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

Published 1864.

Although only published at the time of the Op. 29 motets, this rather amazing work is amazingly early.  It dates from 1856, and was actually composed before Op. 12 and Op. 13, the first published choral works.  The Op. 37 sacred choruses for women’s choir may also have their roots in that year.  Like those pieces, this “sacred song” began life as an exercise in counterpoint.  In his exchange with Joseph Joachim, these exercises could become exceedingly complex, as seen in the difficult formulas for canon (direct imitation, as in round) that Brahms set for himself.  Those in the Op. 37 pieces are impressive, but perhaps this little work is Brahms’s greatest tour de force in his frequently employed technique of canonic composition.  While it avoids the contrary motion seen in the Regina coeli of Op. 37, the distance of imitation, a ninth, or one step greater than an octave, is unusual.  What brings it into the realm of compositional virtuosity is the setting as a double canon, with two different lines imitated between the soprano/tenor and alto/bass parts.  After the opening, these pairs intertwine with each other.  The imaginative organ interludes also incorporate quasi-canons at the ninth.  While accompanying the voices, the organ moves to a secondary role, but becomes active in the middle section.  All of the compositional complexities somehow come together in a piece of exceptional beauty, most notably in the final “Amen,” where the basses lead the altos instead of following them.  The archaic 4/2 or “double cut time” meter signature, with its frequent double whole notes, is meant to evoke the Renaissance composers Brahms studied while writing contrapuntal works such as this one.  With only one movement or section that is only 67 measures long, Op. 30 is the smallest numbered work in terms of musical content, brilliant and dense though that content may be.  Its very slow tempo makes it longer in performance than the Ave Maria, Op. 12 and the Tafellied, Op. 93b.

Note: The link to the English translation of the text is from Emily Ezust’s site at  For the most part, the translation is line-by-line, except where the difference between German and English syntax requires slight alterations to the contents of certain lines.  The German text (included here) is also visible in the translation link.

NLINE SCORE FROM IMSLP (First Edition from Brahms-Institut Lübeck)
ONLINE SCORE FROM IMSLP (From Breitkopf & Härtel Sämtliche Werke)

Geistliches Lied
(Sacred Song)
Text by Paul Fleming.  Langsam (Slowly).  Canonic ternary form (ABA) with coda.   E-FLAT MAJOR, Cut time (4/2 or alla breve).

German Text:
Laß dich nur nichts nicht dauern
Mit Trauern,
Sei stille!
Wie Gott es fügt,
So sei vergnügt
Mein Wille.

Was willst du heute sorgen
Auf morgen?
Der Eine
steht allem für;
Der gibt auch dir
das Deine.

Sei nur in allem Handel
Ohn Wandel,
Steh feste!
Was Gott beschleußt,
Das ist und heißt
das Beste.


English Translation (two German lines condensed into one English line, the stanzas condensed to three lines each)

