Recording: North German Radio Chorus, conducted by Günter Jena; Edith Mathis, soloist (No. 2) [DG 449 646-2]
Published 1884

This set is the first group of secular choral songs in over ten years.  While there are some similarities to the Op. 62 group, these songs bear the more tightly argued aesthetic of the late style.  Brahms did not include optional piano parts, and imbued the a cappella voices with more color and effect than in any previous secular part songs.  The trend would move to its logical conclusion in the more austere and autumnal Op. 104, the final set of secular choral songs. Op. 93a retains much of the folk-like character from the Op. 62 group, and indeed, three of its texts are from “folk” sources.  At the same time, the other three songs, by great romantic poets, look forward to Op. 104.  The title “Songs and Romances” probably refers to the balance between the folk songs and the romantic poetry.  The first two songs are perhaps the most remarkable.  No. 1 is a setting of a text whose original “folk” melody he had also arranged for a cappella choir and would arrange again as a solo song with piano in his great 1894 collection of folksong arrangements.  Here, Brahms uses his own melody, evoking the spirit of the folk tune, but the wonderful middle section, which changes meter, has the voices imitate the fiddler’s tuning.  No. 2, with its irregular meter, emulates its Serbian source.  Traditional Serbian folksong uses similar irregular meters.  The song’s organic growth and shift from minor to major is perfectly paced, as is the discrete inclusion of the soprano soloist.  The solo setting of this text in Op. 95, which uses the same music, often substitutes the piano for the choral parts heard here.  No. 3 is a brief but highly evocative and harmonically rich setting of a romantic poem.  It is especially notable for its beautifully extended final cadence.  No. 4 was distinguished by being played at Brahms’s funeral.  The only simple strophic setting in the set, its use of the “Fahr wohl” refrain to bridge the strophes creates a wonderful sense of perpetual continuation.  No. 5, another “folk” setting, is quite elaborate, with great contrasts.  The somewhat stern but excellent canon of No. 6 ends the set in a curious manner.  Brahms seems to treat the great Goethe in a more “academic” manner.  The choral writing in these songs is evocative and brilliant throughout.  The set shares an opus number with the unrelated six-part chorus called the Tafellied.  Designated Op. 93b, this work, with its piano accompaniment, is closer in character to the vocal quartets.

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; unfortunately only individual choral parts [soprano, alto, tenor, bass] are available, not the complete score)
No. 1: Der bucklichte Fiedler
No. 2: Das Mädchen
No. 3: O süßer Mai!
No. 4: Fahr wohl!
No. 5: Der Falke
No. 6: Beherzigung

1. Der bucklichte Fiedler (The Hunchbacked Fiddler).  Lower Rhenish folk song from the Kretzschmer-Zuccalmaglio collection.  Lebhaft (Lively).  Modified strophic form.  G MAJOR, 4/4 time, with three bars of 5/4 and a section of 3/8.

German Text:
Es wohnet ein Fiedler zu Frankfurt am Main,
der kehret von lustiger Zeche heim;
und er trat auf den Markt, was schaut er dort?
Der schönen Frauen schmausten gar viel' an dem Ort.

"Du bucklichter Fiedler, nun fiedle uns auf,
wir wollen dir zahlen des Lohnes vollauf!
Einen feinen Tanz, behende gegeigt,
Walpurgis Nacht wir heuer gefeir't!"

Der Geiger strich einen fröhlichen Tanz,
die Frauen tanzten den Rosenkranz,
und die erste sprach: "mein lieber Sohn,
du geigtest so frisch, hab' nun deinen Lohn!"

Sie griff ihm behend' unter's Wams sofort,
und nahm ihm den Höcker vom Rücken fort:
"so gehe nun hin, mein schlanker Gesell,
dich nimmt nun jedwede Jungfrau zur Stell'."

