FOUR SONGS (GESÄNGE), OP. 70
Recording: Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone; Daniel Barenboim, piano [DG 449 633-2]
Published 1877.

One of the four groups published together at the peak of the “high maturity” period, Op. 70 contrasts three songs of unusual brevity with one of unusual length.  As is typical, the songs in the group share a similar theme, in this case a stoic, reserved sense of regret or sadness for something lost in the past.  Unlike the diverse and often virtuosic Op. 69, the four songs of Op. 70 are noticeably restrained.  Even the lengthy final song is rather subdued in expression.  The first and third songs are quite short, using simple and direct means to illustrate their text.  The third, a setting of Goethe, has an especially elegant relationship between the vocal and piano parts.  The second song takes things a step further with its very atmospheric and sparse accompaniment, whose light dissonances, supple rhythm, and transparent texture make it one of Brahms’s most forward-looking songs.  The last song, the capstone of the group, has a large two-part form and is laid out on a rather grand scale, despite its restrained nature.  In both Brahms’s own time and today, opinion on this song is very mixed.  Almost all commentators, from Clara Schumann to today’s Brahms scholars, have seemed to dislike the poem because of its rather pretentious and self-righteous moralizing.  Brahms’s first biographer noted a possible reason Brahms would have been attracted to the text, an unpleasant affair involving an autograph Wagner score that mistakenly ended up in his possession.  Although Brahms was blameless, he felt that his personal honor was questioned in the misunderstanding.  Wagner himself was magnanimous in making things right with Brahms, and perhaps it is no accident that the setting contains some Wagnerian harmonic idioms and expressive devices, especially in the last two stanzas.  Despite whatever flaws it may have, including perhaps a too dramatic contrast between the two sections, portions of the song are profoundly beautiful and expressive.  With its restrained melancholy ever present, Op. 70 as a whole contrasts rather starkly with the next set, the generally joyous and optimistic Op. 71.

Note: Links to English translations of the texts are from Emily Ezust's site at http://www.recmusic.org/lieder.  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.

IMSLP WORK PAGE
ONLINE SCORE FROM IMSLP (First Edition from Brahms-Institut Lübeck--original keys)

ONLINE SCORE FROM IMSLP (From Breitkopf & Härtel Sämtliche Werke--original keys)
ONLINE SCORE FROM IMSLP (Edition Peters, edited by Max Friedländer):
No. 1: Im Garten am Seegestade (in original key, G minor)
No. 1: Im Garten am Seegestade (in low key, E minor)
No. 2: Lerchengesang (in original key, B major)
No. 2: Lerchengesang (in low key, A-flat major)
No. 3: Serenade (in original key, B major)
No. 3: Serenade (in middle key, A-flat major)
No. 3: Serenade (in low key, G major)
No. 4: Abendregen (in original key, A minor--C major)
No. 4: Abendregen (in low key, F-sharp minor--A major)


1. Im Garten am Seegestade (In the Garden at the Seashore).  Text by Karl Lemcke.  Traurig, doch nicht zu langsam (Sad, but not too slow).  Ternary form (ABA’).  G MINOR, 4/4 time (Low key E minor).

German Text:
Im Garten am Seegestade
Uralte Bäume stehn,
In ihren hohen Kronen
Sind kaum die Vögel zu sehn.

Die Bäume mit hohen Kronen,
Die rauschen Tag und Nacht,
Die Wellen schlagen zum Strande,
Die Vöglein singen sacht.

Das gibt ein Musizieren
So süß, so traurig bang,
Als wie verlorner Liebe
Und ewiger Sehnsucht Sang.

English Translation

0:00 [m. 1]--The introduction has detached rising arpeggios in the left hand against a descending arpeggio in the right hand that is twice as slow and smoother.  This passage recurs as a bridge between verses.
0:05 [m. 3]--Stanza 1 (A).  The accompaniment continues with the pattern established by the left hand, detached and moving up and down in broken chords.  The vocal line is starkly in the minor key and generally descends with leaps at the beginning of each line.  The last line is repeated, stretched out with longer note values and dramatic rests in both the voice and piano.  As the stanza concludes, the introductory passage is heard again at a higher pitch level and pivoting to D minor.
0:37 [m. 15]--Stanza 2 (B).  The vocal line begins as had stanza 1, but it quickly moves in a different direction.  Brahms illustrates the text here vividly, bringing triplet rhythms into the left-hand arpeggios suggesting the waves and low notes with off-beat responses for the rustling trees.  The first two lines settle in D major, while the third and fourth move to B-flat (both keys are closely related to G minor).
0:57 [m. 22]--The bridge between the second and third stanzas is twice as long as that between the first and second.  As the second stanza ends, the piano right hand adopts a pattern of syncopated repeated notes illustrating the birds of the last line.  This is extended for two bars before the introductory passage returns, at the original pitch level, but continuing the syncopated rhythm and the triplet left-hand arpeggios.
1:09 [m. 26]--Stanza 3 (A’).  The preceding bridge having moved back to the home key, the last stanza begins as had the first, but with slightly fuller accompaniment, for the first three lines.  The last line is not radically changed in the voice, but the harmony is very different, suddenly suggesting the key of C minor, the new harmony perhaps reflecting the text’s “longing.”  The repetition of the last line is still in longer note values, but the rests are omitted, and the piano’s chords are now very solemn.  This sudden hymn-like character continues through the postlude, which echoes the end of the vocal line.
1:49--END OF SONG [38 mm.]


