Recording: North German Radio Chorus, conducted by Günter Jena
[DG 449 646-2]
Published 1867.

These five songs represent the whole of Brahms’s output for a cappella men’s chorus.  There are two other large works for men’s chorus and orchestra (in each of which the chorus is joined by a highly extensive part for a soloist).  Of these, the cantata Rinaldo, Op. 50 is one of the least known of all his compositions, while the so-called  “Alto” Rhapsody, Op. 53, is one of his most popular.  These a cappella choruses preceded both, and are probably even less known than Rinaldo or most of the other smaller choral works.  This has nothing to do with Brahms’s skill in writing for men’s voices, which is impeccable.  Rather, the very dated militaristic German texts of Nos. 2-5 are somewhat jarring for modern listeners.  Nos. 2 and 5 are blatantly nationalistic, and even belligerent, while No. 4 presents a rather silly stereotype of soldiers.  But these songs should not be condemned unfairly for their texts.  Brahms set these poems by Karl Lemcke at the height of the nationalistic fervor surrounding Otto von Bismarck’s plans to unite the German empire in the late 1860s.  Brahms idolized Bismarck as much as he did Beethoven, so it was natural that he would set such patriotic texts at that time.  Neither Lemcke nor Brahms could have known anything about the course German nationalism would take in the next century.  If the songs are enjoyed with the historical context in mind, they are not offensive.  Of them, the dirge-like No. 3 is probably the best.  Nos. 2 and 4 are extremely exuberant and must be great fun to sing, while the simple strophic No. 5 is darker, but has a wonderful low part for the second basses.  Of a different character entirely is No. 1, an utterly gorgeous setting of an old German poem in an archaic style that is infinitely superior to its arrangement for solo voice and piano in Op. 43.  The timbre of men’s voices in harmony is exploited to its fullest in this fine piece, whose style is completely different from that of the other four and whose text is timeless rather than dated.  Despite the differing voices, its character is much closer to that of another  “old German” setting for mixed chorus, Op. 62, No. 7, than to the following four Lemcke songs.

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

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

1. Ich schwing mein Horn ins Jammertal (I Blow my Horn into the Vale of Tears).  Anonymous Old German text from the famed collection Des Knaben Wunderhorn.  Andante.  Durchaus nicht zu langsam und ziemlich frei vorzutragen (To be presented not too slowly and rather freely throughout).  Simple strophic form.  B-flat major, Cut time or Alla breve (2/2).

German Text:
Ich schwing’ mein Horn ins Jammertal,
Mein Freud’ ist mir verschwunden,
Ich hab’ gejagt, muß abelahn,
Das Wild läuft vor den Hunden.
Ein edel Tier in diesem Feld
Hätt’ ich mir auserkoren,
Das schied von mir, als ich wohl spür’,
Mein Jagen ist verloren.

Fahr hin, Gewild, in Waldeslust!
Ich will dir nimmer schrecken
Mit Jagen dein’ schneeweiße Brust,
Ein ander muß dich wecken
Mit Jägers Schrei und Hundebiß,
Daß du nit magst entrinnen;
Halt dich in Hut, mein Tierlein gut!
Mit Leid scheid’ ich von hinnen.

Kein Hochgewild ich fahen kann,
Das muß ich oft entgelten,
Noch halt ich stät’ auf Jägers Bahn,
Wie wohl mir Glück kommt selten.
Mag mir nit g’bürn ein Hochwild schön,
So laß ich mich begnügen
An Hasenfleisch, nit mehr ich heisch,
Das mag mich nit betrügen.