English Translation

Throughout the song, notice how Brahms alters the declamation to accommodate the differing syllabification between corresponding lines of each stanza.
0:00 [m. 1]--Stanza 1, lines 1-2.  The choir lustily begins with the upward arpeggio that characterizes the opening of each verse.  The melody is the same for each of the two lines.  The beginning of each is in unison (on the upward arpeggio).  The choir breaks into harmony halfway through each line.  The last bar of line 2 (m. 4) is extended to a 5/4 measure.  This accommodates a breath pause before the upbeat to the third line and also creates a somewhat unsteady feeling. 
0:09 [m. 5]--Stanza 1, lines 3-4.  The third line, which moves down instead of up, begins in unison, as had the first two, and breaks into harmony halfway through.  This text of the second half, “was schaut er dort,” is repeated under a slowing and diminishing.  The last line, which is completely in harmony, exuberantly brings the stanza to a close.  The altos and basses, who sing longer notes at the beginning of the line, omit the word “schmausten.”  These two parts also briefly split at the end for a six-voice texture.
0:23 [m. 10]--Stanza 2, lines 1-2.  The melody is as in stanza 1, but this time the unison openings are abandoned and both lines are in harmony throughout.  Again, the last bar of line 2 (m. 13) is a 5/4 measure.
0:33 [m. 14]--Stanza 2, lines 3-4.  The third line is now sung completely in harmony.  The text of the second half (“behende gegeigt”) is repeated, but without the slowing and diminishing.  The last line suddenly breaks into completely new and striking music, making a strong detour to B major.  Stark fifths mark the evocation of Walpurgis Night.  The line is repeated, moving to D major at the cadence.
0:51 [m. 22]--Stanza 3, lines 1-2.  Back G major, the meter shifts to the 3/8 of a German Dance (“Kräftig”--“Strong”) .  In an amazing example of word painting, the choir, first the men, then the women, imitates the open fifths of a fiddler tuning his instrument under the words “Der Geiger strich.”  The men state these words three times, the women twice.  After the “tuning,” a melody spins itself out in the 3/8 dance meter.  It is clearly a variation of the main melody in the new meter.  The word “Rosenkranz” is expanded in a flowing line over five bars (perhaps analogous to the 5/4 measure that took place at this spot before). 
1:06 [m. 37]--Stanza 3, lines 3-4.  Return to 4/4 meter.  It begins essentially as had stanza 2 (harmony throughout), with slightly different part writing in the tenor and bass lines.  As in stanza 1, the second half of line 3 (“mein lieber Sohn”) is repeated under a slowing and diminishing.  The last line is as in stanza 1, but the altos and basses sing the full text, which is two syllables shorter.  As in stanza 1, the two parts split at the end.  The two upbeat notes do not clearly belong to any measure (the previous 3/8 bar, m. 36, is complete), and are not numbered.  The first full measure of line 3 is m. 37.
1:21 [m. 42]--Stanza 4, lines 1-2.  The lines are fully harmonized, as in stanza 2.  The part writing is cleverly altered to include some new dotted (long-short) rhythms on certain words in the lower three parts.  Again, the last bar of line 2 (m. 45) is a 5/4 measure.
1:30 [m. 46]--Stanza 4, lines 3-4.  The third line is harmonized as in stanza 3, opening with one more dotted rhythm in the altos and basses.  In the fourth line, the altos and basses sing the complete text, which has the same number of syllables as in stanza 3.  As in stanzas 1 and 3, these two parts split at the end.
1:48--END OF SONG [50 mm.]

2. Das Mädchen (The Maiden).  Text by Siegfried Kapper, after a Serbian folk poem.  Grazioso.  Two-part varied strophic form, with introduction.  B MINOR/MAJOR, 3/4+4/4 time, usually arranged in groups of seven beats, with a climactic passage in straight 2/4.
(Note: Op. 95, No. 1 is a version of this song for solo voice and piano.)

