Recording: Jessye Norman, soprano (No. 3); Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone; Daniel Barenboim, piano [DG 449 633-2]
Published 1882

With the consecutive Op. 86, this set is on the cusp of the late period.  These two sets comprise the last songs of the "high maturity."  The preceding Op. 84, a set of quasi-duets that can be and usually are performed by one singer, is of a different nature, although it is curious that the opening songs of Opp. 84 and 85 both have the same title.  The set shows some similarities to the concurrent Op. 86.  Both end with longer, more introspective songs, and in both cases, the fifth song is an exuberant setting that contrasts somewhat from the more "serious" songs surrounding it. Op. 85 has its own individual features, however, most notably in its first two songs, which are not only by the same poet, Heine, but share musical material in such a manner that, when performed together, they can be seen as a single extended song with a logical, continuous form.  The poems appear in succession in one of Heine's collections.  The principal melody of the songs, which comprises the outer sections of the first and the middle section of the second, is an inspired creation, made even more memorable by its flowing countermelody, which is heard at a higher level in each of its three successive appearances.  The matching imagery of text and music is among Brahms's most evocative.  Brahms includes two translated folk texts as the middle two songs, something Op. 86 lacks.  The first of these is called simply "Mädchenlied," or "Girl's Song," a title that would also be used for two more songs in Op. 95 and Op. 107.  It uses an irregular 5/4 meter, which is a rare occurrence in Brahms.  The character of the second, with its archaic-sounding melody and consistent accompaniment, recalls the folk-text settings of the early Op. 14.  The fifth is by far the brightest song in the set, but is not overly virtuosic.  The final song, "In Waldeseinsamkeit," is an atmospheric and exceedingly romantic setting with typical nature images.  It elevates considerably the poem it sets, and is one of the more familiar songs, often equated with another contemporary "Einsamkeit" ("Loneliness") song, Op. 86, No. 2.

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 (Edition Peters, edited by Max Friedländer):
No. 1: Sommerabend (original key)
No. 2: Mondenschein (original key)
No. 3: Mädchenlied (original key)
No. 3: Mädchenlied (in low key, E minor)
No. 4: Ade! (original key)
No. 5: Frühlingslied (original key)
No. 6: In Waldeseinsamkeit (original key)
No. 6: In Waldeseinsamkeit (in low key, F-sharp major)

1. Sommerabend (Summer Evening).  Text by Heinrich Heine.  Langsam (Slowly).  Ternary form (ABA').  B-FLAT MAJOR, 4/4 time.
(The title Sommerabend is also used for Op. 84, no. 1.)

German Text:
Dämmernd liegt der Sommerabend
Über Wald und grünen Wiesen;
Goldner Mond im blauen Himmel
Strahlt herunter, duftig labend.

An dem Bache zirpt die Grille,
Und es regt sich in dem Wasser,
Und der Wandrer hört ein Plätschern
Und ein Atmen in der Stille.
Dorten, an dem Bach alleine,
Badet sich die schöne Elfe;
Arm und Nacken, weiß und lieblich,
Schimmern in dem Mondenscheine.

