Jessye Norman, mezzo-soprano; Wolfram Christ, viola; Daniel Barenboim, piano [DG 449 633-2]

Published 1884.

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.

Note: Links to English translations of the texts are from Emily Ezusts 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.  A link to the original Spanish text for No. 2 is also provided, along with a direct English translation of that text.  The text of the old German Christmas hymn, which was published under the viola line at the beginning of No. 2, is not sung.  The translation is my own.

ONLINE SCORE FROM IMSLP (First Edition from Brahms-Institut Lübeck)
ONILNE SCORE FROM IMSLP (From Breitkopf & Härtel Sämtliche Werke)
NOTE: These songs were not included in the four-volume Peters Edition edited by Max Friedländer.

1. Gestillte Sehnsucht (Stilled Longing).  Text by Friedrich Rückert.  Adagio espressivo.  ABA (ternary) form with large introduction.  D MAJOR, 2/4 time.

German Text:
In gold’nen Abendschein getauchet,
Wie feierlich die Wälder stehn!
In leise Stimmen der Vöglein hauchet
Des Abendwindes leises Weh’n.
Was lispeln die Winde, die Vögelein?
Sie lispeln die Welt in Schlummer ein.

Ihr Wünsche, die ihr stets euch reget
Im Herzen sonder Rast und Ruh!
Du Sehnen, das die Brust beweget,
Wann ruhest du, wann schlummerst du?
Beim Lispeln der Winde, der Vögelein,
Ihr sehnenden Wünsche, wann schlaft ihr ein?

[Here a stanza not set by Brahms]

Ach, wenn nicht mehr in gold’ne Fernen
Mein Geist auf Traumgefieder eilt,
Nicht mehr an ewig fernen Sternen
Mit sehnendem Blick mein Auge weilt;
Dann lispeln die Winde, die Vögelein
Mit meinem Sehnen mein Leben ein.

