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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

'Brahms: motets' (CDH55346)
Brahms: motets
MP3 £4.99FLAC £4.99ALAC £4.99Buy by post £5.50 CDH55346  Helios (Hyperion's budget label)  
No 1: Unsere Väter hofften auf dich
Track 14 on CDH55346 [2'07] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
No 2: Wenn ein starker Gewappneter
Track 15 on CDH55346 [3'09] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
No 3: Wo ist ein so herrlich Volk
Track 16 on CDH55346 [5'01] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)

Fest- und Gedenksprüche, Op 109
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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