English Translation

0:00 [m. 1]--Two long full-measure chords (of the expectant "dominant seventh" sonority), establish a fluid harmony at first suggesting F, but resolving on B-flat with the vocal entry.
0:11 [m. 3]--Stanza 1 (A).  The vocal line consists of seven generally downward-arching lines, one corresponding to each half-line of poetry (four syllables) and each bar of music.  The first four lines are simple broken chords, while the next three introduce both stepwise motion and larger leaps.  The last half-line is lengthened with longer notes, forming three bars and two downward lines.  The last full line is therefore twice as long (four bars) as the other three (two bars).  The piano accompaniment includes a winding countermelody in the left hand and soft after-beats in the right.
0:53 [m. 12]--The vocal cadence merges into a brief interlude with the soft after-beats.
1:01 [m. 14]--Stanza 2 (B).  The music is still quiet, but somewhat more agitated and dynamic.  The main vocal line is based on part of the countermelody to Stanza 1.  The after-beats continue in the left hand, but the right hand harmonizes the vocal line.  One half-line per bar persists again here until the last word ("Stille"), which is slightly elongated to lead into the next interlude.  The music moves from D minor toward F minor, setting up the return of the opening chords.
1:34 [m. 23]--The opening full-measure chords return, but are set lower and punctuated by two distinctive sighing figures in the right hand.
1:46 [m. 25]--Stanza 3 (A').  The vocal line is the same as that of the first stanza, but the accompaniment is very different.  The countermelody moves up an octave, closer to the range of the voice and more audible.  The soft after-beats are replaced by a flowing, irregular triplet rhythm in the bass, highly suggestive of the water and the bathing sprite.  Note that the last word is the title of the next song (#2).
2:28 [m. 34]--The postlude, coinciding with the vocal cadence, straightens out the flowing bass line and adds two more sigh figures similar to those at 1:34 (m. 23).  The harmony under the last "sigh," which is played as an octave, is the unstable "diminished seventh."  The final chords in the piano's tenor register are similar to those in the opening and the interlude, but are less fluid and create a satisfying final cadence. 
3:01--END OF SONG [37 mm.]

2. Mondenschein (Moonlight).  Text by Heinrich Heine.  Langsam (Slowly).  Free three-part form.  When combined with Sommerabend, the combined songs form a Rondo (ABA'CA-Coda).  B-FLAT MAJOR, 4/4 time.

German Text:
Nacht liegt auf den fremden Wegen,
Krankes Herz und müde Glieder; -
Ach, da fließt, wie stiller Segen,
Süßer Mond, dein Licht hernieder;

Süßer Mond, mit deinen Strahlen
Scheuchest du das nächt'ge Grauen;
Es zerrinnen meine Qualen,
Und die Augen übertauen.

English Translation
0:00 [m. 1]--Stanza 1, lines 1-2 (C).  The first two lines of stanza 1 are set to very unstable music that enters without introduction.  One half-line per bar is retained, as in the previous song.  The phrases again generally move down, but this time more stepwise than by broken chords.  The accompaniment is in bare octaves that form harmony (thirds) between the hands.  This pattern breaks slightly in the second and fourth bars.  The opening key is B-flat minor (not major), moving quickly and strikingly to G-flat major in the second line.
0:18 [m. 5]--The second line is very dramatically repeated, reaching the highest vocal note and the only forte in either of the two songs in a sharp motion to G minor.  The second half of the line (four syllables) is elongated to three bars, as had been done in Sommerabend.  Under this elongation, the harmonies and the four sigh figures from 1:34 [m. 23] and 2:28 [m. 34] of the previous song are heard in succession, confirming the link.  The four chords and sigh figures form a very active chain of chords (moving through the circle of fifths), and create a sense of great anticipation.
0:48 [m. 10]--Stanza 1, lines 3-4 and Stanza 2, lines 1-2 (A'').  These four lines, overlapping the stanzas of the poem, are set to the same vocal music as stanzas 1 and 3 of Sommerabend.  The countermelody in the accompaniment moves yet another octave higher, and is now mostly above the vocal line.  The syncopated after-beats are retained from Stanza 1 of the first song, but now move down and up in arching lines, and are often harmonized with a second note.
1:33 [m. 19]--Stanza 2, lines 3-4 (Coda).  The voice and piano come together on the home keynote, and the syncopated after-beats continue on that note.  The voice then enters with new music, beginning with another striking motion to G-flat.  The line is in quite a high register.  The last line moves back to the home key.  The entire passage slows and softens.  The piano now plays broken chords in an irregular triplet rhythm in the left hand (similar to Stanza 3 of Sommerabend), and a variation of the countermelody from the main stanzas (moving steadily upward) in the right.
2:10 [m. 25]--The postlude continues the accompaniment pattern of the last lines, but the patterns of the right hand now move downward and are shorter, only using their last half.
2:23 [m. 27]--The unstable chords from the beginning of Sommerabend, heard in the piano's tenor register (an octave lower than the opening of the first song) return to round off the song pair.  They are resolved in a third, final B-flat major chord that gently releases all tension and seems to melt away.
2:54--END OF SONG [29 mm.]