2. Lerchengesang (The Lark’s Song).  Text by Karl August Candidus.  Andante espressivo.  Two-part, one-verse form.  B MAJOR, Cut (2/2) time (Low key A-flat major).

German Text:
Ätherische ferne Stimmen,
Der Lerchen himmlische Grüße,
Wie regt ihr mir so süße
Die Brust, ihr lieblichen Stimmen!
Ich schließe leis mein Auge,
Da ziehn Erinnerungen
In sanften Dämmerungen
Durchweht vom Frühlingshauche.

English Translation
 
Part 1
0:00 [m. 1]--The introduction is a direct illustration of the text.  Both hands are set in a high register, and the right hand figures, with their light dissonances, are obvious imitations of bird calls.
0:18 [m. 5]--Part 1 sets the first four lines.  Slow triplet rhythms are characteristic.  These go against the “flow” of the bird calls in the accompaniment.  The first two lines are set somewhat in isolation from the accompaniment, the mostly a cappella lines alternating with pairs of bird calls.
0:45 [m. 11]--The third and fourth lines flow together, without the a cappella passages or the alternations.  The accompaniment remains quite sparse.  The slow triplet rhythms in the voice continue to go against the flow of the piano.  The fourth line is repeated, with much longer notes stretching it to twice the length of the first statement.
Part 2
1:12 [m. 18]--As the voice ends its repetition of the fourth line, the bird calls from the introduction return with slightly different harmony.
1:30 [m. 22]--The setting of the next three lines (5-7) is similar to that of the first two, with mostly a cappella vocal phrases alternating with the bird calls.  The important distinction is that the voice now abandons the slow triplet rhythms, now conforming more closely to the flow of the bird calls.  Also, the incorporation of an extra line results in the addition of two isolated bird calls between the two pairs.
2:09 [m. 30]--As the text has spoken of “memories,” the sixth and seventh lines are repeated.  In a very satisfying manner, the slow triplets return.  While the contour of the vocal lines is somewhat varied, the accompaniment is virtually identical to the setting of the third and fourth lines at 0:45 [m. 11].  Completing the effect of rounding off the song, the eighth and final line is set to the music used for the repetition of the fourth line, with the longer notes and doubled length, but adding an extra note to the right hand chords.
2:40 [m. 37]--The postlude is essentially a repetition of the bird calls from the introduction and the interlude, adding a couple of closing bars and a final chord.
3:23--END OF SONG [42 mm.]


3. Serenade (Serenade).  Text by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, from the play Claudine von Villa Bella.  Fourth and fifth lines reversed by Brahms.  Brahms also changed the word “betrügen” (“deceive”) to “betrüben” (“torture” or “plague”).  Grazioso.  Through-composed form.  B MAJOR, 6/8 time (Middle key A-flat major, low key G major).
(The title Serenade [a non-German word] is also used for Op. 58, No. 8.)

German Text:
Liebliches Kind,
Kannst du mir sagen,
Sagen warum
Einsam und stumm
Zärtliche Seelen
Immer sich quälen,
Selbst sich betrüben,
Und ihr Vergnügen
Immer nur ahnen,
Da, wo sie nicht sind;
Kannst du mir’
s sagen,
Liebliches Kind?

English Translation

0:00 [m. 1]--After two rising chords, the pattern of the song for the first eight lines is established.  One line is set per bar in a flowing rhythm with the left hand in the first half of the bar and the right hand in the second half.  The beginnings of the right hand lines imitate the vocal lines at a faster speed (diminution).
0:18 [m. 6]--The pattern continues, but the fifth through eighth lines are set to more colorful harmonies and move toward the minor mode of the home key (B minor).
0:30 [m. 10]--As the ninth line enters, the music becomes louder and more agitated, but the pattern attempts to continue.  The ninth line is repeated.  With the tenth line, the pattern breaks with longer notes in the vocal line.  It is set twice, the first time to two bars (twice as long a the other lines) and the second time adding still another bar.  The accompaniment, while breaking the pattern of imitating the voice with the right hand, continues the flowing motion.  This entire passage moves to the “relative” minor key of G-sharp.
0:50 [m. 17]--The last two lines, which are essentially a reversal of the first two, are given extensive treatment to emphasize the message of the song.  The eleventh line is set twice, each time to a bar and a half, and back in the home major key.  The imitation of the voice in the piano right hand resumes, but this time it is more literal, at the same speed. 
1:01 [m. 20]--The final line is stretched out even more.  It is first sung to two full bars, with light syncopation in the first bar.  The imitation continues in the right hand, but it is not lengthened as the vocal line is.  The second statement of the line is almost a double statement, leaving only the one-syllable word “Kind” out of a third repetition.  It is stretched to three bars.  The chords of the postlude move downward, in a reversal of the rising opening chords.  The left hand of the postlude gradually slows to the close.
1:40--END OF SONG [26 mm.]