English Translation

0:00 [m. 1]--Introduction.  The lengthy introduction is devoted to the viola’s presentation of the melody that will be used for the last two lines of each stanza.  Beginning on a half-measure upbeat, the piano’s low bass D is followed by the mildly syncopated entry of the viola.  As the gentle melody is spun out, the piano plays descending arpeggios in groups of six notes to a beat (sextuplets or triplet sixteenth notes).  The viola melody has a distinctive chromatic color note (E-sharp) in the second full measure.  The top notes of each piano arpeggio are given gentle emphasis.
0:20 [m. 5]--The piano arpeggios reverse their general direction, and a secondary melody is added above them.  The viola adopts a pattern of long notes followed by angular patterns for two measures.  There is then a swelling and receding on the angular patterns as the piano abandons the secondary melody and increases the scope of its now ascending arpeggios.
0:36 [m. 9]--Both instruments begin to recede and settle down.  The piano introduces breaks in its arpeggios for the first time.  The viola’s groups of three ascending notes mildly disrupt the meter.  The piano arpeggios drop out, leaving the viola, on a gentle descent, to lead into the vocal entry.
1:00 [m. 14]--Stanza 1 (A), lines 1-2.  A low bass octave A introduces the vocal melody.  It begins with a descending arpeggio, moving back up to a held note and leading to a full cadence at the end of the first line.  There is more interest in the viola, which restates its melody from the introduction.  The piano, after an ascending lead-in, moves back to its descending arpeggios in six-note groups.  The second line follows a similar pattern.  The viola breaks in its presentation of the introduction melody to allow the singer to present the first words of the line.  The singer ends the line on an expectant, resonant low A.
1:25 [m. 20]--Line 3.  The singer has an upward scale motion incorporating a brief chromatic motion, then a distinctive downward-arching dotted rhythm.  Under the line, the viola leaps up in syncopation before gently echoing the voice’s dotted-rhythm figures.  The piano, which breaks after a low octave at the beginning of the line, enters with rising arpeggios, less active but still using the triplet rhythm. 
1:39 [m. 23]--Line 4.  The voice soars up, then winds back down, including more chromatic notes, to a half-close on the “dominant” harmony.  The piano, after wide arching arpeggios beginning very low, introduces an undulating syncopation with harmony and a rising bass as the viola works down, also in syncopation.  The viola and piano then have a brief transition.  The piano plays isolated bass triplets and right-hand chords as the viola slowly leads into the next lines.
2:00 [m. 28]--Line 5.  The last two lines form a sort of refrain that appears at the end of each verse, even the contrasting middle one.  The viola takes over the six-note sextuplet groups, arching up and down.  It holds notes over the beginning of each beat.  The piano moves to simple bass notes and off-beat chords.  The singer takes up the melody heard from the viola in the first bars of the introduction.  Halfway through the line, the viola gradually abandons the held notes and incorporates upward motion in three-note groups.
2:19 [m. 32]--Line 6.  The introduction melody is abandoned, and the vocal line gently works down in sighing gestures.  Against it, the viola plays ascending triplets with breaks on the off-beats.  The piano continues its simple patterns.  After slowing down on “Schlummer” (the viola having one two-note group in “straight” rhythm), the singer repeats “in Schlummer,” adding “ein,” reaching a full close on a downward leap.  The piano bass now takes up the ascending triplets during a brief interlude.  The viola steadily works down in syncopation, moving on the off-beats and holding notes over the bar lines.  Both instruments quietly settle to the close, with the viola on the third of the chord, F-sharp.
3:04 [m. 42]--Stanza 2 (B), lines 1-2.  The key signature changes to one flat.  The first line begins in G minor and moves quickly to B-flat major.  The singer, now more agitated, moves up and down in a long-short dotted rhythm.  The viola again plays the triplet groups on the beats, the piano adding punctuating chords on the off-beats.  In the second line, there is a decisive motion to D minor, the actual key of the middle section.  Here, the viola briefly pauses while the piano takes over the rising triplets, now continuous, more passionate, and over descending low bass octaves.  The viola, playing in double stops for the first time, echoes the end of the vocal melody, leading into the next line of text with a motion to major.
3:20 [m. 48]--Line 3.  This line is the most passionate and active of the entire song.  It is highly chromatic, moving to F major (“relative” to D minor).  The voice reaches excitedly upward while the viola has upward patterns increasing from groups of two notes to three, then four and back to three.  The piano, meanwhile, has its most rapid and active motion in the entire song.  Beginning after each half-beat, there are six three-note descents punctuated by chords.  After these, a pair of two-note groups leads the harmony to F major.
3:27 [m. 50]--Line 4.  The questions of this line move back to D minor.  The viola drops out.  The voice sings the descending melody from the end of line 2 for the first question, then moves inquisitively upward for the second one, becoming hushed.  The piano continues the descending two-note groups with harmonies, its left hand becoming very static.  Under the second question, the right hand also becomes sparse, with two off-beat thirds.  It becomes active again for a connecting interlude, during which the viola re-enters.  The notes here are again in straight rhythm, as with the two-note groups.
3:47 [m. 55]--Line 5.  The refrain arrives again, with the text at the end of each stanza referring to the whispering winds and birds.  There is a motion back to major (although the one-flat key signature remains in force), and the music of this line matches that from the first stanza at 2:00 [m. 28].
4:05 [m. 59]--Line 6.  Here there is variation from 2:19 [m. 32].  The singer’s motion is subtly altered, and the melody, along with the viola triplets and piano harmonies, shifts back to minor.  This is firmly established with the slow notes on “schlaft ihr” (matching “Schlummer” in Stanza 1).  The minor key is retained for the repetition of “wann schlaft ihr (ein),” with the downward leap coming from a B-flat instead of a B-natural.  The interlude is shortened.  The viola plays two long dotted rhythms, and the piano cuts off after four bass triplets and off-beat chords.  The viola is left alone for a slow descent implying an arrival, then it drops out, leaving silence for a beat.
4:43 [m. 68]--Stanza 3 (A), lines 1-2.  The low bass octave A in the piano introduces the familiar melody from stanza 1 at 1:00 [m. 14], which is used for this new text without significant musical change.
5:06 [m. 74]--Line 3.  The music closely matches that at 1:25 [m. 20].  There are some minor changes in declamation and syllabic placement, resulting in one change of a dotted rhythm to a straight one at the end of the line.
5:19 [m. 77]--Line 4.  The music closely matches that at 1:39 [m. 23], including the brief transition.
5:40 [m. 82]--Line 5.  The refrain matches the first two statements at 2:00 [m. 28] and 3:47 [m. 55].
5:59 [m. 86]--Line 6.  While the music closely matches that at 2:19 [m. 32], there is a significant change in the vocal declamation.  Brahms does not repeat any text this time, and to compensate, he sets “mit meinem Sehnen” to longer notes, introducing a broad syncopation where there had been repeated notes beginning the sighing gestures.  The repeated notes are tied together, resulting in the strong syncopation.  Where there had previously been a repetition of text, “mein Leben ein” is only sung once.  The note values of “Leben” are doubled, resulting in an added measure.  Emphasizing the closure, the piano bass does not play the rising triplets against it, as it had done.  Instead, there are firm, solid bass notes and chords on the beats.
6:28 [m. 92]--The interlude is now repurposed as a postlude to the song.  The first three measures match the interlude after the first stanza.  Then, the viola does not drop down as far, resulting in a stronger cadence on the keynote D instead of the third F-sharp.  For further closure, three more measures are added.  Continuing the syncopation by holding notes over the bar lines, the piano right hand and viola twice reiterate a dissonant “diminished” harmony above the low bass D before finally resolving back to D-major harmony.  The piano rolls its final held chord while the viola plays an open fifth.
7:12--END OF SONG [98 mm.]

