RHAPSODY FOR ALTO, MALE CHORUS, AND ORCHESTRA, OP. 53
The so-called “Alto Rhapsody” is one of the composer’s
most famous vocal works, and was the first of four short
choral/orchestral pieces that are often grouped together, all of which
last around twelve to fifteen minutes. These include the Schicksalslied, published
immediately thereafter, and two more works from the 1880s (and the Op.
80s), the Nänie and the Gesang der Parzen. It
is, however, unlike the other three in several ways, most notably the
inclusion of a soloist. It also uses a male chorus rather than a
mixed chorus. Brahms had recently utilized a men’s choir to great
effect in the cantata Rinaldo
(also to a text by Goethe). This text is a fragment from a longer
poem and describes a wandering misanthrope for whom the narrator offers
a prayer that his heart will be moved (the prayer marked by the entry
of the chorus). Brahms apparently identified with this
protagonist, and the work is often associated with the marriage of
Julie Schumann (daughter of Robert and Clara) with whom Brahms had been
infatuated. He perhaps only half-jokingly referred to the piece
as a pendant to the Liebeslieder
Waltzes, whose opus number directly precedes it. The irony is
that no two works could (at first glance) be further apart in
affect. Strikingly, the main melody of the final choral section
is used as the ground bass for the closing “Zum Schluß” of the
later New Liebeslieder, Op.
65. The structure is similar to a Baroque cantata, with opening
recitative or arioso, solo aria, and finale with chorus. Brahms
loved the alto voice greatly, and the contrast with the men’s voices,
who enter about halfway through, is extremely beautiful. The
contrast between the warm closing choral section and the often
dissonant and dramatic solo portion is also effective. The
orchestra is conservative, with flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, two
horns, and strings with no trumpets or timpani.
Recording: Marjana Lipovšek, alto; Men of the Ernst Senff Choir (Chorus
Master: Ernst Senff); Berlin Philharmonic, conducted by Claudio Abbado
[DG 435 683-2]
Note: The link to the English translation of the text is from Emily
site at http://www.recmusic.org/lieder.
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.
SCORE FROM IMSLP (First Edition from Brahms-Institut
Lübeck--also includes piano/vocal score)
Rhapsodie (Alto Rhapsody). Text by
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, from the long poem Harzreise im Winter (Journey Through the Harz in Winter).
Adagio--Poco Andante--Adagio. Three-part form resembling a
Baroque cantata: recitative (arioso), aria, and chorus (with
soloist). C MINOR/MAJOR, 4/4 and 6/4 time.
Aber abseits wer ist’s?
Ins Gebüsch verliert sich sein Pfad.
Hinter ihm schlagen
Die Sträuche zusammen,
Das Gras steht wieder auf,
Die Öde verschlingt ihn.
Ach, wer heilet die Schmerzen
Des, dem Balsam zu Gift ward?
Der sich Menschenhaß
Aus der Fülle der Liebe trank?
Erst verachtet, nun ein Verächter,
Zehrt er heimlich auf
Seinen eigenen Wert
In ung’nügender Selbstsucht.
Ist auf deinem Psalter,
Vater der Liebe, ein Ton
Seinem Ohre vernehmlich,
So erquicke sein Herz!
Öffne den umwölkten Blick
Über die tausend Quellen
Neben dem Durstenden
In der Wüste!
Part 1--Introduction and
recitative/arioso; Adagio, C minor, 4/4; Stanza 1
0:00 [m. 1]--INTRODUCTION.
The violins are muted throughout the
entire solo section. The low strings, supported by bassoons,
begin with a “leading tone” figure. The violins and violas,
supported by horns, enter immediately in tremolo with a very sharp but
nebulous “augmented” chord that resolves and diminishes. A
descending figure in long-short rhythm follows. The “leading
tone” and augmented chord are then heard a step lower, in B-flat minor,
again followed by the descending figure. Two more “leading tone”
figures follow, both without the succeeding descent. The sharp
dissonance in both is a “diminished seventh” that now moves to a major
chord on A-flat, then D-flat.
0:33 [m. 7]--Moving back to C
minor, the woodwinds join the orchestra
now in an upward winding line that slowly surges forward. The low
strings play a yearning figure that will later set the words “hinter
ihm.” The violas pulsate in triplets as the violins and horns
provide a counterpoint to the yearning figure. The flutes and
clarinets then respond with a richly harmonized descent that settles
the music back down.
