FOUR QUARTETS FOR SOPRANO, ALTO, TENOR, AND
Brahms’s return to the genre of mixed voices with
accompaniment reflects the more mature style heralded by the
masterpieces of the late 1870s and early 1880s. These
are quite different from the earlier dialogue-based quartets and
(including the Liebeslieder and
and are more tightly argued than the first two of the Op. 64 quartets,
with which they share aesthetic similarities. The pieces are
unified in mood, all having a very atmospheric or nocturnal
quality. They also form a natural complement to the
unaccompanied part songs, Op. 93a.
Some of these also share the
elegiac quality of Op. 92, and both sets end with a setting of a
aphoristic text by Goethe. The first quartet is the
penultimate setting of Daumer, the poet whose words he used more
than any other. One of his most gorgeous creations,
quartet’s rapturous harmonies and gloriously illustrative piano
set it apart, as does its exceedingly romantic mood. The
quartet is as melancholy as the first is rapt. Its
turning triplet melody exudes sadness and regret, although there
hopeful major-key ending. The third quartet returns to the
nocturnal mood of the first, including the adventurous harmonies
end of the second stanza and the magnificent ending, whose
activity without decreasing speed is a trademark Brahmsian
technique. The final Goethe setting uses unstable harmonies,
restless rhythms, and intricate counterpoint to set its titular
question. The response, which sets most of the poem in a new
meter and tempo, transforms a melodic figure heard near the end of
“question” section and turns it into the main melody of the
Recording: Edith Mathis, soprano; Brigitte Fassbaender, alto;
Schreier, tenor; Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, bass; Karl Engel,
Note: Links to English translations of the
are from Emily Ezust’s
site at http://www.lieder.net.
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
(included here) are also visible in the translation links.
SCORE FROM IMSLP (First Edition from Brahms-Institut
SCORE FROM IMSLP (From Breitkopf & Härtel Sämtliche
ONLINE SCORES FROM THE CHORAL PUBLIC DOMAIN LIBRARY (Choral Wiki):
1: O schöne Nacht
1. O schöne Nacht! (O Lovely Night!). Text
Georg Friedrich Daumer, adapted from a Hungarian source.
con moto. Rondo form (ABAB’CA’). E MAJOR, 3/4 time.
O schöne Nacht!
Am Himmel märchenhaft
Erglänzt der Mond in seiner ganzen Pracht;
Um ihn der kleinen Sterne liebliche
Es schimmert hell der Tau
Am grünen Halm; mit Macht
Im Fliederbusche schlägt die Nachtigall;
Der Knabe schleicht zu seiner Liebsten sacht -
O schöne Nacht!
0:00 [m. 1]--Introduction.
piano begins with a large arpeggio reaching up from a very low
opening pitch and stretching up four octaves in three beats over
chord of E major. This leads to a bar of gentle syncopations
third in the right hand after the beat. The arpeggio and
are repeated a third higher, still outlining the same chord.
0:10 [m. 5]--Stanza 1,
line 1 (A). Brahms
treats the title
line as a refrain. The four voices enter and move very
propelled by the downward-turning line in the bass. The
and tenor follow this and expand it slightly. Under the
the piano arpeggio is heard again, still another third
This time the piano breaks into reiterated octave E’s after the
beat. After the voices drop out, these octaves continue,
bass of the piano echoing the line of the vocal bass before
upward with two-note harmonies. The right-hand syncopations
imitate the very narrow vocal motion, still in octaves.
0:26 [m. 13]--Stanza 1,
2-5 (B). The bass
presents the second and third lines with a leisurely melody that
outlines the E-major chord at the beginning before gradually
the harmony of the “dominant” chord. The piano accompaniment
consists of the continuing two-note harmonies in both hands, the
hand playing on the beat, moving upward, and the right hand after
beat, moving down. The right hand abandons the previous
in favor of thirds, sixths, and fourths such as those in the left
0:42 [m. 21]--The tenor
over for the fourth and fifth lines with a slightly more active
that leaps up and down. The piano begins to play triplet
arpeggios in the left hand with somewhat more filled out motion in
right, still placing the most emphasis after the beat. The
repeats “liebliche Genossenschaft,” beginning with a slight
syncopation. He also ends his line on the “expectant”
0:55 [m. 28]--Stanza 1,
(Refrain, A). The
leads into the refrain with another slightly syncopated
After he states “O schöne,” the other three voices enter for their
presentation of the line as at the beginning (including the piano
arpeggio). The tenor must repeat “schöne” after his
lead-in. The small piano interlude that followed the first
presentation of the refrain is omitted.