4. Abendregen (Evening Rain).  Text by Gottfried Keller.  Last two lines somewhat altered by Brahms.  Ruhig (Peacefully)--Langsamer. Leise und feierlich (Slower. Soft and solemn).  Through-composed form in two large, contrasting sections.  A MINOR--C MAJOR, 4/4 time (Low key F-sharp minor--A major).

German Text:
Langsam und schimmernd fiel ein Regen,
In den die Abendsonne schien;
Der Wandrer schritt auf engen Wegen
Mit düstrer Seele drunter hin.

Er sah die großen Tropfen blinken
Im Fallen durch den goldnen Strahl;
Er fühlt’ es kühl aufs Haupt ihm sinken
Und sprach mit schauernd süßer Qual:

Nun weiß ich, daß ein Regenbogen
Sich hoch um meine Stirne zieht,
Den auf dem Pfad, den ich gezogen,
Die heitre Ferne spielen sieht.

Und die mir hier am nächsten stehen,
Und wer mich scharf zu kennen meint,
Sie können selber doch nicht sehen,
Wie er versöhnend ob mir scheint.

So wird, wenn andre Tage kommen,
Die sonnig auf dies Heute sehn,
Ob meinem fernen, bleichen Namen
Der Ehre Regenbogen stehn.

English Translation

SECTION 1 (Ruhig--A minor).  Stanzas 1-2
0:00 [m. 1]--Stanza 1.  A two-bar introduction introduces the detached broken chords passed between the hands that represent the falling rain.  When the singer enters, the voice imitates the “melody” of the introduction for the first line.  The same type of music continues through the second line.  The introduction and the first line have hints of major/minor mixture, but minor is firmly established in the second line.
0:22 [m. 7]--The accompaniment becomes more smooth, with scale motion harmonized between the hands, and the vocal line is more static and narrow for the third and fourth lines.  After the stanza ends, a rising broken chord in the piano leads to the next verse.
0:39 [m. 12]--Stanza 2.  The first two lines have identical accompaniment to those of stanza 1, but the vocal contour of the first line is different, replacing the “rainfall” music with a broader arching line.  The harmony and the notes used are the same, however, and the second line only makes a minor alternation to the rhythm.
0:53 [m. 16]--The remainder of the stanza begins as at 0:22 [m. 7], with the smoother scale accompaniment, but the vocal line suddenly reaches higher and the harmonies become more colorful.  A cadence, avoided in stanza 1, again mixes major and minor.
1:11 [m. 20]--The piano makes an elegant transition to the next section, using the mixture of A major and minor to pivot to the new, closely related (“relative major”) key of C major.  Bare arpeggios reach upward, the bass descending chromatically and the music becoming slower and softer before a long-held pause on the expectant “dominant” chord of the new key.
SECTION 2 (Langsamer.  Leise und feierlich--C major).  Stanzas 3-5
1:31 [m. 25]--Stanza 3.  The new section has a very warm and noble vocal melody.  The accompaniment is solemn and simple, with slowly ascending chords in triplet rhythm introducing block chords in the right hand.  The stanza makes a large key change to G major in the last line.  In an extended repetition of that line, the accompaniment becomes more active and even somewhat syncopated.  A bridge to the next stanza is subdued, but retains a more active, dynamic rhythm, abandoning the ascending triplet figures.
2:39 [m. 38]--Stanza 4.  This stanza, in addition to having a more active and syncopated accompaniment, also introduces very rich chromatic harmonies and delayed resolutions  The music seems to become unstable as the protagonist recognizes that those closest to him may also fail to give him the proper recognition.  The words “scharf zu kennen” (“deeply to know”) in the second line are repeated for emphasis, and the music moves toward E-flat major at this small climax.
3:06 [m. 44]--The third line introduces imitation in the piano of the vocal line.  The opening of this line resembles the third line of stanza 3.  The descending pattern that imitated the voice continues in the piano through the fourth line, which slows, repeating the word “versöhnend” (“redeeming” or “propitious”) as the music moves back to the home key and reaches a very expectant pause.
3:41 [m. 50]--Stanza 5.  The first line is as in stanza 3.  From there, the strophe is highly varied, introducing new chromatic harmonies and making another detour to the “flat” keys as in stanza 4 (in this case as far as A-flat in the third line).  The vocal line is quite different from stanza 3, extending each of the last two lines by a bar, but the accompaniment provides a constant, sticking to the ascending left-hand triplets throughout.  The home key is firmly established in the last line, which is repeated in a very broad manner.
4:52 [m. 63]--Piano postlude based on the opening figure of stanzas 3 and 5.  The melody moves to an inner voice in the second bar.  Then the two bars are repeated an octave higher before the final chords.  The ascending left-hand triplets continue to the end.  This postlude is perhaps the most beautiful and soothing part of the song.
5:37--END OF SONG [68 mm.]
END OF SET


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