Recording (solo): Jessye Norman, soprano; Daniel Barenboim, piano [DG 449 633-2]
Recording (duet): Juliane Banse, soprano; Iris Vermilion, mezzo-soprano; Andreas Schmidt, baritone; Helmut Deutsch, piano [CPO 999 447-2]
Published 1882.

This set, standing in the middle of the songs from the “high maturity,” is somewhat of an anomaly.  Usually grouped with the solo Lieder, it would be just as home among the duets.  No “true” duets would follow the masterful Op. 75 set, but this group is a sort of spiritual cousin to that one.  Since Brahms himself specified either “one or two voices,” however, it could also form a sort of contrasting set to the rather heavier solo songs of Opp. 85 and 86.  If sung as duets, the songs do not contain any places where the partners would sing together in any sort of harmony, save for a brief and optional passage at the end of No. 5.  Otherwise, they are strictly dialogue songs, and as such, are very similar to those of Op. 75 (which, however, cannot be taken by one singer apiece).  The first three texts are mother-daughter dialogue settings of the poet Hans Schmidt.  The latter two are “folk texts” from the lower Rhine.  These last two songs came with “original melodies” in the dubious source Brahms favored, and he later made fine arrangements of those melodies in his great folksong collection of 1894.  The music of these two settings, however, is wholly Brahms’s own.  They are contrasting boy-girl dialogues.  When taken by one singer, the set is invariably performed by a woman.  No. 4, “Vergebliches Ständchen,” (not to be confused with two songs from Opp. 14 and 106 entitled “Ständchen”) is one of the more popular and familiar of Brahms songs.  While rather slight in comparison to other works of the period, they are all extremely agreeable pieces, and, apart from superficial similarities to Op. 75, quite unique in the composer’s output.  An interesting note is that No. 1 has the same title as the first song of the next group, Op. 85.

This guide includes two sets of timings: the first one for the solo recording with Norman/Barenboim, and the second one for the duet recording with Banse, Vermillion, Schmidt/Deutsch.  The keys used in these recordings are different from each other in all cases except No. 4.  As always, original keys are used for analysis, regardless of the keys used in the recordings.

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-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: Sommerabend (in original key, D minor/major)
No. 1: Sommerabend (in high key, G minor/major)
No. 1: Sommerabend (in middle key, E minor/major)
No. 2: Der Kranz (in original key, G minor/major)
No. 2: Der Kranz (in middle key, E minor/major)
No. 2: Der Kranz (in low key, D minor/major)
No. 3: In den Beeren (in original key, E-flat major)
No. 3: In den Beeren (in low key, B-flat major)
No. 4: Vergebliches Ständchen (in original key, A major)
No. 4: Vergebliches Ständchen (in middle key, G major)
No. 4: Vergebliches Ständchen (in low key, F major)
No. 5: Spannung (in original key, A minor/major)
No. 5: Spannung (in low key, F minor/major)

1. Sommerabend (Summer Evening).  Text by Hans Schmidt.  Andante con moto.  Alternating strophic form (ABAB).  D MINOR/MAJOR, 2/4 time
(High key G minor/major, middle key E minor/major).
(The title Sommerabend is also used for Op. 85, No. 1.)

German Text:
Die Mutter:
 Geh’ schlafen, Tochter, schlafen!
 Schon fällt der Tau aufs Gras,
 Und wen die Tropfen trafen,
 Weint bald die Augen naß!

Die Tochter:
 Laß weinen, Mutter, weinen!
 Das Mondlicht leuchtet hell,
 Und wem die Strahlen scheinen,
 Dem trocknen Tränen schnell!

Die Mutter:
 Geh’ schlafen, Tochter, schlafen!
 Schon ruft der Kauz im Wald,
 Und wen die Töne trafen,
 Muß mit ihm klagen bald!

Die Tochter:
 Laß klagen, Mutter, klagen!
 Die Nachtigall singt hell,
 Und wem die Lieder schlagen,
 Dem schwindet Trauer schnell!