English Translation

Each eight-line stanza corresponds to four musical lines in each verse.  It is a simple strophic form with repeat signs.  The musical style is very archaic.  The austere-sounding harmony stems from the fact that the chords are all in “root position” (meaning the keynote of the chord is always in the lowest 2nd bass voices--a B-flat chord will have B-flat in the bass). 
0:00 [m. 1]--Stanza 1.  No introduction.  The first musical line (two lines of text), is exactly the same as the second (at 0:20--here the line is marked with repeat signs in the score, differing from the Op. 43 setting, which writes the second line out).  The rhythm of the poetry leads to unusual 11-measure phrases.  The voices swell, rise, and fall in volume as the rhythm of the text dictates.  Brahms marks the vocal parts mezza voce (medium vocal strength).  The lines reach a half-cadence in G minor.
0:37 [m. 12]--Line 3 (5 and 6 of the poem) provides contrast, with new harmonies (beginning in C minor) and a more insistent melodic line.  The volume swells slightly at the end (louder, then softer), as well as slightly increasing, then decreasing in speed as B-flat major returns.  The phrase is again 11 bars.
0:53 [m. 23]--Line 4 (7 and 8 of the poem) begins as the first two, but what had been the last two notes (at the “
-lo-” syllable of “verloren”) are expanded into a very effective melisma, with seven notes on the syllable.  No other syllable in each verse has more than one note.  The melisma includes another loud-soft and faster-slower swell.  The music finally settles on the last syllable, “ -ren,” at the warm B-flat cadence.  The melisma lengthens the phrase to 14 bars.
1:17 [m. 1]--Stanza 2.  Exact strophic repetition with new text.  Here sung somewhat faster than stanza 1.
1:45 [m. 12]--Line 3.  Notice the singers’ rather urgent presentation of this line.
2:00 [m. 23]--Line 4.  Melisma on the syllable 
“hin-” of “hinnen.”
2:25 [m. 1]--Stanza 3.  Strophic repetition with new text.  The verse is the “lament” and “acceptance” of the singer’s sad hunting story.  It is thus, appropriately, sung more slowly than stanza 2.
2:57 [m. 12]--Line 3.  The grammar of the line break before line 4 suggests carrying the line through.
3:12 [m. 23]--Line 4.  Melisma on the syllable “-trü-” of “betrügen.”  The singers end gently (unlike Fischer-Dieskau in the Op. 43 version).
3:39--END OF SONG [36 (47) mm. (x3)]

2. Freiwillige her! (Volunteers, Join the Ranks!).  Text by Carl Lemcke.  Allegro con fuoco.  Modified strophic form (AABB’).  C MINOR, 3/4 time.

German Text:
Freiwillige her!
Von der Memel bis zum Rhein,
von den Alpen bis zum Meer,
Freiwillige her!
Schwarz, Rot, Gold ist das Panier,
für dich, Deutschland, kämpfen wir!
Freiwillige her!

Freiwillige her!
Nehmt die Büchsen, zielet gut!
Auf zu Ross mit Schwert und Speer,
Freiwillige her!
Schwarz, Rot, Gold ist bedroht.
Vaterland! Sieg oder Tod!
Freiwillige her!

Freiwillige her!
Duldet ihr der Feinde Spott?
Ist der Fluch noch nicht zu schwer?
Freiwillige her!
Dänen, Welsche, wer es sei,
nieder fremde Tyrannei!
Freiwillige her!

Freiwillige her!
Durch das Volk da braust der Sturm:
Einig! Keine Trennung mehr!
Freiwillige her!
Einig! ruft’s im Schlachtenrot!
Deutsches Volk, Sieg oder Tod!
Freiwillige her!

English Translation

0:00 [m. 1]--Stanza 1 (A), lines 1-5.  The music begins with a partial measure, starting on the second half of beat 2.  The text “Freiwillige her!” in lines 1 and 4 is stated twice on each appearance.  Here, it is given in stark unison and triplet rhythm each time.  The responses in lines 2, 3, and 5 are given in strong, bold harmony in straight rhythm.  The first tenor line is quite high.  Notice the strong accents on the colors of the German flag: “Schwarz, Rot, Gold.”  Motion to E-flat, the relative major key, in line 5.
0:22 [m. 11]--Stanza 1, lines 6-7.  Imitation in harmony, utilizing triplet rhythm, with the two bass parts imitating the two tenor parts on line 6.  The bottom three parts reiterate the words “kämpfen wir” as the first tenors again begin the double statement of “Freiwillige her!”  Second tenors and first basses also state the line twice, faster, under the slower second statement of the first tenors.  Second basses only sing it once, in the rhythm of the first tenors. The stanza ends in E-flat.
0:34 [m. 1]--Stanza 2 (A), lines 1-5.  Musically identical to stanza 1, with repeat signs.  Unison statements of “Freiwillige her!“ and the emphasis of “Schwarz, Rot, Gold” are preserved in the text of this stanza.
0:54 [m. 11]--Stanza 2, lines 6-7.  Again identical to stanza 1.  The text reiterated by the lower three parts under the first “Freiwillige her!” from the first tenors is “oder Tod!”
1:05 [m. 16]--Stanza 3 (B), lines 1-3.  This verse varies from the first two in several ways.  The initial cries of “Freiwillige her!” are the same, and in unison.  The strong responses of lines 2 and 3 are replaced by a quieter, more ominous dialogue, with the first tenors and basses following the second parts.  Line 3 briefly shifts the harmony to E-flat minor over a crescendo.
1:16 [m. 22]--Stanza 3, lines 4-5.  The “Freiwillige her!” of line 4 is given twice again, but now in C-minor harmony rather than unison.  Line 5 is as in the first two stanzas, with the accents on a new text identifying potential adversaries (Danes or French).  They key again moves to E-flat.
1:24 [m. 26]--Stanza 3, lines 6-7.  Essentially identical musically to the corresponding lines in the first two stanzas.  The slight difference in line 6 is that the first words of the line (“nieder fremde”) are repeated in the lower parts instead of the last syllables, so the word “Tyrannei!” is first heard in those parts under the initial “Freiwillige her!” of the first tenors.  The stanza again ends in E-flat.
1:34 [m. 31]--Stanza 4 (B’), lines 1-3.  Musically identical to corresponding lines in Stanza 3, but Brahms indicates a noticeable increase in speed (animato).  Also, lines 2 and 3 do not begin quietly.
1:43 [m. 37]--Stanza 4, lines 4-5.  The “Freiwillige her!” cries of line 4 are as in stanza 3, but line 5 does not correspond to the first three stanzas.  It shifts the music upward and increases the tension.  It sounds similar to line 2 of the first two stanzas and remains in C minor.
1:49 [m. 41]--Stanza 4, lines 6-7.  The first statement of the climactic line 6 is strong and emphatic, including the only ties across a bar line (on the word “Sieg”) of the entire song.  The line is then given in imitation, first tenors, then second tenors, then second basses, and finally first basses.  The first parts to sing the line hold certain notes longer.  The mode brightly and strikingly shifts to C major here (later than the motion to E-flat in previous stanzas).  All four parts reach a dramatic pause on the word “Tod!”  The final “Freiwillige her!” is stated only once (the second tenors alone repeat “Freiwillige”), with all parts together in a bright C major.  This is the only stanza to end in the “home” major key.
2:09--END OF SONG [48 (63) mm.]

