No 1: Unsere Väter hofften auf dich
No 2: Wenn ein starker Gewappneter
No 3: Wo ist ein so herrlich Volk
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