Hyperion Records

Sechs Lieder und Romanzen, Op 93a
First line:
Es wohnet ein Fiedler zu Frankfurt am Main

'Brahms: Zigeunerlieder' (CDA67775)
Brahms: Zigeunerlieder
Buy by post £10.50 CDA67775 
No 1: Der bucklichte Fiedler  Es wohnet ein Fiedler zu Frankfurt am Main
No 2: Das Mädchen  Stand das Mädchen, stand am Bergesabhang
No 3: O süßer Mai
No 4: Fahr wohl
No 5: Der Falke  Hebt ein Falke sich empor
No 6: Beherzigung  Feiger Gedanken

Sechs Lieder und Romanzen, Op 93a
The Sechs Lieder und Romanzen Op 93a, written in 1883–4, are for four-part SATB choir and concern themselves with a variety of Romantic texts, but in a profoundly economical and formally concentrated musical idiom. There are three ‘folk’ poems, and three by major writers of the Romantic movement. The set begins with Der bucklichte Fiedler, a robust setting of words taken from a Lower-Rhenish folksong, in which four witches engage a hump-backed fiddler to play for their dance on Walpurgis Night (and reward him by magically removing his hump). Brahms knew the original tune well: he had made two choral arrangements of it in the 1860s, and would return to it a final time in his 1894 Volkslieder. But here he provides a tune of his own, in similar rhythm, and a triple-time development of it, for the central witches’ dance, whose Lydian mode and stark bare fifths give the piece an unexpectedly twentieth-century air. No 2, Das Mädchen, sets a Serbian poem translated by Siegfried Kapper, and is possibly the jewel of the entire set. Alternating 3/4 and 4/4 to suggest the seven-beat metres of Serbian folksong, and ravishingly contrasting a solo soprano against a background of mixed-voice harmony, this song represents the antithesis of Brahms’s customary strophic approach, evolving seamlessly by continuous development of a single gentle motif announced at the outset and brightening from an initial B minor to a glowing B major climax. The treatments of another Serbian poem, Der Falke, and of O süßer Mai and Fahr wohl (these are short lyrics by Achim von Arnim and Friedrich Rückert respectively) are perhaps more conventional—but the unfailing beauty and close integration of melody and harmony avoid any sense of routine. The music is clearly deeply felt, even when its sentiments (notably in Fahr wohl, which in 1897 was sung during Brahms’s funeral procession) are unremarkable; and the fluid cross-rhythms, major/minor equivocations and long-drawn-out final cadence of O süßer Mai have a melting beauty remarkable even by Brahms’s standards. After such sweetness the supple and strenuous polyphony of the final setting, a superb canonic treatment of Goethe’s aphorism Beherzigung (‘Reflection’), is all the more striking.

from notes by Calum MacDonald © 2009

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