0:00 [m. 1]--Organ introduction.  It is flowing and peaceful.  After the initial rising line, the right and left hands actually anticipate the canons of the vocal parts.  When the pedal enters in the second bar, the right hand plays a line arching down and up.  The left hand imitates this a ninth below (one note slightly breaks this by being an octave below) in the next bar.  In the fourth bar, the right hand plays another line arching up and down, which the left hand imitates exactly a ninth below in the fifth.  In the sixth bar, the left hand continues with another line, and the right hand imitates it, this time an octave higher, in the seventh bar before the eighth prepares for the vocal entry.  All of these canons are harmonized in the hands and pedals.
0:30 [m. 9]--Stanza 1 (A), lines 1-2.  The four voices begin their double canon.  The sopranos enter on an upbeat.  The tenors, who imitate them a ninth below, follow at the distance of a bar.  The second canon begins when the altos enter a half-bar after the tenors, but with a different line featuring an octave leap on “nichts nicht.”  The basses imitate the altos a ninth below, again following at the distance of a bar.  Because the sopranos and tenors have more rests between the first and second lines, the tenors actually finish the line after the altos.  The organ plays discrete supporting chords under the flowing, gentle canonic lines. 
0:50 [m. 14]--Stanza 1, lines 3-6.  The clever placement of rests in the previous passage allows the four parts to enter top to bottom a half-bar apart, the tenors after the altos, although the double canon continues exactly.  The soprano entry overlaps the tenor and bass conclusion of the previous line.  The four parts all have the similar rising gesture on “sei stille,” but from there, the soprano/tenor lines and the alto/bass lines diverge.  They also enter top to bottom on the fifth line, but the difference between the voices is more clear.  The voices come together for a cadence without the canons really breaking, the sopranos and altos merely adding extra notes.  The sopranos must repeat the line “mein Wille,” and the basses must omit it, ending on the fifth line, “so sei vergnügt.”  This is a complete thought about acceptance without reference to the will.
1:13 [m. 20]--In the preceding cadence bar, the organ begins its introduction music again, continuing it in a very brief interlude.  The left hand line of measure 21 imitates the right hand line of measure 20 (which comes from the second bar of the introduction), but at an octave instead of a ninth.  The next measure prepares for the second stanza, moving to C minor.
1:23 [m. 23]--Stanza 2 (B), lines 1-2.  The contrasting music begins in the related key of C minor, but moves back  to E-flat over the second line, “auf morgen.”  Brahms now has the voices enter from top to bottom a half-bar apart, as they had in the second part of the first stanza.  The tenors still imitate the soprano line and the basses still imitate the alto line a ninth below.  The alto/bass lines feature a prominent leap on “du” and a more rapid descent on “sorgen.”  The organ drops out, and the voices sing a cappella here for four bars.  They build in volume over “auf morgen.”
1:38 [m. 27]--Stanza 2, lines 3-5.  The tenors and basses are completing “auf morgen” as the sopranos enter.  The music has reached the first of only two forte markings in the piece.  Here, the organ makes a rather prominent entry after the a cappella passage, playing harmonized rising lines.  The voice parts sing in longer notes for these three lines.  The altos and basses have very long rests after line 2 and completely omit line 3 (“Der Eine”), both entering with a wide arpeggio on “steht allem für.”  The descending lines for “der gibt auch dir” are similar in all four parts, and they seem to tail off, leaving the tenors, then basses alone.  This line also recedes from the brief climax back to the generally quiet level that pervades the piece.
1:58 [m. 33]--Stanza 2, lines 5-6.  The fifth line is repeated, and the thought completed with the sixth.  The sopranos begin as the basses complete “auch dir.”  The passage returns to C minor, where the stanza began, and reaches a cadence there.  Again, the voices enter top to bottom with similar lines, but the soprano/tenor and alto/bass pairings continue.  The voices come together at the cadence, but again the canon does not break.  The sopranos and altos have lengthened and extra notes.  The sopranos and tenors repeat “das Deine,” but no voices omit anything.  The organ returns to supporting, doubling chords in this passage.
2:13 [m. 37]--Organ interlude.  There is a small lead-in from the previous bar.  The interlude is an exact repetition of the fourth through the eighth bars of the introduction, with the canons described there.
2:30 [m. 42]--Stanza 3 (A), lines 1-2.  The music is the same as that of stanza 1 at 0:30 [m. 9].
2:49 [m. 47]--Stanza 3, lines 3-6.  The music is the same as that of stanza 1 at 0:50 [m. 14].  Note the parallelism between the imperatives “sei stille” and “steh feste” as well as the descriptions of what God does at “wie Gott es fügt” and “was Gott beschleußt” between the two stanzas and musical strophes.  At the end, the sopranos logically repeat “das Beste.”  The basses omit “und heißt” instead so that their line will make grammatical sense.  Omitting “das Beste” would leave “that is and means.”
3:12 [m. 53]--Coda on “Amen.”  Here, the alto/bass canon reverses and the basses begin first.  These two voices complete their first long “Amen” (imitated at a distance of two bars) before the sopranos and tenors enter.  The basses begin their second “Amen” with a rising octave.  As the altos imitate this, now at the distance of one bar, the sopranos and tenors begin their faster canon.  The sopranos begin, and the tenors imitate at the distance of a half-bar.  Their line rises gloriously, the tenors reaching their highest pitch as the second, brilliant forte of the work arrives.  The organ is slightly more active in this passage, but it holds a low pedal note from here until the end.
3:41 [m. 61]--The organ begins to play rising lines.  The four voices have one more contrapuntal “Amen” (which the basses began as the tenors were finishing their climactic rising line).  After their initial three rising notes, the altos cut their first long note in half so that they are now following the basses at a half-bar.  The sopranos and tenors sing only long notes.  This eventually resolves into the sopranos and altos moving together behind the tenors and basses on long, full-bar descending notes separated by a half-bar.  The sopranos and basses must add one more note.  The music steadily diminishes from the previous climax.  The voices stop, but do not reach a cadence.  After the organ finishes its last rising line, the voices and the organ join on a final “Amen” in a traditional “plagal” cadence.  The entire “Amen” coda is a compositional and contrapuntal feat of brilliance.
4:23--END OF WORK [67 mm.]