Brahms published the set of Drei Quartette
Op 64 in 1874, though the first of them, An die Heimat
, probably dates from about 1862. This song is very elaborately laid out: Brahms draws a remarkable, motet-like range of colour from the four voices in harmony, treating them like a tiny chorus with canonic imitations, occasional solos and little a cappella passages; while to Sternau’s text, a conventional praise of the poet’s (unspecified) homeland, he brings a depth of feeling entirely understandable if—as seems likely—the piece was composed during Brahms’s first winter in Vienna, far away from Hamburg. There follows a setting of Friedrich Schiller’s Der Abend
, a late poem full of Classical metaphor which Brahms ingeniously touches into life with a male/female dialogue for Apollo and Thetis and a haunting piano accompaniment mimicking the step of the sun-god’s horses; there is a moment of pure magic as the horses stop (the piano falls silent) and drink cooling draughts from the sea in long female-voice phrases. Op 64 concludes with a translation of a Turkish folk-poem made by G F Daumer, the poet of the Liebeslieder-Walzer
, whose copious output of both original verse and translations from many languages Brahms often recurred to when choosing texts for setting. Fragen
is a set of questions put to a lover (the tenor) by the other three parts, massed as a vocal trio. It develops into a tightly dovetailed dialogue, carried out with a sensitive mingling of humour and pathos.
from notes by Calum MacDonald © 2009