PSALM 13 FOR THREE-VOICE WOMEN’S CHORUS AND ORGAN, OP.
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.
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.
Recording: Women of the North German Radio Chorus, conducted by
Günter Jena; Gerhard Dickel, organ [DG 449 646-2]
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
IMSLP WORK PAGE
SCORE FROM IMSLP (First Edition from Brahms-Institut
Lübeck. Note that the title page incorrectly identifies the
Psalm as No. 23.)
SCORE FROM IMSLP (From Breitkopf & Härtel Sämtliche
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.
--Herr, wie lange willst du mein so gar
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?
mich, Herr, mein Gott!
Erleuchte meine Augen, daß ich nicht im Tode entschlafe,
--Daß nicht mein Feind rühme, er sei mein
und meine Widersacher sich nicht
freuen, daß ich niederliege.
--Ich hoffe aber darauf, daß du so
mein Herz freuet sich, daß du so
--Ich will dem Herren singen,
daß er so wohl an mir tut.
--How long wilt thou forget me, O
Lord? For ever?
long wilt thou hide thy face from me?
shall I take counsel in my soul,
having sorrow in my heart daily?
How long shall mine enemy be exalted
--Consider and hear me, O Lord my
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.
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,
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
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
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
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
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
4:23--END OF WORK [132 mm.]
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