English Translation

0:00, 0:00 [m. 1]--Stanza 1, lines 1-2.  There is no introduction.  The mother’s “voice” begins immediately in a low, hollow, undulating melody featuring long-short rhythms.  The “color” note E-flat, a half-step above the keynote, is sung on “fällt” and “Tau.”  The piano accompaniment is rather stark, with syncopated chords in the right hand following bass notes that reach up and down in wide intervals.  The syncopation is more sustained at the bridge between lines 2 and 3.
0:11, 0:10 [m. 9]--Stanza 1, lines 3-4.  The third line begins with the vocalist leaping up an octave, then gently descending.  The piano accompaniment retains its rhythmic pattern, but both hands play harmonic thirds.  The right hand, off the beat, imitates the on-beat left hand.  The accompaniment and melodic patterns from the opening return with the fourth line.  That line is repeated, quietly and seriously, for emphasis.  The repetition ends with a full cadence in the voice, but the piano does not come to rest.  Its harmony is given a major-key inflection, and it trails after the voice, suspending itself on the preparatory “dominant” chord.
0:28, 0:26 [m. 21]--Stanza 2.  The daughter’s response very suddenly shifts to major, and is much brighter and higher.  The piano accompaniment uses arpeggios in a more flowing triplet rhythm for the right hand, but the less active left hand remains in straight rhythm..  The piano shifts back to the syncopated chords at the third line.  The daughter repeats her last line, as had the mother.  She uses the repetition to float up to a confident full cadence.  The piano settles down in an interlude, still with the familiar syncopation, and turns back to minor.
0:57, 0:57 [m. 47]--Stanza 3, lines 1-2.  The mother’s second injunction to the daughter is set to the same music as the first after a smooth transition.  The “color” note on “Kauz” (“screech owl”) is appropriate.  Note the textual parallels to Stanza 1.
1:07, 1:07 [m. 55]--Stanza 3, lines 3-4.  As in the parallel passage of stanza 1, the second half of the stanza begins with the octave leap.  The music continues as before, including the repetition of the fourth line and the trailing piano leading to the suspended “dominant.”
1:21, 1:22 [m. 67]--Stanza 4.  The daughter’s response is also set to the same bright major music as Stanza 2. Again, note the textual parallels.  The piano postlude is almost identical to the previous interlude, but it is shortened by one measure, and the syncopation is interrupted by the final major chord, which replaces the previous turn back to minor.
1:57, 2:03--END OF SONG [91 mm.]

2. Der Kranz (The Wreath).  Text by Hans Schmidt.  Lebhaft (Lively).  Allegro grazioso.  Ternary form.  G MINOR/MAJOR, 6/8 time (Middle key E minor/major, low key D minor/major).

German Text:
Die Tochter:
 Mutter, hilf mir armen Tochter,
 Sieh’ nur, was ein Knabe tat:
 Einen Kranz von Rosen flocht er,
 Den er mich zu tragen bat!

Die Mutter:
 Ei, sei deshalb unerschrocken,
 Helfen läßt sich dir gewiß!
 Nimm den Kranz nur aus den Locken,
 Und den Knaben, den vergiß!

Die Tochter:
 Dornen hat der Kranz, o Mutter,
 Und die halten fest das Haar!
 Worte sprach der Knabe, Mutter,
 an die denk’ ich immerdar