1:05 [m. 33]--Stanza 2,
1-3 (B’). The alto
the first line (twice) and the first part of the second line to
same melody the bass had used at 0:26 [m. 13]. Revealingly,
piano accompaniment under her is almost exactly the same as the
of the interlude that had preceded
the bass entry! After this “interlude” music is complete,
right hand breaks into a more flowing syncopated line as the alto
completes her phrase.
1:20 [m. 41]--The soprano
the rest of the second line and the third line, beginning in a
manner to the tenor at 0:42 [m. 21]. The soprano line
diverges, however, repeating “mit Macht” and expanding to six
the top note (the tenor only had two). She is much more
and does not settle to a gentle half-cadence as he did. The
part is completely new, breaking into a much faster motion with
left-hand arpeggios and right hand trills that graphically
the singing of the nightingale. The name of the bird (“die
Nachtigall”) is repeated.
1:28 [m. 45]--As the
completes “die Nachtigall” with the expected motion to the keynote
the harmony in the piano makes a strong and sudden motion (in a
so-called “deceptive” cadence) to the distant key of C
cascading right hand arpeggios are in faster groups of six.
piano very quickly quiets down in preparation for the next line.
1:32 [m. 47]--Stanza 2,
line 4 (C). Brahms
marks that this
passage should be quite subdued (sotto
voce in the piano and mezza
voce in the voices). The tenor and bass present the
with a rapt C-major duet. There is a distinct countermelody
the top voice of the piano above fast arpeggios in the right hand
slower ones in the left. The word “sacht” (“quietly”) is
four times, with rests between the repetitions. The piano
into triplets alternating between the hands, the right hand
the vocal rests. This creates the effect of two 4/4 bars
superimposed on 2 bars (plus 2 beats) of the prevailing 3/4.
first and third statements of “sacht” are over a mysteriously
“diminished seventh” harmony.
1:46 [m. 54]--The last
the bar [m. 53] restores the 3/4 meter. The tenor and bass
continue their duet, leading into the repetition of the line by
four voices. When the women enter, they sing to the
countermelody heard in the piano with the previous tenor/bass
duet. The piano itself begins the previous tenor melody in
top voice, later imitating this in its bass. This is a very
elegant alternation of music between voices and piano.
the tenors and basses led into the repetition, they repeat the
“seiner” and the line is extended by one bar. The
“sacht” are the same as before, except that the women join the
harmonies and the piano right hand is an octave lower.
2:01 [m. 62]--Stanza 2,
(Refrain, A’). The
voices enter strongly on the last beat of m. 61, restoring again
3/4 meter and holding their chord for another full bar. With
piano, which begins playing the faster arpeggios again, they sing
another “diminished seventh” harmony. This helps them to
very smoothly back to the home key of E major. They then
down and continue their statement of “O schöne Nacht” as before,
but holding one chord longer and repeating “schöne” to extend it
by yet another bar. More left hand arpeggios are also added
the extended right hand after-beat octave syncopations.
2:14 [m. 68]--The bass
into a second statement of “O schöne Nacht” that emphasizes the
“dominant” harmony and swells in volume, increasing the
The soprano repeats no words, the alto and tenor “schöne,” and the
bass “schöne Nacht.” The piano continues its now moving (not
repeated) octave after-beat syncopation with short left-hand
2:22 [m. 71]--The soprano
leads into a final statement of the refrain that settles to the
with heavy cross-rhythms, the soprano singing a beat before the
others. The piano returns to its repeated octave E’s, still
the beats. All voices except the soprano begin with “schöne”
and all voices repeat “O schöne.” The warm final chord,
which brings the voices together, is supported by the familiar
arpeggio, which is then reiterated with a faster rolled chord.
2:43--END OF QUARTET [76 mm.]
2. Spätherbst (Late Autumn). Text by
Allmers. Andante. Varied strophic form. E MINOR,
Der graue Nebel tropft so still
Herab auf Feld und Wald und Heide,
Als ob der Himmel weinen will
In übergroßem Leide.
Die Blumen wollen nicht mehr blühn,
Die Vöglein schweigen in den Hainen,
Es starb sogar das letzte Grün,
Da mag er auch wohl weinen.
