These two extended songs are unique in Brahms’s output and are his only example of “vocal chamber music.” They were published in part as a futile attempt to reconcile the troubled marriage of Joseph and Amalie Joachim. The violinist, one of Brahms’s oldest friends, and his wife, a talented mezzo-soprano, had become irreparably estranged since 1880. When Joachim had sought a divorce, a letter by Brahms to Amalie that appeared to take her side was presented in court, an event that almost destroyed the friendship, which never did fully recover. While Amalie did perform the songs, it was never with Joseph as a violist. The second song originated in 1864 and happier times, when the Joachims were expecting their first child, who was named after Brahms. The composer had sent the couple the text and music to an “old German hymn,” which was the Christmas song “Josef, lieber Josef mein,” a lullaby Mary sings to the baby Jesus, set to the even older chant melody “Resonet in laudibus.” Brahms then used the hymn tune as the basis for a song setting Geibel’s translation of Lope de Vega’s 16th-century “Cantarcillo de la Virgen,” another Mary/Jesus lullaby. The juxtaposition, with the old melody providing a continual connecting thread, produced an excellent, multi-layered song. The viola is on an equal level with the singer, who must be an alto, the voice type that most matches this instrument. In 1884, Brahms revised the lullaby and paired it with another song for the same combination, the incredibly gorgeous setting of an evocative nature poem by Friedrich Rückert. Both songs are lengthy, but they also include much large-scale repetition of material. The poetry in both is amplified by the sensitive sonic combination. They are rightly held up as two of the composer’s greatest songs. The “Geistliches Wiegenlied” is Brahms’s third great vocal lullaby, after the ubiquitous Op. 49, No. 4 and No. 9 from the “Magelone” Romances, Op. 33.