English Translation
0:00, 0:00 [m. 1]--The two-bar piano introduction is halting and hesitant to establish the 6/8 “flow.”  Rustling figures are played by both hands in contrary motion, with a clear distinction between the outer main notes on the beat and the inner notes played after them.  The figures are separated by rests on the third and sixth beats of each measure.
0:04, 0:04 [m. 3]--Stanza 1.  The daughter’s first mock “complaint” is set to a flowing mock-melancholy melody.  The piano accompaniment gains momentum as the voice enters, losing its “halting” character and becoming light, with a continuous flow of 16th notes in both hands.  There is a mild suggestion of a cross-rhythm grouping or “hemiola,” implying three beats instead of two in the piano.  The accompaniment is marked leggiero.  The left hand becomes more independent under the second line, adding rests on strong beats and rising arpeggios.  The right hand moves to arching figures as the line concludes and the singer reaches a half-close.  There is a vocal break after this line as the piano moves to the lower register.
0:12, 0:12 [m. 8]--For the third line of the stanza, which begins with an upbeat, the music moves to the major key (B-flat, relative to G minor).  The left hand takes over the arching figures, and the right hand plays slower harmonies in support of the singer, who stretches out the words “Kranz” and “Rosen.”  After two measures, under the last line, the hands alternate, passing the continuous figuration between each other.  The last four words are repeated in slower, drawn-out notes.  The piano also slows down to the “halting” character of the introduction, then moves to longer notes as the line concludes.  The daughter’s last word arrives with a two bar piano transition to the next stanza.  It returns to the rippling, continuous 16th notes.
0:30, 0:30 [m. 17]--Stanza 2.  The mother’s response is set in a contrasting key arrived at in the previous transition (D major).  Her line has more of a sweeping character and the continuous “flow” is now in the right hand of the piano.  The left hand plays slower arpeggios, mostly descending.  The voice breaks between the first two lines, and the piano echoes the descending line on “unerschrocken.”  The second line reaches a half-close in the new major key.
0:41, 0:40 [m. 22]--The mother’s third line (giving the daughter unwelcome advice) makes the opposite modal shift from the daughter’s, suddenly turning to D minor, where her stanza ends.  Here the flowing accompaniment is again in both hands for two bars.  The mother repeats her last four words, the latter two being slowed down.  Her last word arrives with a quick motion to the home key of G minor and the introductory “hesitant” two bars from the opening.  These are varied so that the left hand follows a beat after the right hand, preserving the flow, and the left hand notes are slightly changed in the first measure.
0:58, 0:57 [m. 31]--Stanza 3.  The daughter’s reply begins as in stanza 1, but reaches higher for “fest das Haar.”  The piano in the vocal break is subtly changed so that the left hand echoes the singer’s new line for those words in the low bass.  Leading into the next line, there is a new rising arpeggio.
1:08, 1:06 [m. 36]--Instead of moving to B-flat major, as before, the last two lines of the daughter’s stanza are now set in the “home” major key of G, which is higher and brighter.  With the daughter expressing her true feelings, the music is more excited than what has gone before.  The “flowing” accompaniment gains more sweep, with continuous arching lines in the right hand and several colorful chromatic inflections.  The singer repeats the word “Mutter” a third higher before moving to the last line.
1:15, 1:14 [m. 40]--The last line begins, and after one measure, at the word “denk,” the piano moves to upward arpeggios split between the hands.  The line concludes in an uncertain manner, with a hint of the related minor key (E minor).  But then the line is repeated, changing only the last two notes to reach a full cadence.  Under the repetition, the piano slows its arpeggios, again at the word “denk.”  The excitement resumes with the four-bar postlude, where the “flowing” accompaniment resumes.  The right hand has an explicit cross-rhythm grouping, beginning off the beat and obscuring the bar line.  It reaches upward, and is finally cut off by two sharp chords and the final held chord.
1:42, 1:42--END OF SONG [50 mm.]

3. In den Beeren (Among the Berries).  Text by Hans Schmidt.  Sehr lebhaft (Very lively).  Alternating strophic form (ABA’B’).  E-FLAT MAJOR, 2/4 time (Low key B-flat major).

German Text:
Die Mutter:
 Singe, Mädchen, hell und klar,
 Sing’ aus voller Kehle,
 Daß uns nicht die Spatzenschar
 Alle Beeren stehle!

Die Tochter:
 Mutter, mag auch weit der Spatz
 Flieh’n vor meinem Singen,
 Fürcht’ ich doch, es wird den Schatz
 Um so näher bringen.

Die Mutter:
 Freilich, für so dreisten Gauch
 Braucht es einer Scheuche,
 Warte nur, ich komme auch
 In die Beerensträuche!

Die Tochter:
 Mutter, nein, das hat nicht Not:
 Beeren, schau, sind teuer,
 Doch der Küsse, reif und rot,
 Gibt es viele heuer!