3. Geleit (Procession or Last Respects).  Text by Carl Lemcke.  Tempo di Marcia moderato.  Simple strophic form.  E-FLAT MAJOR, 4/4 time.

German Text:
Was freut einen alten Soldaten?
Drei Salven über sein Grab.
Die geben die Kameraden,
die Musketen werden geladen,
senkt man den Sarg hinab.

Du Bruderherz, den wir tragen,
du freust dich wohl zur Stund;
dass tapfer du einst geschlagen,
die lauten Musketen es sagen
mit ihrem Eisenmund.

Du Bruderherz, den wir tragen,
bestell mir nun Quartier;
wir haben zusammen geschlagen,
bald werden sie mich auch tragen,
Kamerad, bald folg ich dir.

English Translation (Note: this translation and the parallel German text group lines 3-4 of each stanza as one line.)

0:00 [m. 1]--Stanza 1, lines 1-4.  A warm major-key march, rather than a somber dirge, leads this soldier to his grave.  Line 1 is in rich harmony, followed by line 2 in striking unison.  Lines 3 and 4 introduce chromatic color notes with a brief suggestion of F minor.
0:24 [m. 9]--Stanza 1, line 5.  The setting of this line is imaginative.  Second basses begin with an anticipatory syncopation, and the two tenor lines sing with them.  The first basses enter before the line is finished.  As the second basses continue with text repetition, the two tenor parts, having finished their first statement, enter again in succession (second, then first).  The first tenors actually imitate the “overlapping” first bass entry.  First tenors and first basses state the line twice in full, second tenors nearly complete a third statement, and second basses have the most repetition, stating some words four times, but one (“senkt”) only twice.  More “color” notes are heard during the successive entries
0:36 [m. 13]--The last three words (four syllables) are gently repeated, completing a cadence that the voices evaded as they came together.  Second basses end on a very low, resonant E-flat.
0:42 [m. 15]--Stanza 2, lines 1-4.  Strophic repetition, with some rhythmic variation in lines 1 and 4 dictated by text declamation.  There is a textual parallel to stanza 1 in line 4.
1:04 [m. 23]--Stanza 2, line 5.  The varying text declamation of the poem allows for subtle changes in the otherwise simple strophic repetition.  In this line, the text repetition is altered slightly, with the second basses stating the line a full three times.  A single word, rather than two, on the second and third syllables, effects the subtle, skillful variation.
1:16 [m. 27]--Gentle repetition, as before, but two words instead of three and five syllables instead of four.
1:22 [m. 29]--Stanza 3, lines 1-4.  Similar declamation to stanza 2, but with subtle syllabic changes in lines 3 and 4.  The text has parallels with stanza 2, especially in line 3.
1:45 [m. 37]--Stanza 3, line 5.  The addition of an extra syllable allows even more variation in rhythm and text repetition, especially in the first bass line, which avoids a full second statement.  The second basses still effectively state the line three times, but the second and third statements are broken up, with the first word, then the remaining words each stated twice.
1:59 [m. 41]--Gentle text repetition of four single-syllable words.
2:08--END OF SONG [42 mm.]