3. Mädchenlied (Girl's Song).  Text by Siegfried Kapper, adapted from a Serbian folk poem.  Gehend (Steadily moving).  Three-part simple strophic form with coda.  A MINOR, 5/4 time, with three bars of 6/4 at the end.
(The title Mädchenlied is also used for Op. 95, No. 6 and Op. 107, No. 5.)

German Text:
Ach, und du mein kühles Wasser!
Ach, und du mein rotes Röslein!
Was erblühst du mir so frühe?
Hab' ja nicht, für wen dich pflücken!

Pflück' ich dich für meine Mutter?
Keine Mutter hab' ich Waise!
Pflück' ich dich für meine Schwester?
Ei doch, längst vermählet ist sie!

Pflück' ich dich für meinen Bruder?
Ist gezogen in die Feldschlacht!
Pflück' ich dich für den Geliebten?
Fern, ach, weilet der Geliebte!

Jenseit dreier grünen Berge,
Jenseit dreier kühlen Wasser!

English Translation

The irregular meter, the narrow vocal range, and other aspects are, accidentally or not, actually typical of Serbian folk music.
0:00 [m. 1]--Introduction.  The 5/4 meter is established as 3+2, with six short notes in the first three beats and two long ones in the fourth and fifth beats.  This rhythm prevails throughout the song.  The two-bar introduction establishes the range and harmonic motion of the four-bar verses.  The right hand plays a pleasant oscillation in sixths while the left plays strong upward moving triplet arpeggios against it, resting on the last beat.
0:08 [m. 3]--Stanza 1.  The first two lines are very similar, only differing at the end.  The third line jumps an octave from the end of the second, to the highest vocal note.  The fourth line begins with a strong dissonance against the piano, but moves to a gentle, full cadence.  The piano accompaniment is rather simple, with many after-beats in the right hand.
0:24 [m. 7]--Interlude.  The right hand is the same as in the introduction.  The left hand is different, with more winding triplet motion that begins after the beat, and straightening to two notes on the fourth beat.
0:33 [m. 3]--Stanza 2.  Musical repetition of stanza 1.
0:51 [m. 7]--Interlude as before.
0:59 [m. 9]--Stanza 3.  Musically nearly identical to the other two stanzas, but notated separately so that Brahms can add an accented emphasis to the last two lines, illustrating the main cause of the girl's unhappiness.
1:17 [m. 13]--Coda.  The music in the piano is as in the two interludes, but now the singer joins with the piano melody for the final couplet.
1:25 [m. 15]--The meter unexpectedly lengthens to 6/4 for the ending.  The piano now plays the music of the introduction, complete with the original left hand accompaniment, but adds an extra rest to both hands at the end of each bar for the sixth beat.  The singer soars to a higher line with longer, more regular notes (long-short alternation) in a wistful, less emphatic repetition of the last line that avoids a full close.  One final bar of piano chords.
1:44--END OF SONG [17 mm.]

4. Ade! (Adieu!).  Text by Siegfried Kapper, adapted from a Czech (Bohemian) folk poem.  Bewegt (With motion).  Simple strophic form.  B MINOR, 2/4 time.