0:51 [m. 11]--The violins now
play a slow descent that will be used to
set the words “schlagen die Sträuche zusammen.” They are
harmonized by the violas, with some cellos playing a line in the
opposite direction. Three syncopated “sigh” figures follow, each
dropping in pitch and successively losing strength. The last of
these is held slightly longer before resolving downward. The low
strings come to a quiet, preparatory pause on the “dominant” chord.
1:34 [m. 19]--ARIOSO.
Lines 1-2. The alto soloist enters
with a slowly winding melody on the first line, beginning
unaccompanied. When she reaches the word “ist’s,” the strings
enter with the “leading tone” motives and dissonant tremolo chords heard at the
beginning, but without the horn and bassoon support. These
continue as they had at the opening as she sings the second line, which
is filled with heavy, pathetic downward “sighs.” After the line,
the last leading tone and tremolo are shifted up a third from where
they were in the introduction.
2:08 [m. 26]--Lines 3-4.
The upward winding line heard at 0:33
[m. 7] is also shifted up a third, suggesting E-flat minor. When
the alto enters with “hinter ihm” on the “yearning figure,” the voice
is still higher than the low strings were before, but the harmony
becomes similar and moves back to C minor. The woodwinds descend
as they had before, in rich harmony. The soloist then sings
“schlagen die Sträuche zusammen” to the slow descent heard at 0:51
[m. 11], with flutes joining the strings. Only one
syncopated figure follows, and it slides upward toward the key of
D-flat major, where the next lines will be heard.
2:43 [m. 34]--Line 5.
This line is set in a comparatively warm
D-flat major to depict the blooming grass. The flutes and
clarinets descend against the violin ascent, which the soloist
shadows. A syncopated “sigh” figure bridges to a second statement
of the line a step higher, in E-flat major (the major key most closely
related to the home key of C minor). The syncopated “sigh” then
bridges to the last line.
3:14 [m. 42]--Line 6. All
winds drop out. The soloist has
only quiet low string support. She shifts back to C minor with a
leaping fifth, then a highly dramatic descending jump of a
seventh. She works upward to the second syllable of
“verschlingt,” where she holds a note. The violins and violas
quietly enter with a slow descent. This continues after the alto
drops out after the last word, “ihn.” The strings descend to a
quiet, but highly intense and anticipatory “dominant” chord in
preparation for the next section (the “aria”).
Part 2--Aria; Poco Andante, C
minor, 6/4; Stanza 2. The aria has a small “aba” form.
3:52 [m. 48]--ARIA. First
section (a). The meter
changes to a
flowing 6/4 meter for the “aria.” In the first two lines, the
soloist is doubled by the first violins. She and the violins
frequently superimpose a clashing implied 3/2 meter upon the flowing
6/4, which is maintained by a meandering viola line. The low
strings provide bass support, and the winds are absent. The alto
melody, with its cross rhythms, is peaceful, yet somehow
agitated. A pathetically stressed “sigh” figure is heard on “Gift
4:09 [m. 54]--The alto
continues with the next two lines. The
violins join the violas on the meandering line. The soloist
reaches a highly dramatic accented downward leap of a seventh on the
significant word “Menschenhaß.” Under this leap, the
violins and violas move to a steady syncopated rhythm on repeated
notes. A flute then leads the woodwind entrance, followed shortly
thereafter by an oboe, then clarinets. Meanwhile, the soloist
sings the fourth line of the stanza, which wanders toward a wistful
4:27 [m. 60]--The soloist sings
two more sharply accented leaps on
“Menschenhaß,” this time on more mild fifths, the second one a
step higher. The strings continue their syncopated rhythm, but
the first violins have rising lines after each statement of the
word. The soloist moves again to the fourth line, seeming to move
to D-flat major on a new arching line, but she breaks off after
“Fülle,” trailed by the clarinets as the strings quiet down on
4:43 [m. 65]--The strings drop
out, and the soloist enters on a full
statement of the fourth line. The flutes and clarinets support
her. She leaps down an octave on “aus,” slides further down, and
then has a very wide upward leap of a twelfth on “Fülle.” On
“Liebe trank,” she settles to a gentle cadence on A-flat major.
The woodwinds, supported by a winding viola line, punctuate the cadence
with a reference to the opening melody of the “aria.” This is
then repeated more quietly by a clarinet, with the bassoon on the
winding line. The flutes and oboes drop out for this last,
subdued echo, which is quickly tinged by a minor-key harmony.
5:13 [m. 73]--Second section (b).
The remainder of the words are presented in a short time frame.
