Augen, daß ich nicht im Tode entschlafe,
--Daß nicht mein Feind rühme, er sei mein mächtig worden
und meine Widersacher sich nicht freuen, daß ich niederliege.
--Ich hoffe aber darauf, daß du so gnädig bist;
mein Herz freuet sich, daß du so gerne hilfst.
--Ich will dem Herren singen,
daß er so wohl an mir tut.
                                --Psalm 13:1-6

English Text:
--How long wilt thou forget me, O Lord?  For ever?
How long wilt thou hide thy face from me?
--How long shall I take counsel in my soul,
having sorrow in my heart daily?
How long shall mine enemy be exalted over me?
--Consider and hear me, O Lord my God:
lighten my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death;
--Lest mine enemy say, I have prevailed against him;
and those that trouble me rejoice when I am moved.
--But I have trusted in thy mercy;
my heart shall rejoice in thy salvation.
--I will sing unto the Lord,
because he hath dealt bountifully with me.
                                --Psalm 13:1-6

FIRST SECTION--Verse 1, Non troppo lento, 6/4 time.
0:00 [m. 1]--The registration is full, and the opening strong.  Beginning with an upbeat, the right hand presents the top voice of the material that will be used to sing the verse.  The left hand and the pedal play together, but in harmony, their voices trailing the right hand.  The leading voice and the trailing voices maintain distinction by holding long notes while the others are in motion.  The buoyant, exuberant counterpoint vacillates indecisively between G minor and its related major key of B-flat.
0:15 [m. 7]--The introduction ends on a chord of E-flat.  In the same bar, the voices enter with three cries of the address “Herr” (“Lord”).  The second and third cries are also preceded by organ chords, and the cries themselves are supported by higher organ doubling.  The three cries are on the chords of E-flat major, C minor, and D major.  Together, these three chords, as well as the trailing organ pedal line that follows, firmly establish G minor.
0:23 [m. 11]--The voices sing the first question of the verse to the music heard in the introduction.  The first sopranos take the role of the right hand, the second sopranos and altos those of the left hand and the pedal.  They begin a fifth higher than the organ did.  This causes the music to turn quickly from the opening G minor (whose harmonies persist despite the higher level) toward F major rather than the B-flat of the introduction.  The organ doubles and expands the vocal harmony in the hands, while the pedal holds a persistent low G until the motion to a new harmony forces it up to A at the very end.
0:32 [m. 15]--The second question follows immediately.  It is set to new music that deviates from the falling motion heard at this point of the introduction.  The harmony used for the question is more active, and moves to the unexpected chord of A major.  Under the voices, which are now moving together, having abandoned the counterpoint, the harmonized lines in the organ gain a bit more independence, both from the voices and from each other.  The pedal moves in each bar.
0:40 [m. 19]--The organ has an interlude based on the main introduction/verse material.  It begins in A minor and, in an analogous motion to that at 0:23 [m. 11], arrives on G major (not minor).  The contrapuntal voices are all played by the hands, the pedal holding a low A until moving up at the end.
0:48 [m. 23]--The second question is repeated to music similar to that at 0:32 [m. 15].  The main difference is that “verbirgest du” moves up instead of down in the first sopranos.  It is set entirely in the home key of G minor, with some hints at C minor.  It ends on a D-major chord, which is the “dominant” of G.  After the line is completed, the organ twice echoes the last motion on “vor mir,” which moved from C minor to D major.  Each reiteration is preceded by an octave leap on D.  The second one unexpectedly moves to B-flat (the “relative major”) instead of D, merging into the opening of the second section.
SECOND SECTION--Verses 2-3, Allegro, Cut time (4/2 or alle breve).
1:00 [m. 28]--Subsection 1 (Verse 2).  This subsection is mostly centered on B-flat major.  The organ begins with a festive-sounding introduction reminiscent of Renaissance cadences.  The pedal is light here.  The voices enter with the first phrase of the verse, using the same music, but beginning a fourth lower than the organ, in F major.  They make an analogous motion to the organ, ending on C, but it is C minor.  The second sopranos have a decorative line at the cadence on “Seele.”
1:09 [m. 33]--The remainder of the question begins on a syncopated upbeat held into the next bar.  The organ continues to support the vocal lines, but an independent voice enters in the left hand, then moves to the pedals.  These words make a further harmonic motion, this time to D minor.  The organ echoes the phrase in a bridge passage that leads back to where the section began, B-flat.
1:19 [m. 38]--The second question of Verse 2 begins on an upbeat.  It is characterized by a soaring first soprano line over falling figures in the lower two parts.  The organ supports and decorates the lines, filling in the “fearful” gaps in the vocal phrases after “Wie lange” and “soll sich.”  The pedal is absent for the phrase.  The organ motion continues after the voices complete the question, working downward, introducing the pedal on the oscillating harmonies, and tingeing the harmonies with a chromatic note (G-flat), that is borrowed from the minor key.  The organ then breaks off in a rather dramatic pause.
1:33 [m. 43]--Subsection 2 (Verse 3).  This section is back in the main key of G minor.  In a complete change of character, the organ drops out for three full bars.  The first sopranos begin a hushed statement of the imperative that begins the verse.  The lower two parts enter behind them, catching up by singing faster notes on “Herr, mein Gott.”  The organ quietly enters with soft chords under “Gott,” whereupon the lower two vocal parts very solemnly intone the imperative a second time with chant-like repeated notes.