4. Marschieren (Marching).  Text by Carl Lemcke.  Im Marschtempo (In March Tempo).  Modified strophic form with refrain (AA’A’AA).  C MINOR/MAJOR, 4/4 time.

German Text:
Jetzt hab ich schon zwei Jahre lang
in der verdammten Ki, Ko, Ka, in der Kasern gelegen.
Nun schlage doch der Teufel drein,
Kasernsoldat will ich nicht sein!
Korporal, Sergeant, Hauptmann, Oberstleutenant,
wir Soldaten wollen marschieren.

Es wird uns ja die Zeit so lang
in der verdammten Ki, Ko, Ka, in der Kasern zu liegen.
Des Abends, schon um halber neuen,
da ist mein Mädel ganz allein.

Ich stieg wohl aus dem Fenster naus,
aus der verdammten Ki, Ko, Ka, aus der Kasern zu kommen.
Zu meinem Schatz wollt ich die Nacht,
sie haben mich auf die Wach gebracht.

Die Trommeln drummen: Kamrad, kumm!
aus der verdammten Ki, Ko, Ka, aus der Kasern zu ziehen.
Hurra! Soldaten ziehn ins Feld,
Soldaten gehört die ganze Welt!

Nun lebe wohl, du Teufelshaus,
ei du verdammte Ki, Ko, Ka, Kasern, die Fahnen wehen.
Wir ziehn zur Schlacht mit frohem Sinn,
mein Schatz ist Marketenderin.

English Translation (Note: the translator has here used an analogy of alliteration on the nonsense syllables “Ki, Ko, Ka,” rendering them as “Bi, Bo, Ba.”  The original alliteration with the German word “Kasern” is transposed to its English equivalent, “barracks.”  Also, lines 3 and 4 of stanzas 1 and 4 are grouped together as one line in the layout of both the English and German texts.)

Verses are in minor, while refrains are in major.  Stanzas 2 and 3 are musically slightly different from Stanzas 1, 4, and 5.
0:00 [m. 1]--Stanza 1, lines 1-2.  Strong four-part C-minor harmony with punctuated, detached attacks on each note.  The verse begins on a short upbeat.
0:12 [m. 6]--Stanza 1, lines 3-4.  Line 3 is in a stark, detached unison, and line 4 returns to harmony and slightly more active rhythm.
0:21 [m. 10]--Refrain, line 1 in bright, but hushed C major in distinct, detached notes.  The two bass parts start before the two tenor parts and alternate on the word “Korporal,” basses stating it three times and tenors twice, with the four parts coming together on “Sergeant.”  “Hauptmann” is set differently in each part, with first tenors singing it twice in long notes, second tenors three times in long, then short notes, first basses three times in short, then long notes, and second basses entering later and singing it twice in short notes.  Second basses also begin “Oberstleutenant” before the other three parts, with longer notes on the last three syllables.
0:29 [m. 14]--Refrain, line 2.  The voices also diverge slightly on this line, with first tenors and first basses singing long notes against shorter notes from second tenors and second basses, and vice versa.  All voices come together on the last “wollen marschieren.”  First tenors and basses state the entire line twice in succession, while second tenors and basses state “wir Soldaten” twice and then “wollen marschieren” twice.  The volume builds in the first statements, reaching a forceful level as the voices come together to end the refrain.
0:39 [m. 18]--Stanza 2, lines 1-2.  This is the “second” version of the basic stanza, but lines 1 and 2 are musically identical to those of Stanza 1 (and Stanzas 4-5).  Notice the identical position of “verdammten Ki, Ko, Ka” in each verse.
0:49 [m. 23]--Stanza 2, lines 3-4.  Line 3 is where the “second” version differs, replacing the stark unison with a smooth harmony and a moving first bass line.  Line 4 returns to the music of the “first” version.
0:58 [m. 27]--Refrain, line 1.  The refrain does not change in any of the verses.
1:07 [m. 31]--Refrain, line 2.
1:16 [m. 18]--Stanza 3, lines 1-2.  Text in the same bars as Stanza 2.  “Second” version of the stanza.
1:26 [m. 23]--Stanza 3, lines 3-4, with smooth harmony and moving first bass on line 3.  Line 4 adds an extra syllable, altering the rhythm and making it more “straight.”
1:35 [m. 27]--Refrain, line 1.
1:43 [m. 31]--Refrain, line 2.
1:52 [m. 1]--Stanza 4, lines 1-2.  Text in the same bars as Stanza 1.  “First” version of the stanza.
2:02 [m. 6]--Stanza 4, lines 3-4, with stark unison on line 3.  Line 4 adds an extra syllable, as in Stanza 3, but the differing declamation “straightens” out an earlier, faster rhythm (removing a long-short dotted rhythm), whereas the “straightening” in Stanza 3 was later and slower.
2:11 [m. 10]--Refrain, line 1.
2:19 [m. 14]--Refrain, line 2.
2:29 [m. 1]--Stanza 5, lines 1-2.  Text in the same bars as Stanza 1.  “First” version of the stanza.
2:39 [m. 6]--Stanza 5, lines 3-4, with stark unison on line 3.  Line 4 is sung a bit more gently.
2:48 [m. 10]--Refrain, line 1.
2:56 [m. 14]--Refrain, line 2.
3:07--END OF SONG [34 (85) mm.]