0:00 [m. 1]--Stanza 1,
1. Low bass piano octaves set the song in motion. The
three parts, in repeated chords, lead into the faster melody
by the soprano. The piano begins a characteristic
with detached triplet arpeggios in the bass and chords or octaves,
detached, in the right hand. The effect is imitation of
strings. The soprano, on “tropft,” introduces a highly
characteristic downward turning melody in triplets. The
harmonized by the tenor, imitates the turning melody.
0:14 [m. 6]--Stanza 1,
2-3. The soprano leads into a statement of the downward
“triplet” melody a step lower, on “Wald.” The soprano moves
faster than the other parts. The bass skips the word “Wald”
catch up to the soprano, while the alto and tenor again trail her
a harmonized imitation. The bass and soprano proceed with
as the alto and tenor complete their line with “Heide.” Line
a gently arching melody. The alto and tenor still lag behind
the text. The piano continues its pattern.
0:26 [m. 11]--Stanza 1,
4. The soprano swells to a passionate high note on “Leide,”
she again sings the downward turning figure. As she finishes
line, she drops out. The alto catches up with the text in
imitate the downward turning figure on “übergroßem.”
The tenor does not harmonize it in rhythm this time, and sings on
slower notes, sometimes moving with the bass. The bass
has sung “übergroßem” on much longer notes so that he can
add a second trailing voice behind the alto on “Leide.” The
three parts finish the word “Leide” together as they settle down,
bass having held it from the imitation. The soprano, alto,
bass have sung the same triplet melody in a chain of descending
0:40 [m. 16]--Stanza 2,
1. The piano briefly breaks its constant motion for the
from the lower three voices. It is much shorter this time,
beat and a half before the soprano enters. Her line is the
as in stanza 1, but the other three parts are different,
tenor, who harmonizes not only the alto’s imitation of the triplet melody, but also the
first presentation (on “wollen” and “nicht”). The piano
hand is also changed. It has longer connected chords instead
detached chords and octaves.
0:48 [m. 20]--Stanza 2,
2-3. Again, the soprano is the same as in stanza 1.
alto is very close. The tenor and bass are again quite
with the tenor harmonizing both the soprano and the alto in the
melody (on “schweigen” and “in”). The piano right hand still
plays connected chords. The parts all come back to their
forms during line 3.
1:01 [m. 25]--Stanza 2,
4. With the exception of the smooth piano chords in the
hand, line 4 begins exactly as in stanza 1 in all four parts, with
triplet melody on “weinen” in the soprano and “auch” in the
But at the point where the bass imitation would be expected, there
change. The alto instead repeats her triplet melody, now on
“weinen,” and makes a beautiful shift to the major key. The
soprano does not drop out. This extends the line by a
The bass follows with a varied version of the triplet
piano, in an inner voice, doubles the triplet melodies of the alto
bass. The top three parts repeat “auch wohl weinen,” the
“wohl weinen,” with the second “weinen” on his triplets.
1:14 [m. 30]--The trailing
and tenor add an extremely gentle, lilting cadence in the major
key. The bass extends his line with a third “weinen” and is
fact the last voice to end. The piano breaks its pattern and
inserts rests. These subvert the triple meter in the final
of postlude that trail the vocal cadence.
1:31--END OF QUARTET [33 mm.]
3. Abendlied (Evening Song). Text by
Friedrich Hebbel. Andante. Two-part form with common
opening passage (ABA’C). F MAJOR, 4/4 time.
Nacht sich und Tag:
Wie das zu dämpfen,
Wie das zu lösen vermag.
Der mich bedrückte,
Schläfst du schon, Schmerz?
Was mich beglückte
Sage, was war’s doch, mein Herz?
Freude wie Kummer,
Fühl ich, zerrann,
Aber den Schlummer
Führten sie leise heran.
Und im Entschweben,
Kommt mir das Leben
Ganz wie ein Schlummerlied vor.
0:00 [m. 1]--Stanza 1 (A), lines 1-2. The piano
establishes the pattern that will be constant throughout the
stanza. The left hand bass is played in octaves with a
two-bar formula, first a rising arpeggio, then a broken downward
cadence gesture. This is moved according to the
The right hand follows the octaves with descending chords after
beat. After a two-bar introduction establishing the pattern,
voices enter with the first two lines, all singing together in
harmony with a descending melody. The bass voice somewhat
the piano bass, and the inner voices trail behind at the end of
0:15 [m. 7]--Stanza 1,
3-4. The piano follows the same pattern, but now the right
after-beat chords arch up and down. The voices still sing
together. Line 3 makes a striking harmonic motion to D
line 4 quickly restores the home key of F after the soprano
highest pitch. This line swells dramatically in
words “zu lösen vermag” are repeated (the soprano nearly an octave
lower) to confirm the cadence and settle back down. The
introduction is then repeated.