1:49 [m. 48]--The next words are still hushed and solemn.  The first sopranos again lead, with the lower parts following on faster-moving lines.  The music becomes quite chromatic here, threatening to move away from G minor.  The organ has a single right-hand line doubling the alto voices.  There is a pause after “Augen.”  The remainder of the phrase firmly establishes G minor.  The alto line, doubled by the single organ voice, has expressive downward leaps.  The two soprano parts repeat “daß ich nicht,” and the altos repeat “im Tode.”  A bare and hollow cadence is reached on “entschlafe.”
2:09 [m. 55]--The two lower parts, supported by soft organ chords, repeat the imperative beginning with “Erleuchte” in soft, hollow, chant-like harmonies with repeated chords.  They repeat “erleuchte” and “daß ich nicht,” and reach an even more desolate cadence in G minor.  The section ends extremely quietly.
THIRD SECTION--Verses 4-6, Allegro non troppo, 6/4 time.
2:26 [m. 60]--Subsection 1 (Verse 4).  This subsection remains in G minor.  With a sudden awakening call, the first sopranos and organ (with fuller registration) enter with power in an upward-swinging 6/4 motion.  The other two voices follow in succession with “Daß nicht mein Feind,” each a third lower than the last.  They come together to end the phrase, as the second sopranos sing “rühme” to shorter notes.  The altos also abbreviate the notes for “Feind” and “sei.”  The organ at first doubles the vocal lines, but then adds some independent motion as the pedals enter to bridge the lines.  The phrase moves toward F and C minor.
2:33 [m. 64]--The next phrase begins in an analogous way to the last, now starting on C minor.  All three voices enter in succession to rising lines on “und meine,” each a third lower.  They come together in a similar manner, the lower parts condensing “freuen” to a single syllable (“freun”) and note.  They also sing “daß” to shorter notes.  In addition, the altos, starting last, must sing the word “Widersacher” much faster.  The harmonic motion seems like it will be similar, passing through B-flat minor, but instead of the expected F minor, there is unexpected motion through a dissonant diminished seventh chord (on “-liege”) back to G.
2:41 [m. 68]--Subsection 2 (Verse 5).  The arrival is, strikingly, on G major instead of minor.  There the piece will end.  After the cadence, the organ continues the flowing 6/4 motion in the tenor range over a low sustained G in the pedal.  The voices begin the verse, now singing in jubilant block harmonies over the flowing organ lines.  The pedal only moves from G under “du so gnädig bist.”
2:55 [m. 78]--The second phrase of the verse continues the block chords with more colorful harmonies, the first sopranos reaching quite high.  The flowing organ lines continue, now with a more active pedal.  The phrase makes another colorful harmonic progression, arriving on B major, a key that is more useful in G major than it would have been in G minor.
3:01 [m. 82]--The phrase is repeated a step higher, leading to C major.  The first sopranos reach their highest note here.  The last words of the phrase are then reiterated, “so gerne, so gerne hilfst.”  The harmony moves back and forth, especially the pedal line, and is forced back to G major on “hilfst.”  The flowing organ line bridges to the next subsection, and the pedal begins what will be a long held “dominant” note (D).
3:14 [m. 90]--Subsection 3 (Verse 6).  As the organ continues its flowing lines over the long-held pedal D, the voices in succession sing “Ich will dem Herren singen” on repeated notes, beginning with the altos.  The second sopranos sing a fourth higher than the altos, and the first sopranos are a step higher than the seconds.  Only they shift up a step on “singen.”  As they finish, the second sopranos dovetail with them on a repetition of “dem Herren singen.”  The altos follow suit.  These entries shift the line up by step, with octave displacement for the lower ranges of the voices.  The last alto statement of “singen” is stretched out.  The organ pedal remains on D through all the active harmonies of the passage.
3:25 [m. 98]--The organ pedal finally moves up to the keynote, G, and the voices sing the entire verse in jubilant block harmonies as the organ continues its flowing lines.  The organ pedal becomes active under “daß er so wohl an mir tut.”
3:35 [m. 105]--Another extended statement of the verse begins.  It contains falling lines in the two soprano parts.  The words “dem Herren singen” are repeated before the verse continues, but the altos only sing them once, on longer notes.  As the verse continues, all voices sing “daß er so wohl” twice.  Under these words, the harmony moves strongly to C major, and the organ pedals introduce a new duple rhythm that clashes with the swinging 6/4 meter.  When the word “tut” is reached, the second sopranos, as well as the left hand of the organ, stretch it out with stepwise motion on this duple rhythm as the outer parts hold their notes and the right hand begins to play wide leaps.
3:47 [m. 113]--The words “daß er so wohl an mir tut” are again repeated.  The duple rhythm becomes very prominent, first in the top sopranos as the lower parts hold their notes, then in the second sopranos as the outer parts hold their notes.  Much of the organ part is also in the duple rhythm, only a leaping right hand line preserving the 6/4.  This diversion from the main rhythm is rather disconcerting, but the passage does bring the music back home to G major to stay.  The flowing organ plays another highly chromatic bridge passage incorporating the clashing two-against-three rhythm.
3:59 [m. 121]--The voices have one last statement of the full verse.  The first part of it is on static harmonies.  The second phrase shifts upward, but is also rather static except for the alto line, which includes very colorful suspended dissonances that resolve downward.  The duple rhythm is banished from this last statement, and the leaping organ underlies the whole.  When the last word is reached, the pedal sustains a final G as the internal lines of the organ bring the Psalm to a joyous, yet reverent close in bright G major.
4:23--END OF WORK [132 mm.]