2. Geistliches Wiegenlied (Sacred Lullaby).  Text by Emanuel Geibel, after a Spanish text by Lope de Vega.  Andante con moto.  Five-part arch-like form (ABCAB), A and B ending with the same refrain, with introduction and postlude.  F MAJOR, 6/8 and 3/4 time.

German Text:
Die ihr schwebet
Um diese Palmen
In Nacht und Wind,
Ihr heilgen Engel,
Stillet die Wipfel!
Es schlummert mein Kind.

Ihr Palmen von Bethlehem
Im Windesbrausen,
Wie mögt ihr heute
So zornig sausen!
O rauscht nicht also!
Schweiget, neiget
Euch leis und lind;
Stillet die Wipfel!
Es schlummert mein Kind.

Der Himmelsknabe
Duldet Beschwerde,
Ach, wie so müd er ward
Vom Leid der Erde.
Ach nun im Schlaf ihm
Leise gesänftigt
Die Qual zerrinnt,
Stillet die Wipfel!
Es schlummert mein Kind.

Grimmige Kälte
Sauset hernieder,
Womit nur deck ich
Des Kindleins Glieder!
O all ihr Engel,
Die ihr geflügelt
Wandelt im Wind,
Stillet die Wipfel!
Es schlummert mein kind.

English Translation

Original Spanish Text with English Translation

Old German Hymn (placed under viola part in introduction)
Josef, lieber Josef mein,
Hilf mir wieg’n mein Kindlein fein,
Gott der wird dein Lohner sein,
Im Himmelreich,
Der Jungfrau Sohn, Maria.

(Joseph, dear Joseph mine,
Help me rock my delicate child,
God will reward you
In the kingdom of heaven,
The virgin Mary’s son.)