English Translation

0:00, 0:00 [m. 1]--The exuberant 4-bar introduction has low rising octaves in the bass and syncopated harmonized descents in the right hand.
0:03, 0:03 [m. 5]--Stanza 1 (A).  The mother’s imperative begins in the vein of the introduction.  The first line sweeps down, and the second arches down and back up.  Under the first line, the piano left and right hands play the same descents an octave apart, still with the syncopated right hand following.  Under the second line, the left hand returns to low bass octaves as in the introduction.  Line 3 begins like line 1, but the piano harmonies and then the last vocal note  are altered, beginning a turn to G minor.  Line 4 completes this turn with a full cadence.  Under it, the piano moves to solid octaves and chords, abandoning the syncopation.  In an interlude, surging chords beginning on the weak beats have inner and outer motion on the downbeats.
0:19, 0:17 [m. 25]--Stanza 2 (B).  The preceding chords have moved to the distant key of B major, where the first three lines of the daughter’s response are set.  Her music is more subdued than the mother’s at first and mildly chromatic, marked dolce.  The same accompaniment pattern continues in the piano until line 3.  The hands move in contrary motion, the left still leading.  The left hand uses both the higher harmonies (now rising, in thirds) and the low bass octaves. Under line 3, the piano moves to smooth sotto voce lines in octaves over the bass.
0:29, 0:27 [m. 37]--Moving the opposite direction from the mother, the daughter’s last line makes a very bright turn back home to E-flat as the piano’s moving lines expand to wider arpeggios.  The line is repeated with even more exuberance as an arching motion that leads to a satisfying cadence, stretching out the word “bringen.”  The four-bar introduction leads out of the cadence to introduce the mother’s next verse.
0:38, 0:35 [m. 49]--Stanza 3 (A’).  The mother’s second verse is set almost exactly as the first, with a subtle “color” note (C-flat) added to the first two lines.  The modulating, surging chords follow as before.
0:54, 0:50 [m. 69]--Stanza 4 (B’).  The daughter’s response begins as before, in B major.  The third line is expanded and repeated for emphasis, with a gently urgent vocal line.  The legato lines in the piano are more colorful, adding more chromatic motion, including downward half-step turns.  The piano is now marked mezza voce.
1:07, 1:03 [m. 85]--The last line is nearly the same as before, moving to E-flat and repeated with the exuberant rhythm, but the top note, along with its accompaniment, is held and drawn out for an extra bar (on the word “viele”).  The introduction is repeated as expected, replacing its last bar with a low bass octave and a punctuating chord, and adding another measure for a higher held final chord.
1:26, 1:21--END OF SONG [98 mm.]

4. Vergebliches Ständchen  (Futile Serenade).  Allegedly a folk text from the lower Rhine, but really written by the compiler, Anton Wilhelm Florentin von Zuccalmaglio.  Lebhaft und gut gelaunt (Lively and with good humour).  Strophic form.  A MAJOR, 3/4 time (Middle key G major, low key F major).

German Text:
 Guten Abend, mein Schatz,
 guten Abend, mein Kind!
 Ich komm’ aus Lieb’ zu dir,
 Ach, mach’ mir auf die Tür,
 mach’ mir auf die Tür!

 Meine Tür ist verschlossen,
 Ich laß dich nicht ein;
 Mutter, die rät’ mir klug,
 Wär’st du herein mit Fug,
 Wär’s mit mir vorbei!

 So kalt ist die Nacht,
 so eisig der Wind,
 Daß mir das Herz erfriert,
 Mein’ Lieb’ erlöschen wird;
 Öffne mir, mein Kind!

  Löschet dein’ Lieb’;
 lass’ sie löschen nur!
 Löschet sie immerzu,
 Geh’ heim zu Bett, zur Ruh’!
 Gute Nacht, mein Knab’!