German Text:
Stand das Mädchen, stand am Bergesabhang,
Widerschien der Berg von ihrem Antlitz,
Und das Mädchen sprach zu ihrem Antlitz:
“Wahrlich, Antlitz, o du meine Sorge,

Wenn ich wüßte, du mein weißes Antlitz,
Daß dereinst ein Alter dich wird küssen,
Ging hinaus ich zu den grünen Bergen,
Pflückte allen Wermut in den Bergen,
Preßte bitt'res Wasser aus dem Wermut,
Wüsche dich, o Antlitz, mit dem Wasser,
Daß du bitter, wenn dich küßt der Alte!

Wüßt' ich aber, du mein weißes Antlitz,
Daß dereinst ein Junger dich wird küssen,
Ging hinaus ich in den grünen Garten,
Pflückte alle Rosen in dem Garten,
Preßte duftend Wasser aus den Rosen,
Wüsche dich, o Antlitz, mit dem Wasser,
Daß du duftest, wenn dich küßt der Junge!”

English Translation
The 3+4 meter is typical of Serbian folk poetry.
0:00 [m. 1]--Introduction.  Before the two contrasting and parallel strophes, the choir introduces the protagonist in an introductory passage of four lines.  The four parts move together in regular mixed meter, one 3/4 and one 4/4 bar per line in the same rhythm.  The passage is in B minor, ending on that key’s “dominant” chord.  The music slows and quiets somewhat in the last line.
0:24 [m. 9]--Strophe 1, lines 1-2.  The maiden’s speech actually starts in the last line of the introduction, but the parallelism between the two main strophes begins here.  Still in the minor key, the choir sings subdued phrases, and a soprano soloist representing the maiden responds as the choir sings slower notes.  Here there are three 3/4 bars followed by three 4/4 bars rather than the previous alternation.  After three calls and responses, the soloist and choir join in a forceful descending unison repetition of line 2 over one 3/4+4/4 alternation.
0:45 [m. 17]--Strophe 1, lines 3-7.  Back in the regular 3/4+4/4 alternation, the soloist leads the next four lines (3-6).  While remaining basically at the same pitch level, the soloist’s statements intensify with each succeeding line.  The choir sings parts of the text with slow notes under the third and fourth lines, and then becomes more active in the fifth and sixth.  The basses split into two parts here.  The seventh line is another forceful statement from the choir, this time in harmony, with the soloist joining the choral sopranos.  This clinching line is sung twice, leading to a strong B-minor cadence.
1:16 [m. 29]--Strophe 2, lines 1-2.  A very effective shift to the major key heralds the contrasting and parallel second strophe.  The first two lines, other than being in major, are very similar to those of the first strophe and are in the same metrical layout, with the soloist responding to the choir three times.  This time, however, the descending repetition of line 2 is carried by the soloist with slow harmonies from the choir, and it slows down and quiets dramatically in a marked contrast to the forceful descent of the first strophe.
1:40 [m. 37]--Strophe 2, lines 3-6.  In a larger departure from the first strophe, Brahms alters tempo and meter, marking the next passage “Animato grazioso.”  The meter shifts to straight 2/4 for these lines, which are sung joyously by the choir, the soloist joining the sopranos.  Each line is given four measures in a steady buildup of near-manic intensity.  The tenors and altos move before the sopranos and basses respond in each line.  The sixth line is extended by two long notes to six bars in preparation for the climactic final line.
2:01 [m. 55]--Strophe 2, line 7.  Brahms now marks the music “Lebhaft” (“Lively”) for the final line.  It is essentially a major-key version of the twofold statement of this line in the first strophe (mm. 25-28).  In addition to the major key, the faster tempo creates a contrast.  After two 3/4+4/4 alterations, more dotted (long-short) rhythms are added before the final two-bar extension (both 4/4) and cadence, where basses and sopranos split into two parts.  It is a highly effective conclusion after a steady buildup.
2:17--END OF SONG [60 mm.]

3. O süßer Mai! (O Sweet May!).  Text by Karl Joachim (“Achim”) Friedrich Ludwig von Arnim .  Etwas gehalten (Somewhat sustained).  Through-composed with partial return.  C MAJOR, 3/4 time.