0:33 [m. 15]--Stanza 2 (B), lines 1-2. The piano
suddenly drops out. The bass presents a descending melody on
1, imitated by the alto and tenor harmonizing in sixths. The
piano then enters in stark bass octaves, also imitating the
line of the vocal bass. The lower three voices then sing
in very quiet, mysterious harmony, the piano still playing only
bass octaves. The questioning line is repeated, growing very
strongly in volume. These lines also move to D, first minor,
0:48 [m. 21]--Stanza 2,
3. The piano drops out again as the voices reach their high
point. The soprano, who has rested, enters on a high note
the others sing their last “Schmerz.” The voices come
and become quiet again. They move back again to the home key
the soprano singing plaintive half-steps. The voices reach a
dissonant “diminished seventh” on “beglückte.”
0:53 [m. 23]--Stanza 2,
4. The voices continue to sing on unstable, tension-filled,
very quiet diminished seventh chords. The piano enters,
playing the bare octave bass line. After “Sage,” there is a
from voices and piano. When they re-enter, the piano is
bare bass octaves. The voices have diminished sevenths on
and “doch,” then pause again before finally resolving to a
on “Herz.” A piano bridge with arpeggios in contrary motion
back to the opening music.
1:09 [m. 29]--Stanza 3 (A’), lines 1-2. The
as in stanza 1, lines 1-2, but without the introduction.
1:18 [m. 33]--Stanza 3,
3-4. These lines begin similarly to the corresponding lines
stanza 1, but instead of moving to D, the goal is a half-step
D-flat, with darker colors. To help with the transition back
F, the word “leise” is stretched out with long held notes.
following descent is also slower, roughly doubling the values of
corresponding moment on “lösen” in stanza 1. The rise and
fall in volume is much less dramatic, the previous forte not indicated here by
1:30 [m. 39]--Stanza 4,
1-2 (A’, continued).
the first two lines of the last stanza, Brahms lengthens the
of A. The lower
enter on a long upbeat, and all sing in a narrow range. The
soprano’s entry sweeps down on line 1, then back up on line
Also in line 2, the piano finally begins to break from the
pattern, holding bass notes over bar lines.
1:39 [m. 43]--Stanza 4,
3-4 (C or Coda). For
these lines, the motion gradually decreases. This has
begun with the piano bass. The right hand chords after the
are reduced to thirds, and they are sustained. The piano
begins to be more static, placing emphasis on a descending octave
F. The voices, propelled by soprano and bass, sing gently
phrases. They pause after “ganz” and again after “wie.” The
right hand also inserts pauses there. The piano drops out
1:55 [m. 49]--At “vor,”
voices avoid a full arrival and lead into a very quiet repetition
the two lines. The melody is a third lower. The piano
accompaniment is reduced to longer chords on weak beats, the bass
only playing the rising and falling octave F’s. The moving
is now in soprano and tenor, and the soprano adds extra rests
“mir” and in the middle of “Leben.” “Schlummerlied” is again
without piano, but the moving lines are now in alto and tenor
of soprano and alto.
2:14 [m. 56]--The voices
finally reach their full cadence on “vor.” The piano enters
them for a postlude. The bass is the same two-bar pattern
stanzas 1 and 3, but with note values twice as long. The
hand, entering after the beat, plays figures recalling the gentle
rocking motion in the last section. Finally, the bass is
to one falling octave with a right hand response on the second
each bar. A warm, rich rolled chord ends this extremely
2:36--END OF QUARTET [60 mm.]
4. Warum? (Why?). Text by Johann
Wolfgang von Goethe. Lebhaft (Lively)--Anmutig bewegt
moving). Two contrasting sections, the second of which
three subsections resembling varied strophes. B-FLAT MAJOR,
and 6/8 time.
NOTE: This piece is not to be confused with the great motet Op. 74, No.
1, also often called “Warum?”
Warum doch erschallen
himmelwärts die Lieder?
Zögen gerne nieder
Sterne, die droben
Blinken und wallen,
Zögen sich Lunas
Zögen die warmen,
Gern uns herab!