German Text:
Wie schienen die Sternlein so hell, so hell
Herab von der Himmelshöh'.
Zwei Liebende standen auf der Schwell',
Ach, Hand in Hand: »Ade!«

Die Blümlein weinten auf Flur und Steg,
Sie fühlten der Liebenden Weh,
Die standen traurig am Scheideweg,
Ach, Herz an Herz: »Ade!«

Die Lüfte durchrauschen die Waldesruh',
Aus dem Tal und von der Höh'
Wehn zwei weiße Tücher einander zu:
»Ade, ade, ade!«

English Translation

0:00 [m. 1]--Stanza 1.  With no introduction, the voice begins with an upbeat.  The vocal melody itself is folk-like, but the accompaniment is what gives the song its character.  Groups of six notes in the right hand against slower groups of three in the left go against the prevailing duple meter of the vocal line.  A rustling effect is created.  The third line is brighter than the first two, but the more passionate first statement of the fourth line is firmly in minor.
0:23 [m. 17]--The fourth line of the stanza is repeated, and unexpectedly shifts to the home major key.  The groups of six in the piano right hand now include a countermelody on the first note of every three.  The left hand abandons its groups of three and plays slow syncopations.  Under the last vocal note, the right hand abandons the rustling accompaniment altogether and plays a variant of the new countermelody in slower straight notes.  Brahms gives two choices for the last two vocal notes (on the titular word “Ade!”), the high ending heard in the first statement of the line or a darker, minor-tinged low version.  Fischer-Dieskau chooses the low version here (which is standard in the first two strophes).
0:32 [m. 1]--Stanza 2.  Musical repetition of stanza 1, with some minor rhythmic alterations to fit the syllables and declamation of the text (one note is split into two repeated notes or two repeated notes are joined into one longer note).
0:56 [m. 17]--Repetition of the last line of the stanza, as at 0:23.  Again, the lower version of the last two notes is used.
1:06 [m. 23]--Stanza 3.  Because the declamation is even more varied, Brahms writes out the third stanza anew.  The third line is especially altered, beginning a full beat earlier than before, at the beginning of a bar where there had been a rest.  This emphasizes the continued clause (enjambment) between the second and third lines of the poetic stanza.  Otherwise, the music is the same.
1:30 [m. 39]--Repetition of the last line of the stanza.  This time, Fischer-Dieskau takes the more hopeful higher option on the last two notes.  The continued repetitions of "Ade!" in the last line create an especially wistful effect at the end of the song.
1:45--END OF SONG [44 mm.]

5. Frühlingslied (Spring Song).  Text by Emanuel Geibel.  Lebhaft (Lively).  Ternary form (ABA).  G MAJOR, 4/4 time.

German Text:
Mit geheimnisvollen Düften
Grüßt vom Hang der Wald mich schon,
Über mir in hohen Lüften
Schwebt der erste Lerchenton.

In den süßen Laut versunken
Wall' ich hin durchs Saatgefild,
Das noch halb vom Schlummer trunken
Sanft dem Licht entgegenschwillt.

Welch ein Sehnen! welch ein Träumen!
Ach, du möchtest vorm Verglühn
Mit den Blumen, mit den Bäumen,
Altes Herz, noch einmal blühn.

English Translation

0:00 [m. 1]--Stanza 1 (A).  The vocal line begins with a wide, difficult near-octave leap and continues to arch and soar.  The accompaniment is breathless, with triplet rhythms in the left hand clashing with straight two-note groups beginning after the beat in the right.  There are many sudden and unexpected chord changes and chromatic harmonies.
0:08 [m. 5]--Before the last two lines, the right hand begins an oscillating dotted rhythm.  The voice reaches its highest pitch and moves strongly down in steps before the end of the stanza.  The piano right hand breaks the dotted rhythm to harmonize the stepwise descent, then begins it again for the following brief interlude.
0:20 [m. 11]--Stanza 2 (B).  The accompaniment resumes the oscillating dotted rhythm in the right hand.  The vocal line is narrower in range, but even more harmonically active, moving to C and B-flat.
0:28 [m. 15]--For the last two lines of the stanza, the right hand of the piano changes to a leaping syncopated rhythm beginning and continuing after the beat.  The music rises in exuberance here, as the seed reaches toward the light in the text.  It erupts into an interlude marked animato with descending chords continuing in syncopation as the home key returns.
0:38 [m. 20]--Stanza 3 (A).  It is introduced by rising dissonances continuing in the syncopated rhythm.  After the voice enters, the music is mostly as in the first stanza, but with more animation and at louder volume.
0:45 [m. 24]--With the last two lines, the dotted rhythm oscillation begins again, as at 0:08 [m. 5].  It now continues with the harmonization of the stepwise descent, and there are other slight differences in preparation for the repetition of the last line.
0:53 [m. 28]--The last line is repeated, which is appropriate for the text, which speaks of renewal.  The piano, then the voice, echo the strong stepwise descent.  The voice gradually slows down.  The postlude is extremely exuberant and expands the rising dissonances that introduced stanza 3.
1:11--END OF SONG [33 mm.]