0:00 [m. 1]--Introduction.  The viola alone begins the gentle intonation of the old carol, dolce espressivo.  The text of the song is written underneath the viola part in the score but is obviously not meant to be sung.  At the end of the first line, the piano unobtrusively enters with rocking arpeggios that accompany the viola’s statement of the second line.  The piano bass is in the rhythm and character of the viola line and provides a counterpoint to it.  The viola is again left alone for the third line, and the piano similarly enters, continuing for the rest of the viola’s statement of the song (the word “Maria” is “sung” twice).  At the end of the intonation, the piano plays an upward arpeggio, which is taken up by the viola before the vocal entry.
0:27 [m. 13]--Stanza 1 (A).  The voice enters with a simple rising and falling melody for the first two lines of poetic text, underlain by a held high viola note and harmonized piano doubling.  The piano bass continues the active rhythm from the “old song.”  At the end of the phrase, the viola plays another rising arpeggio leading to a held note as the singer pauses.  The piano right hand, a third lower, answers the end of the vocal line.  The third line introduces a mild chromatic inflection on the held word “Nacht.”  The piano bass continues the rocking motion without interruption.  Another viola arpeggio in the prevalent rhythm, along with a piano echo of the opening vocal line, leads into the refrain.
0:49 [m. 23]--Refrain.  The refrain is always sung to the same words, the last two lines of each stanza.  Except for this instance, the penultimate line, “Stillet die Wipfel,” is repeated.  Here, in lieu of the first statement, the fourth line of this shorter stanza is used.  The vocal melody for lines 4-5 consists of two sequential descending phrases, with a poignant chromatic inflection on “stillet.”  The piano right hand continues to double and harmonize the melody while its bass continues the rocking motion, reaching low on “stillet.”  The viola holds two long notes, separated by an arpeggio.
0:57 [m. 27]--Another viola arpeggio leads into the last line, which forms the distinctive close to the refrain.  The word “schlummert” is stretched out, the voice gradually descending from a high point before completing the line, also stretching out “Kind.”  Against it, the viola breaks into the rocking motion while the piano bass, though maintaining the motion, becomes more static, reiterating a low C (the “dominant” note) in preparation for the cadence.  The entire line is then repeated, with a distinctive turn in the voice at the end of “schlummert.”  The viola isolates its two-note descent.  The cadence is rich, warm, and gentle.
1:13 [m. 33]--Coinciding with the cadence, an interlude begins.  It uses the first two lines of the old carol as heard in the introduction.  The viola states them as before, but the first one is an octave higher than it was.  It drops to the original level for the second.  The piano enters with the rocking motion as expected.  To lead into the next stanza, the last two viola notes are repeated and sustained in longer notes as the piano plays a broad rising arpeggio outlining the “dominant” C-major chord.  At the very end, the viola breaks from its long note and takes over the arpeggio.
1:28 [m. 40]--Stanza 2 (B).  Lines 1-4.  Contrast is immediately asserted with the establishment of A minor as a central key.  In the first two lines, the singer has descending lines doubled by the viola.  The piano now has sparser rising arpeggios alternating between the hands.  At the end of the second line, the viola anticipates the downward leap and upward step that the singer will use for the third line.  The voice and both instruments introduce colorful chromatic notes, including in the piano bass, but the key remains centered on A minor.  Both the viola and piano play arpeggios.  The fourth line is a sequential repetition of the third a step higher, again anticipated by the viola.  There is a marked increase in tension.
1:42 [m. 48]--Line 5.  In advance of the fifth line, the viola plays a double-stop and the harmony touches on the remote G-sharp minor.  The singer then sings the climactic line with a long high note on “rauscht.”  This note, a high E, along with the piano arpeggios underneath and another viola double-stop, quickly and artfully re-establishes A, but it is now A major.  As the line is completed, the viola joyously rings out the “Josef, lieber Josef” melody in that key.  The singer pauses as the viola completes the phrase.
1:50 [m. 52]--Lines 6-7.  Things rapidly diminish after the climax.  In a downward sequence, line 6 is sung a step lower, in G major, over another viola statement of the carol melody in that key.  The singer arches down and back up, continuing into line 7 and landing on “leis.”  There, the key is again sequenced downward, now to the home key of F major.  The vocal line broadly leads down to F as arching arpeggios in the viola and piano bass (moving contrary to each other) also re-establish the home key.  This continues in a brief bridge to the refrain, the calm now firmly re-established.
2:03 [m. 58]--Refrain.  Lines 8-9 form the refrain, with line 8, “Stillet die Wipfel,” repeated (in contrast to the first refrain, where “Ihr heilgen Engel” replaced the first statement of that line).  The music here matches 0:49 [m. 23], except for the viola part.  The arpeggios add an extra note (five notes instead of four) and hold the last one over bar lines.  The long notes are replaced by rests between the arpeggios.
