This unfinished fragment of a song shares a manuscript with a Hoffmann von Fallersleben setting, Liebe und Frühling II
Op 3 No 3, which dates from July 1853—and the scholars presume that it dates from same time. In publishing the work for practical performance in 1983, Joachim Daheim perhaps wisely decided to refrain from inventing new musical material to complete the setting. The point is that Brahms himself would almost certainly have done so. As it is, the listener can do little else but admire the sound of the turning wheel whirring between the pianist’s hands, as if wheat were being milled between the sharp edges of the black and white piano keys—the A natural in the instrument’s alto register grinding insistently and ceaselessly against the adjacent B flat. As in Gretchen am Spinnrade
, this relentless mechanical sound meshes with, and is overtaken by, the sound of the girl’s equally conflicted emotions; if Brahms had completed this song it might have been an 1850s companion-piece for Schubert’s masterpiece of 1814. The vocal line—what there is of it—is genuine Brahms and very arresting: eighteen bars of music that are worthy of the composer’s favourite genre of the tormented Mädchenlied
. In this version we hear this same music four times in all, and it is this lack of musical variety that palls. The key of E flat minor is shared with that other early song about a relationship under siege, Liebestreu
Op 3 No 1. One might imagine that a plaint of this kind might have been sung in Schubert’s great miller’s cycle, if the story had turned out differently and the miller had abandoned the girl (instead of the other way around), or if her boyfriend, the hunter, had left her in the lurch.
Brahms’s desire to follow in the literary footsteps of his hero Schumann seems to be indicated by this setting of a poem by the writer of Frauenliebe und -leben. This is the first of a set of three adjacent miller poems in Chamisso’s Gedichte. Brahms set the text again six years later in an unaccompanied setting for four women’s voices, Op 44 No 5.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 2011