The fifth line is given in two short phrases that move from F minor
back toward C minor. The violins and violas, with wind support,
provide a fluid background. The sixth line is sung in faster
winding notes in a narrow range, trailed by the strings. The
seventh line is then given in longer notes that reach steadily upward,
doubled by a flute, then leap back down on a dissonant seventh.
This line briefly suggests F minor again. A bassoon echoes the
long notes. Finally, the last line is sung on a gentle arch that
descends to a half-cadence in C minor, with cellos imitating the vocal
line under the cadence.
5:45 [m. 84]--An instrumental
bridge is based on the preceding vocal
setting of the stanza’s last line, as well as the aria’s opening
melody. The violas follow the cello imitation. The winds
and horns then enter against a flowing low bass. The volume
increases dramatically and strongly as the winds and the violas
recollect the aria’s opening melody. Finally, the violins play
the arching line at full volume under a strongly accented wind
chord. They then trail downward, leading to the reprise.
6:04 [m. 90]--Third section (a’).
The opening melody is given by the alto as at 3:52 [m. 48], but now the
violas join the first violins on the vocal doubling, and the meandering
line previously played by the violas is transferred to the cellos.
6:21 [m. 96]--The sections that
previously followed the first statement
of the melody are now conflated together. The music begins as it
had at 4:09 [m. 54], but the leap on “Menschenhaß” is suddenly
expanded to an octave instead of a seventh. The strings play the
pulsating syncopated rhythm, as they had before. The ascending
flute line is doubled by the viola. The word “Menschenhaß”
is then repeated a half-step higher, which is similar to its double
statement at 4:27 [m. 60]. The flute/oboe ascent follows
again. In fact, the statement of the fourth line breaking off
after “Fülle” is heard as it was after those repetitions at m. 60,
a half-step lower than it was there, moving toward the home major key
(C major). It is trailed by the oboes instead of the clarinets.
6:44 [m. 104]-- The full
statement of the fourth line is given as
it was at 4:43 [m. 65], with wind support, absent strings, and the same
wide leaps. The whole line is a half-step lower than it was
before. The cadence is now in G major. The strings do enter
a bar earlier. The winds, supported by the winding viola line,
reference the opening melody as they did before after this cadence.
7:05 [m. 110]--The subdued
repetition of the reference to the opening
melody is expanded. The clarinets present it first, as they had
before, but now with the cellos on the winding line. It is tinged
by minor-key harmony, as before. The cellos continue to diminish
and trail downward as the horns and bassoons slowly echo the long last
notes of the cadence gesture. The bassoons, horns, violas, and
low strings quiet completely and settle on a very subdued, but
extremely tense and expectant pause. This pause arrives on the
“dominant” chord of the home key, C, which is simply an alteration of
the previous G-major harmony.
Part 3--Chorus with solo;
Adagio, C major, 4/4; Stanza 3
7:27 [m. 116]--With glowing
radiance, the male chorus makes its first
entrance, together with the soloist. She carries the melody while
they warmly, albeit mezza voce,
support her with harmonies. The cellos play pizzicato (plucked) triplets as an
accompaniment. At “Vater der Liebe,” there is some counterpoint,
as the first tenors and first basses begin after the soloist and the
others. Clarinets and bassoons enter to support and harmonize
with the soloist, while flutes join with the later-entering men.
The second tenors and second basses enter with the soloist on “Vater,”
but sustain their first note longer. All come together on “Liebe.”
7:47 [m. 120]--The words “ein
Ton” are joined with the next line.
The melody is extremely gentle here, becoming slightly chromatic in the
next line at “so erquicke.” There, the second tenors have a
prominent line of counterpoint as they begin later with a descending
diminished third (whole step). The soloist and the first basses
have slightly more active vocal lines. Horns and bassoons provide
support as the plucked string triplets continue. This line
beginning with “so erquicke” is repeated as the soloist sings a
sweeping line. A cadence is reached.
8:30 [m. 128]--The next two
lines abruptly shift upward to E-flat
major, where they are sung in their entirety. The plucked cello
triplet arpeggios give way to bowed triplets (now on repeated chords)
in the upper strings. Supported by the flutes, the soloist
presents the line “Öffne den umwölkten Blick” alone,
dovetailing with the chorus, who sing for the first time without her
support. The other winds enter with the chorus. Soloist and
chorus sing the next line together with more motion and a swelling
8:52 [m. 132]--The chorus
trails on “Quellen” behind the soloist, who
begins the last two lines as they end the word. The triplet
arpeggios return, now in the second violins and violas. The
soloist’s melody makes a highly dramatic harmonic shift, from E-flat
major over its minor version to the highly remote and atmospheric B
major. Her melody is quiet and restrained, like the prayer that
the text here is.