English Translation

0:00, 0:00 [m. 1]--The very brief introduction anticipates the rising broken chords of the first vocal gesture.
0:02, 0:02 [m. 3]--Stanza 1. The boy’s first verse establishes the lighthearted mood and the musical material of the basic strophe.  The opening rising gesture is characteristic.  The piano initially doubles the voice in octaves, adding chords at the end of the first two lines.  The verse also establishes the text pattern of the strophes.  After the second line, the piano alone repeats the music of the first line, while the voice joins for a full repetition of the second.  This happens in each verse.  At the repetition, the piano introduces a flowing, but angular left hand line.  The right hand plunges down in thirds before the next line. 
0:11, 0:11 [m. 11]--At the third line, the piano becomes less active, playing punctuating chords.  The first three syllables (two or three words) of the last (fifth) line receive two repetitions before the entire line is sung again in full.  In this case, line five is a virtual repetition of line four as well.  In these performances, the singers slow down slightly for the first statement of line five, which ends on a colorful “diminished” harmony.  A slightly expanded version of the piano introduction, adding three extra rising notes before the original gesture, links the verses.
0:24, 0:24 [m. 23]--Stanza 2.  The musical material of the vocal line is the same as stanza 1 (though sung by a different character), but Brahms gives the piano accompaniment more decorative motion before and during the repetition of the second line (almost reversing the right- and left-hand motion).  The pattern of text repetition is the same.  Notice how the singer in the solo performance varies her voice to distinguish the girl from the boy.  The “pause” on the first statement of line five is more pronounced as well in both performances.  The “linking” introduction suddenly shifts to minor.
0:49, 0:49 [m. 43]--Stanza 3.  While the vocal strophe is basically the same for the boy’s new entreaty, it is now sung in the tonic minor (A minor), as the “link” anticipated.  This matches the text perfectly, as does the varied accompaniment, which now has a faster, more ominous motion in octaves for the first two lines.  The right hand moves back to chords doubling the vocal line before and during the line 2 repetition.
0:58, 0:58 [m. 51]--In the last three lines, short arpeggios precede the punctuating chords.  The mode shifts back to major for the repetitions of line five, and the piano adds subtle imitations of the vocal line. The “link” is now varied, doing away with the longer notes and adding an additional rising gesture, creating a mild cross-rhythm, so that it ends higher and more forcefully on the home keynote.  It is also now harmonized, with the left hand playing chords and octaves instead of imitating the right hand’s runs.  Brahms indicates an increase in tempo here (“Lebhafter”).
1:11, 1:11 [m. 63]--Stanza 4.  The girl’s final verse is the same as that of stanza 2, but notably, the opening “upbeat” is cut to match the text and the strophe begins on the downbeat, unlike the other three stanzas.  The accompaniment is again varied, being now fully harmonized, with arpeggios in the left hand.  It acquires a light and “skipping” character (replacing the punctuating chords) at the third line, with the hands largely in contrary motion.  The “pause” is again emphasized by the singers in these recordings.   A short postlude resembling the last interlude (with the higher-rising line) closes the song (and apparently the window) with forceful chords.
1:40, 1:40--END OF SONG [84 mm.]

5. Spannung  (Tension).  Folk text from the lower Rhine in Zuccalmaglio’s collection (see #4 above).  Bewegt und heimlich (With secretive motion).  Ternary form with strophic elements.  A MINOR/MAJOR, 3/8 time  (Low key F minor/major).

German Text:
 Gut’n Abend, gut’n Abend, mein tausiger Schatz,
 Ich sag’ dir guten Abend;
 Komm’ du zu mir, ich komme zu dir,
 Du sollst mir Antwort geben, mein Engel!

 Ich kommen zu dir, du kommen zu mir?
 Das wär’ mir gar keine Ehre;
 Du gehst von mir zu andern Jungfrauen,
 Das hab’ ich wohl vernommen, mein Engel!

 Ach nein, mein Schatz, und glaub’ es nur nicht,
 Was falsche Zungen reden,
 Es geben so viele gottlosige Leut’,
 Die dir und mir nichts gönnen, mein Engel!

 Und gibt es so viele gottlosige Leut’,
 Die dir und mir nichts gönnen,
 So solltest du selber bewahren die Treu’
 Und machen zu Schanden ihr Reden, mein Engel!

 Leb’ wohl, mein Schatz, ich hör’ es wohl,
 Du hast einen Anderen lieber,
 So will ich meiner Wege geh’n,
 Gott möge dich wohl behüten, mein Engel!

  Ach nein, ich hab’ kein’ Anderen lieb,
 Ich glaub’ nicht gottlosigen Leuten,
 Komm’ du zu mir, ich komme zu dir,
 Wir bleiben uns beide getreue, mein Engel!

English Translation  [Note: the obscure word “tausiger” in stanza 1 is rendered as “wondrous,” but it is could also be “precious” or perhaps “one in a thousand.”]