2:11 [m. 62]--The last line and its repetition closing the refrain are given as at 0:57 [m. 27] without change.
2:26 [m. 68]--The interlude follows as at 1:13 [m. 33].  The viola phrases are the same, but the piano accompaniment is slightly more active, with downward arching arpeggios passed between the hands.  The last measure, with the viola continuation of the rising C-major arpeggio, is omitted, and there is a direct motion to the new 3/4 meter and the central, dramatic C section.
2:40 [m. 74]--Stanza 3, lines 1-4 (C).  The meter changes to 3/4 time, but there is constant triplet motion in the piano right hand, often against straight rhythm in the viola, creating two-against-three patterns.  The harmony is also unstable.  The key signature changes to 4 flats, implying F minor, but after the first measure, there is clear motion to D-flat major.  For lines 1-2, the singer steadily moves upward, leaping up on “Beschwerde.”  The viola and the piano right hand alternate on a descending scale pattern that moves up in sequence.  The piano pattern projects above its flowing triplets.  The viola also plays triplets when it is not playing the scale.  The piano breaks the sequence at the second viola pattern, imitating it a beat later and extending it an additional four notes at the arrival on D-flat.
2:51 [m. 78]--Moving to lines 3-4, the piano bass becomes active, playing in straight rhythm against the right-hand triplets.  There is a powerful motion to C minor as the voice dramatically plunges down, then arches up and back down on words describing the eventual suffering of Jesus.  The viola has a descending, partly chromatic line in straight rhythm that also arches up and back down.  After the full cadence on C minor, the piano continuation has the hands moving outward and away from the just-established key.
3:02 [m. 82]--Lines 3-4 are repeated, with reiterations of “wie so müd” and “vom Leid.”  The piano bass becomes even more active, still in straight rhythm against the continually flowing triplets in the right hand.  The viola plays descending five-note patterns starting off the beat and moving down in sequence.  The key moves back to D-flat major via F minor as the singer moves down to “er ward,” but then the vocal line immediately turns back up.  Here the viola sequence breaks and it too moves up.  The harmony moves back toward F minor.  Both the viola and voice arch back down.
3:20 [m. 88]--As the singer completes the text repetition, the piano and viola play an artful two-bar transition.  A chord based on C, rather than establishing C minor again, functions as the “dominant” harmony in both F minor and F major.  The viola leaps up, then moves down as the piano’s continual triplets wind down over a held low C in the bass.  A rising arpeggio leads back to F major, the 6/8 meter and the gentle rocking music.
3:27 [m. 90]--Stanza 3, lines 5-9 (A).  The remainder of this stanza mirrors the music used for the first stanza at 0:27 [m. 13].  There are some subtle changes.  After the transition, the viola rests and delays its first long held note, leading into it with the arpeggio two measures later than before.  The singer separates a single note into two for “nun in.”  The piano harmonies are a bit richer in the answer to the second line.  The chromatic inflection on the held note is on the word “Qual” (“torment”), which is appropriate.
3:52 [m. 100]--Refrain musically matching the first one at 0:49 [m. 23], with repetition of line 8 as in the second one at 2:03 [m. 58].  The last left-hand arpeggio before the closing line is subtly altered to create a larger leap to the next bass note.
4:02 [m. 104]--Closing line and its repetition, as at 0:57 [m. 27] and 2:11 [m. 62].
4:16 [m. 110]--Interlude matching the first one at 1:13 [m. 33].
4:32 [m. 117]--Stanza 4 (B).  Lines 1-4 musically match the second stanza at 1:28 [m. 40], with the motion to A minor.  The vocal declamation in lines 1-2 is significantly different, however.  The upbeats are eliminated, and in the second line, the descending notes come earlier, so that a note is reiterated at the beginning of the fourth measure.  The piano and viola parts are unaltered, but Brahms does provide a direction of poco agitato, which was not there before, and indicates that the buildup should be more powerful.
4:45 [m. 125]--Line 5, with return of “Josef, lieber Joseph” melody in A major, matching 1:42 [m. 48].
4:52 [m. 129]--Lines 6-7.  The piano and viola parts match 1:50 [m. 52].  The vocal declamation is again significantly changed here.  A leading-tone upbeat is added in the second half of the previous measure.  There is an interruption of motion, with removal of a couple of notes, to provide a slight pause between the lines, which are not as grammatically elided as they were in stanza 2.
5:05 [m. 135]--Refrain, with the altered viola line matching the second one at 2:03 [m. 58].
5:14 [m. 139]--Closing line and its repetition, as at 0:57 [m. 27], 2:11 [m. 62], and 4:02 [m. 104].
5:29 [m. 145]--Postlude with complete statement of carol melody in the viola.  It largely matches the introduction, but as it arrives with the vocal cadence, the first viola line is an octave higher, as in the interludes.  The first note of the third line is omitted, so that the viola begins off the beat.  At the very end, two measures are added as a final closure.  Both instruments reach high toward the final F-major chord, the viola playing a double-stop.
6:10--END OF SONG [157 mm.]