6. In Waldeseinsamkeit  (In the Loneliness of the Forest).  Text by Karl Lemcke.  Langsam (Slowly).  Three-part through-composed form, with partial return.  B MAJOR, 4/4 time.

German Text:
Ich saß zu deinen Füßen
In Waldeseinsamkeit;
Windesatmen, Sehnen
Ging durch die Wipfel breit.

In stummen Ringen senkt' ich
Das Haupt in deinen Schoß,
Und meine bebenden Hände
Um deine Knie ich schloß.

Die Sonne ging hinunter,
Der Tag verglühte all,
Ferne, ferne, ferne
Sang eine Nachtigall.

English Translation

0:00 [m. 1]--Stanza 1.  Two bars of gentle opening chords with a static bass set up the mood.  The first two lines leisurely wind downward, each set to a similar line.  Under them, the piano part becomes gently active.  After the second line, there is a brief echo of the voice in the piano.
0:23 [m. 7]--For the last two lines of the stanza, there is a turn to the minor.  The vocal line now ranges widely, slowly climbing upward and then more rapidly falling.  The highest note is on the word “Sehnen” (“longing”).  The increasing intensity of the line suggests longing and anticipation.  Under the line, the piano plays syncopations and dissonant “sigh” figures.
0:37 [m. 11]--Stanza 2.  For the first two lines, the music becomes more unstable and agitated.  The accompaniment continues as at the end of stanza 1, but the vocal line includes shorter notes.  The dissonances become more pronounced, and the key shifts and settles on D major.
0:50 [m. 15]--The last two lines of the stanza are the emotional and musical climax  The vocal line becomes even more agitated, introducing a triplet rhythm on the word “bebenden” (“trembling”).  The bass slides down for the fourth line.  The third line is then repeated a half-step lower than before, beginning the motion back home.  The repetition of the fourth line is highly varied and serves as a transition as the notes become longer and the music arrives back at the home key, merging into the return of the opening chords.
1:15 [m. 21]--Stanza 3.  The first two lines are set to the same music as those of the first stanza, including the echo in the piano.  This is only a partial return, as the remainder of the third stanza diverges greatly into one of Brahms’s most atmospheric and memorable song endings.
1:34 [m. 25]--The threefold repetition of “ferne” is set to an upward questioning gesture that is reminiscent of the “Ade!” calls from the fourth song in the set, making yet another subtle connection within the group.  This gesture is echoed in the piano in syncopated thirds moving in the opposite direction.  The left hand now moves in a clashing triplet rhythm.  The second and fourth of these echoes is higher and includes a tinge of the minor key.  The last repetition of the word slides down a half-step, the music again noticeably shifting harmony, again to D.  The music is steadily softer and slower.
1:51 [m. 28]--The last rising “ferne” merges into the last line, which begins on the song’s highest pitch (which was also reached in the last half of the first stanza). The music here is vaguely similar to what was heard there.  The piano adds a new flowing line, and the gentle descent settles sweetly on the home key.  The line is repeated to close the song, with the final notes echoing the rising gesture heard in the repetitions of “ferne.”  Dissonant tinges continue in the accompaniment until the final, quiet chords.
2:32--END OF SONG [33 mm.]