5. Gebt acht! (Beware!).  Text by Carl Lemcke.  Etwas gehalten (Somewhat restrained).  Simple strophic form.  C MINOR, 4/4 time.

German Text:
Gebt acht! Gebt acht!
Es harrt der Feind,
der schlimm es meint,
ihr Brüder wacht!
Im Westen, Süden, im Osten, Nord
sind wir uns selbst der einz’ge Hort,
gebt acht!

Gebt acht! Und baut
auf Gott und auf
des Schwertes Streich,
sonst niemand traut!
Man triebe gern ein schnödes Spiel,
nur unsre Schwäche ist ihr Ziel,
gebt acht!

Gebt acht! Seid fest
in aller Not
bis in den Tod!
Gott nicht verlässt,
Wer treu für Recht und Wahrheit ficht,
In Ehr und Vaterlandes Pflicht.
Gebt acht!

Gebt acht! Es tagt,
zum Kampf bereit
mit Schwert und Kleid
seid unverzagt!
Und ob der Feind wie Meeressand,
wir retten doch das Vaterland!
Gebt acht!

English Translation

0:00 [m. 1]--Stanza 1, lines 1-4.  The rhythm begins on an upbeat with first tenors and first basses in unison on a rising fifth singing “Gebt acht!”  The second tenors and second basses imitate this four notes lower, but on a rising fourth.  From that point, the second tenors “catch up” to the first tenors, and both tenor parts present the rest of the text in a march rhythm, with the second tenors incorporating one small syncopation in line 4.  Meanwhile, the first and second basses simply alternate statements of “Gebt acht!” on rising fifths and fourths, respectively.  First basses state it five times, second basses four.
0:13 [m. 5]--Stanza 1, lines 5-6.  The lines begin quietly and build to a climax before the final “Gebt acht!”  Second basses begin before the others in steady, undulating half-steps, overlapping with line four.  The other parts enter two beats later.  The first basses continue in the same rhythm as the second basses an octave higher, while the tenors present line 5 in two broken statements of harmony, the second of which briefly moves to E minor (along with the bass notes, which shift up).  A continuous statement of line 6 follows in the tenors.  The four voice parts do not come together textually until midway through this line.  Text repetition is necessitated in both bass parts, which have more notes than the tenor parts. The second basses repeat more than the firsts.  Even though the two bass parts are singing the same notes an octave apart, their texts do not “match” until the end of line 6.
0:25 [m. 11]--Stanza 1, line 7.  The final “Gebt acht!” is repeated twice.  The second tenors divide on the last three notes, and the first basses divide for the single note right before them (fourth from the end).  Because of unison in certain parts, there is no real five-part harmony.  The first tenors hold the initial “acht!” longer than the other parts, and their second “Gebt” is later and shorter.
0:31 [m. 1]--Stanza 2, lines 1-4.
0:41 [m. 5]--Stanza 2, lines 5-6.
0:53 [m. 11]--Stanza 2, line 7 (“Gebt acht!”)
0:59 [m. 1]--Stanza 3, lines 1-4.
1:09 [m. 5]--Stanza 3, lines 5-6.
1:22 [m. 11]--Stanza 3, line 7 (“Gebt acht!”)
1:27 [m. 1]--Stanza 4, lines 1-4.
1:38 [m. 5]--Stanza 4, lines 5-6.
1:50 [m. 11]--Stanza 4, line 7 (“Gebt acht!”)
2:02--END OF SONG [12 mm. (x4)]