German Text:
O süßer Mai, der Strom ist frei,
ich steh verschlossen, mein Aug' verdrossen,
ich seh nicht deine grüne Tracht,
nicht deine buntgeblümte Pracht,
nicht deines Himmels blau, zur Erd ich schau.

O süßer Mai, mich lasse frei,
wie den Gesang an den dunklen Hecken entlang.

English Translation

0:00 [m. 1]--Lines 1-2.  The beginning is strong, but steadily diminishes in volume through these two lines.  The lower parts begin on an upbeat while the sopranos follow them on the downbeat at a slightly faster speed, coming together at the end of each half-line.  The second line is more syncopated, and its second half is drawn out, with the lower parts now on the downbeat.  They repeat the words “mein Aug’.”  The harmonies are quite colorful, and after the strong major-key opening, touch on D minor at the end of the first line before settling on the home minor of C.  Note the characteristic descent of the soprano part on each half-line, by step and then by broken chord.
0:30 [m. 12]--Lines 3-4.  The poem abandons the internal rhyme for these two lines, which employ end rhyme.  Perhaps to emphasize this, Brahms sets them to shorter notes in a more flowing, arching line.  The soprano still lags behind the other parts, but again they come together at the end of each line, with multiple (or longer) notes set to later syllables in the lower parts.  The fourth line is higher and has more foreign chromatic notes than the third.
0:40 [m. 17]--Line 5.  The internal rhyme returns, as does the musical pattern of the first two lines.  The setting of this line closely resembles that of Line 2, with nearly identical harmonies but slightly more active text declamation.  The lower parts repeat the words “zur Erd.”
0:56 [m. 23]--Line 6 and first half of line 7.  Here Brahms closely follows the settings of line 1 and the first half of line 2.    The declamation of the latter is faster in the lower parts, with repeated notes on the upbeat.  The basses begin to split into two parts, repeating the words “wie den Gesang,”  which the tenors later do.
1:08 [m. 29]--Line 7, second half.  Brahms breaks away from the previous passage for an incredibly atmospheric close.  The music continues to slow down and diminish in volume, but the parts spin themselves out, holding more closely to the major key.  The parts sing in greater counterpoint.  The basses split into two parts for a five-voice texture.  The tenors and basses lag somewhat behind in finishing the first half-line.  The second half-line is set twice in sopranos and altos, but not tenors and basses.  All voices except the lower basses, the women following the men, emerge into a nearly breathless rising line on the drawn-out final word “entlang,” which then fades away on a shimmering chord
1:37--END OF SONG [38 mm.]

4. Fahr wohl! (Farewell!).  Text by Friedrich Rückert.  Sanft bewegt und sehr ausdrucksvoll (Gently moving and very expressive).  Simple strophic form.  A-FLAT MAJOR, 6/8 time.

German Text:
Fahr wohl, o Vöglein, das nun wandern soll;
Der Sommer fährt von hinnen,
Du willst mit ihm entrinnen: Fahr wohl!

Fahr wohl, o Blättlein, das nun fallen soll,
Dich hat rot angestrahlet
Der Herbst im Tod gemalet: Fahr wohl!

Fahr wohl, o Liebes, das nun scheiden soll!
Und ob es so geschehe,
Daß ich nicht mehr dich sehe: Fahr wohl!