SECTION 1 (Lebhaft--4/4).
0:00 [m. 1]--The piano
in powerful, vigorous chords on the “dominant” harmony of the home
key. They play in dotted (long-short) rhythm. At the
moment, the harmony is diverted unexpectedly to G-flat major,
voices enter together powerfully on the question word
The soprano continues with the question on a wide melody (a
arpeggio and a dissonant upward leap), moving from G-flat to B
major. The strong chords of the piano in dotted rhythm are
again under her line.
0:10 [m. 6]--The voices
enter again on “Warum” as the soprano finishes her line. The
alto, overlapping with the soprano, begins her own statement,
C major. When the other voices enter again, overlapping the
the men state “Warum” and the soprano repeats the second line with
continuing alto. The bass then begins his statement of the
with a more conventional motion from C to F major. The
dotted-rhythm piano chords again underpin both the alto and bass
0:18 [m. 11]--The tenor’s
presentation of the line is quite different. All voices
together again, with the tenor beginning his line while the bass
finishes it. Things settle down, however, the piano being
to F-major chords, then bass octaves. The women repeat
twice, then continue with “doch erschallen,” as does the bass, who
states “Warum” once and trails them slightly. The tenor’s
line introduces a new, wider-ranging downward-upward leaping
sequence. The motion is home to B-flat.
0:25 [m. 15]--The soprano
over the tenor’s leaping sequence, bringing it to the
All voices sing “himmelwärts die Lieder,” the soprano and tenor
repeating “himmelwärts” twice. Under all of this, the piano
begins a new, less assertive accompaniment in flowing
The music has settled on B-flat.
0:31 [m. 18]--The voices,
a pause, present two more isolated statements of “die
The soprano does not sing in the second one. The harmony of
these and the piano arpeggios becomes active. Through a
“augmented sixth” chord on the first “die Lieder,” the key moves
major. This change of key places the final question mark on
inquiry. The piano, under the last “Lieder,” moves to
bare octave D’s in both hands, continuing them in a one-bar bridge
the second section.
SECTION 2 (Anmutig bewegt--6/8).
0:42 [m. 23]--Subsection
lines 3-5. The answers all begin with “Zögen,” a subjunctive
word meaning “would pull,” “would lure,” “would
“would entice,” etc. The voices
enter in the new meter in gracefully flowing block harmony, in the
key of B-flat. The main melody is the leaping sequence sung
the tenor and the soprano around 0:25 [m. 15]. The piano
flowing, arching arpeggios. These break apart into isolated
rising arpeggios in lines 4 and 5. The men lag slightly
the women in line 4. Line 5 moves to F major.
0:56 [m. 30]--Subsection
lines 6-7. The piano bridges to the next subsection and back
B-flat. It begins as had the first one., with line 6
varying line 3. The piano right hand plays melodic octaves
“Lunas” is repeated, with the men trailing the women. The
moves to G-flat major, a key heard early in Section 1. The
breaks as “Lunas” leads into line 7, then plays isolated rising
1:14 [m. 38]--Subsection
lines 8-10. The piano bridge is similar to the previous
one. The motion back to B-flat is more abrupt. Line 8
similar to line 6. In line 9, the women begin before the
stretch “wonnigen” out, the soprano holding a long note and the
repeating the word. Under this, the piano breaks again, as
at the corresponding spot in subsection 2. The music changes
again, this time to D major, another prominent key in Section
After two rising arpeggios, the piano breaks again under line 10,
the voices sing together, the bass lagging slightly behind.
piano enters again under “Götter.”
1:32 [m. 46]--Subsection
line 11. For the last line, Brahms breaks apart the men and
women, who sing in canon (direct imitation), both pairs singing in
thirds. The women’s entrance moves back to B-flat. The
enter as the women reach their last note and syllable. The
plays the isolated rising arpeggios from here until the end.
1:40 [m. 50]--The women
before the men sing “herab.” They lead a second canon on the
line. This time, rather than moving in strict thirds, the
has a beautifully leaping and sighing line on “gern.” The
imitate them with only a short breath at a much closer distance
the first canon. The bass has the leaping, sighing
The women hold “uns,” allowing the men to catch up. All four
voices sing the final sonorous “herab” together. The final
arpeggios under the last vocal chord quietly slow to the end.
2:12--END OF QUARTET [55 mm.]
(runoff after 2:03)
END OF SET
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