0:00, 0:00 [m. 1]--The piano introduction, beginning with an upbeat, sets up the rocking, furtive motion of the first two strophes as well as the “pedal point” broken octave on A in the bass.  The right hand, with its distinctive dotted (long-short) rhythms is harmonized in thirds and sixths.
0:05, 0:05 [m. 5]--Stanza 1.  The boy’s first entreaty continues the rocking and secretive, yet somewhat dark and restless 3/8 motion.  The minor tonality lends a sense of urgency, or the “tension” of the title.  The accompaniment is syncopated, with brief rests in the right hand at the beginning of each figure.  The left hand remains almost constantly tied to a low “pedal point” A, which only moves to the “dominant” note E at the end of the second line.  There is also motion to create a cadence at the end of the stanza. Note the setting of “mein Engel” (“my angel”) which occurs at the end of each stanza like a refrain.  The introductory music returns as an interlude, the actual repeat sign directing halfway through it, to m. 3.
0:26, 0:31 [m. 5]--Stanza 2.  The girl’s first response is an exact repetition of the boy’s first music (hinting at simple strophic form).  These two verses, however, are the first or A section of a ternary form.  The interlude is changed to move to E minor.  After the repeat sign, at m. 23 (corresponding to m. 3), the left hand plays arpeggios spanning two octaves while the right hand motion settles in the new key.
0:48, 0:57 [m. 25]--Stanza 3.  The next pair of verses form the middle, or B section.  Brahms indicates that they should be slightly faster (“Etwas lebhafter”).  The vocal line is now in a higher register and the piano accompaniment (at least in the right hand), is more active, increasing the “tension” with flowing motion that still has hints of syncopation.  The faster notes of the right hand and the slower notes of the left are both grouped in ways that run counter to the prevailing 3/8 meter of the vocal line, implying 2/4 (except in the third line).   The bass holds on E for a line, then becomes more active.  The ratcheting up of the key to E minor also serves the purpose of increasing the drama.  There is no interlude between stanzas 3 and 4.
1:07, 1:20 [m. 25]--Stanza 4.  Again, the girl’s response is set to the same music as the the boy’s previous strophe.  A new interlude begins with the second ending, preserving the cross-rhythms from the strophe, moving back to A minor, and returning to the material from the first two verses.
1:29, 1:46 [m. 45]--Stanza 5.  The last two verses make up the return, or A’ section.  The boy’s vocal line is essentially the same as in verse 1 (and the girl’s in verse 2), but the accompaniment is again more moving, particularly now in the left hand, which replaces the broken octaves with three-note arpeggios against the first two lines and undulates over the “pedal point” against line 3.  The bass under line 4 combines these elements.  The right hand abandons the syncopation and follows the vocal line.  The interlude/introduction from the beginning again links the verses, now with the three-note arpeggios in the left hand.
1:48, 2:12 [m. 65]--Stanza 6.  The last stanza, the girl’s final response, effectively releases the ever-increasing “tension,” as is appropriate for the resolution in the text.  This is accomplished by a sudden and magical change of mode to major.  The vocal line is similar to that in stanzas 1, 2, and 5, but is set higher (usually a third above the original).  The one exception is line 2, which is essentially the same and briefly returns to minor (appropriate for the text).  Brahms again marks that the speed should increase, and he helps this with a now very active accompaniment, using broad arpeggios (in the left hand for lines 1 and 3, the right for line 2).  A hint of cross rhythm is sometimes apparent.  In line 3, the right hand imitates the vocal line in inversion, then has a colorful minor-key inflection.  Line 4 harmonizes the voice in thirds.
2:04, 2:34 [m. 82]--In another surprise, the last two lines are repeated, with a change in direction (for both the singer and the first of the piano’s inverted imitations) in line 3 (and no minor-key inflection), and an exact repetition of line 4.  Here, Brahms writes an optional harmony for the male singer to join if the song is done as a duet (a sixth below the girl).  The “coming together” helps to resolve the tension between them for most of the song.  Since this is the only spot in all five songs of the opus where vocal duet harmony is indicated, and that harmony is not crucial, it still works well as a solo.  A very brief piano postlude with mild bass syncopation settles things down for the close of an extremely effective small drama.
2:18, 2:59--END OF SONG [92 mm.]