English Translation

0:00 [m. 1]--Stanza 1, line 1.  The characteristic upward gesture on “Fahr wohl” begins the song on an upbeat.  The music then establishes its very pervasive, gently swinging rhythm.  Brahms adds indications on each long-short pattern that they should diminish from the long note to the short note.  All parts move together, the altos on a striking descent by half-steps (chromatic motion).  The text beginning with “O Vöglein” is repeated, leading to a brief expectant pause on “dominant” harmony.
0:13 [m. 7]--Stanza 1, lines 2-3.  The descending second line re-establishes the swinging rhythm in all parts.  The final line (before the “Fahr wohl!” refrain) is sung first by tenors and basses in an swelling upward pattern.  The sopranos and altos begin to respond to this.  The tenors join them on “mit ihm entrinnen,” the basses entering only with “entrinnen.”   This leads to another pause on the harmony of D-flat major.
0:26 [m. 13]--Stanza 1, refrain.  The “Fahr wohl” refrain is set twice.  It is characterized by a descending leap in the sopranos and another half-step line in the altos.  The second statement, which is a step lower and quieter, strongly suggests a closing cadence in A-flat, but this is averted by the immediate entry of the next strophe (stanza), which usurps the final cadence.
0:33 [m. 1]--Stanza 2, line 1.  Set as in stanza 1.  The text beginning with “O Blättlein” is repeated before the pause.
0:45 [m. 7]--Stanza 2, lines 2-3.  As in stanza 1.  On the repetition of line 3, the tenors join on “im Tod gemalet,” the basses only on “gemalet.”  Pause on D-flat harmony before the refrain.
0:58 [m. 13]--Stanza 2, refrain.  As in stanza 1, with the cadence averted by the entry of the third strophe.
1:04 [m. 1]--Stanza 3, line 1.  Set as in the first two stanzas.  The text beginning with “O Liebes” is repeated before the pause.
1:17 [m. 7]--Stanza 3, lines 2-3.  As in the first two stanzas.  On the repetition of line 3, the tenors join on “nicht mehr dich sehe,” the basses only on “dich sehe.”  Pause on D-flat harmony before the refrain.
1:30 [m. 13]--Stanza 3, refrain.  As in the first two stanzas.  The following coda resolves the cadence.
1:37 [m. 17]--Coda.  The brief coda begins as had all the stanzas, with the upward gesture on “Fahr wohl.”  Instead of launching into another stanza, it settles down to the long-avoided cadence in A-flat, but even at the end, the keynote is not in the soprano voice, suggesting a lack of finality.  The coda sets the final words “Fahr wohl” twice, for a total of four statements after the third strophe.
1:52--END OF SONG [19 mm.]

5. Der Falke (The Falcon).  Text by Siegfried Kapper, after a Serbian folk poem.  Lebhaft (Lively).  Modified strophic form for three stanzas, then two highly varied strophes for the last two (AA’A’BC) F MAJOR, 3/4 time, with two bars of 3/2 at the end.

German Text:
Hebt ein Falke sich empor,
wiegt die Schwingen stolz und breit,
fliegt empor, dann rechtshin weit,
bis er schaut der Veste Tor.

An dem Tor ein Mädchen sitzt,
wäscht ihr weißes Angesicht,
Schnee der Berge glänzet nicht,
wie ihr weißer Nacken glitzt.

Wie es wäscht und wie es sitzt,
hebt es auf die schwarzen Brau'n,
und kein Nachtstern ist zu schau'n,
wie ihr schwarzes Auge blitzt.

Spricht der Falke aus den Höhn:
"O du Mädchen wunderschön!
Wasche nicht die Wange dein,
daß sie schneeig glänze nicht!

Hebe nicht die Braue fein,
daß dein Auge blitze nicht!
Hüll den weißen Nacken ein,
daß mir nicht das Herze bricht!"

