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Hyperion Records

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The Roof of Milan Cathedral (c1830) by Carl Beckmann (1799-1859)
Track(s) taken from CDH55346
Recording details: October 1989
St Alban's Church, Holborn, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Mark Brown
Engineered by Antony Howell
Release date: February 1991
Total duration: 10 minutes 17 seconds

'A must for any serious collector' (Organists' Review)

'Ideal for the more adventurous listener who enjoys a ramble down the lesser-known by-ways of the musical repertoire' (The Music Magazine)

Fest- und Gedenksprüche, Op 109
1888/9; first performed in Hamburg on 9 September 1889; dedicated to the Bürgermeister of Hamburg, Carl Petersen, on the occasion of Brahms being made a Freeman of the City; published 1890
author of text
No 1: Psalm 22: 4-5, 29: 11; No 2: Luke 11: 21, 17, Matthew 12: 25; No 3: Deuteronomy 4: 8-9

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
The score of Fest- und Gedenksprüche Op 109 (Festival and Commemoration Sentences) is inscribed: ‘Seiner Magnifizenz dem Herrn Bürgermeister Dr. Carl Petersen in Hamburg verehrungsvoll zugeeignet’, on the occasion of Brahms being at last made a Freeman of the City of Hamburg. Composed between 1888 and 1889, they received their first performance in Hamburg on 9 September 1889, and were published the following year. Despite their specific intention, Brahms regarded these memorial verses rather as general pieces for national days of commemoration, and perhaps this is why they are stylistically less cerebral than the mainstream motets, which these pieces are in all but name. The stylistic impetus was the late sixteenth-century Venetian school, rather than the intricacies of Bachian textural density and contrapuntal conceit.

The opening of ‘Unsere Väter hofften auf dich’ (F major, 3/4) immediately establishes the antiphonal nature of all three settings, the basic musical material being announced each time by the second choir and then embellished by the first, overlapping at the distance of one bar. The concluding section (‘Der Herr wird seinem Volk’) moves into quadruple time, opening with the male voices of both choirs, and developing into a culminatory passage of free, eight-part counterpoint. ‘Wenn ein starker Gewappneter’ is structurally the simplest of the three, being cast in a clearly identifiable ABA form, whereby the Handelian opening music returns once more at the end. The C minor middle section is highly dramatic, including a biting setting of ‘ein Haus fället’. The Venetian style is at its most potent in ‘Wo ist ein so herrlich Volk’, with its imposing antiphonal terracing. The closing bars show Brahms’s inspiration running at white heat, being a poignant reminder of the opening music in the form of a series of moving suspensions held over a low, tonic pedal point.

from notes by Julian Haylock © 1991

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