9:07 [m. 135]--As the soloist
finishes the last line of text, the
orchestra begins a restatement of the previous line, the melody used
for “Öffne den umwölkten Blick,” now in B major. An
oboe takes the lead, supported by the other winds, and the strings
return to the pulsating triplet repeated notes. At the end, this
orchestral melodic statement makes a somewhat darker turn with a highly
dramatic, leaping horn entrance.
9:23 [m. 138]--The chorus now
takes the last two lines alone.
They sing a harmonized version of the soloist’s line from 8:52 [m.
132]. The plucked string triplets are heard again. The
chorus, beginning now in B major, makes the same harmonic shift that
the soloist did and ends up in G major. The second tenors have
prominent internal chromatic motion at the cadence.
9:39 [m. 141]--A similar
orchestral statement to that at 9:07 [m. 135]
begins at the choral cadence. It proceeds in G major, now led by
a flute doubled by first violins. The pulsating triplets are in
the second violins and violas. At the point where the horn makes
its dramatic leaping entrance, the interlude is extended by two bars,
striving upward and warmly swelling, finally moving back home to C
major. It flows into the return of the main melody from the
10:06 [m. 146]--The main melody
from the soloist and chorus from 7:27
[m. 116] is reprised. The accompaniment is much more full,
however. The violins play a winding bowed line in straight rhythm
against the plucked cello triplets, now also played by violas.
The winds (flutes and clarinets) are present from the beginning.
At “Vater der Liebe,” flutes and bassoons rather than clarinets and
bassoons support the soloist, while the clarinets now join the
10:26 [m. 150]--The music and
text from 7:47 [m. 120] is reprised,
again with the richer accompaniment. At “so erquicke,” the
soloist’s former line is transferred to the first tenors, and she takes
the later entry previously sung by the second tenors. The
second tenors themselves have a new line. The music has further
slight alterations, including both of the soloist’s statements of
“erquicke.” The second of these, sung as the line is repeated as
before, meanders a bit more and is doubled by a flute. The
violins play a strong syncopation under the word. A C-major
cadence is reached on “Herz.”
11:07 [m. 158]--Rather
unexpectedly, the E-flat major music from 8:30
[m. 128] appears again. This time, however, it is the orchestral
version, led by flutes and horns with pulsating string triplets and
including new descending arpeggios. This is cut off by a sudden
statement of “erquicke sein Herz” from the chorus. The soloist,
as if taken by surprise, enters late on “erquicke.” This choral
statement moves the music not to C major, but to F major, where it
reaches a notated pause on a rest (a fermata).
11:30 [m. 162]--The now
familiar “Öffne den umwölkten Blick”
music is given in a new key, A-flat, by the oboe with clarinet and
later flute support with string triplet pulsations. The new
descending arpeggios are heard from clarinets, horns, and bassoons.
11:41 [m. 164]--As the
instruments approach a cadence, it is aborted by
a passage of active counterpoint from the voices, led by the second
basses. The first tenors (reaching their highest notes), first
basses, and second tenors follow. The soloist comes in above
them. The text is again “erquicke sein Herz,” now with
reiterations of “erquicke.” The second basses sing the whole text
twice. Under the counterpoint, the orchestra has syncopation,
plucked triplets, and wind doubling of voices. The passage builds
to a climax. The harmony is very active. From the previous
A-flat, it shifts to F, then moves along the circle of fifths to
B-flat, E-flat, A-flat, and finally D-flat, a key that signifies an
12:01 [m. 168]--The music
slides back down to the home key of C major,
where the voices have reached their climax. They state “erquicke”
three times in succession. They use the version first heard as a
late entry from the second tenors at 7:27 [m. 120] and later associated
with the soloist, beginning with a now familiar diminished third (whole
step). The horns enter with pulsating, syncopated triplets on an
octave, following the violas. The soloist originally doubled the
first tenors here, but Brahms revised it so that she rests until the
third “erquicke,” where she has a diverging line. There, the
music greatly recedes to a pause.
12:28 [m. 172]--Finally, all
voices sing the luminous cadence on “sein
Herz,” accompanied by winds and low strings, the alto leaping while all
choral voices descend. They gently swell before the violins and
violas enter to articulate the last two chords.
13:18--END OF WORK [175 mm.]
(Runoff after chord ends at 13:00)
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