English Translation

0:00 [m. 1]--Stanza 1 (A).  A very strong triple meter, often placing emphasis on the second beat.  All four voices move together.  The initial soprano gesture is a triplet figure, but dotted (long-short) rhythms prevail otherwise.  The music is rather forceful and upbeat, reaching its climax at the last line.  This last line is repeated for emphasis and a powerful cadence.
0:20 [m. 11]--Stanza 2 (A’).  The stanza begins quietly, building at the third line and making the climax in the fourth even more striking.  The sopranos sing the same music as in stanza 1, but the other three voices are given a much more active counterpoint, no longer moving with the sopranos.  In fact, the tenors lead in with a triplet upbeat not present in stanza 1.  The basses enter last, after the sopranos and altos, following the descending tenor line with one of their own.  This counterpoint continues through the stanza, including the repeat of the last line, but toward the end the voices move more closely together.
0:40 [m. 21]--Stanza 3 (A’).  Musically identical to stanza 2.
0:59 [m. 31]--Stanza 4 (B).  This stanza is set to completely different music.  The altos split into two parts for a new five-voice texture in the first two lines.  The sopranos and tenors begin with an upbeat repeated note in unison, the altos and basses following in harmony with shorter notes.  All is quiet and subdued.  The altos and basses also follow in the second line as the falcon speaks.  From the third line, the roles are reversed, with the altos and basses taking the lead as the dotted rhythm returns.  All voices come together on the last line.  There is a more restrained buildup from the third line, and the last line is not repeated.  Bold harmonies move the music away from the main key.  The first and fourth lines are in D major, the second and third in B-flat
1:20 [m. 40]--Stanza 5 (C).  The music is again new, but it continues the progress and buildup of stanza 4.  The voices move together throughout.  The keys of B-flat and D remain important.  The first and third lines are set to the same music, beginning with an arching line in the sopranos and basses.  They are in B-flat.  The second line moves back to D and is very similar to the last line of stanza 4.  The last line finally and strongly brings the music back to the home key of F, reaching a powerful climax.  During this line and its repetition, the music of the first three stanzas returns in a seamless and satisfying way.
1:40 [m. 50]--The last two lines of stanza 5 are quietly and effectively repeated.  The third line is set to music in D major from the first line of stanza 4, with the unison sopranos and tenors followed by the basses and divided altos in harmony.  The last line returns quickly back to F.  The basses divide here, and the music becomes very quiet.  The sopranos and higher basses in unison are followed by the altos, tenors, and lower basses in very colorful harmonies.  Brahms stretches the last two bars out to 3/2 meter in an elongation of the extremely warm and gentle final cadence.
2:07--END OF SONG [56 mm.]

6. Beherzigung (Encouragement).  Text by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.  Kräftig und lebhaft (Strong and lively).  Two part canonic through-composed form.  D MINOR/MAJOR, 3/4 and 2/4 time.

German Text:
Feiger Gedanken
bängliches Schwanken,
weibisches Zagen,
ängstliches Klagen
wendet kein Elend,
macht dich nicht frei.

Allen Gewalten
zum Trutz sich erhalten,
nimmer sich beugen,
kräftig sich zeigen,
rufet die Arme
der Götter herbei!

English Translation

The entire song is sung at a loud (forte) level.
0:00 [m. 1]--Stanza 1.  An austere canon (direct imitation) at the distance of one bar in triple time, with the men following the women an octave lower.  It begins in D minor, but quickly moves to A minor.  For the first two lines, the two voice pairs are in unison, but they break into harmony (largely contrary motion within each pair) at “weibisches Zagen.”  The men skip the word “ängstliches,” and the canon actually breaks at “wendet kein Elend,” where all four voices sing the words together in full harmony.  The last line, “macht dich nicht frei,” is forcefully repeated.  The strong cadence in A minor ends with a major chord, the so-called “picardy third,” in preparation for the major key of the second stanza.
0:23 [m. 16]--Stanza 2.  The meter shifts to a very quick and steady 2/4.  The key is now D major, prepared by the previous A-major chord.  Another canon begins, with the women (sopranos and altos) now following the men (tenors and basses) an octave higher.  The voice pairs are in harmony throughout, often in contrary motion within each pair.  Note how Brahms easily deals with the extra syllable in the second and sixth lines, using rests before the other five-syllable lines.  The canon never really breaks, as the men simply add two notes to the word “Götter” and all voices come to an expectant pause on “herbei.”
0:48 [m. 40]--The last two lines are emphatically repeated to new music.  The basses enter two bars later than the other voices, preserving the spirit of the canons.  The top three voices lengthen the notes on “Götter herbei” so that the basses can “catch up” at the final chord
1:05--END OF SONG [48 mm.]