This unpublished poem was inscribed by the poet on the flyleaf of Brahms’s copy of Klaus Groth’s Hundert Blätter: Paralipomena zum Quickborn
, the supplement to Groth’s collection of poetry entitled Quickborn
, a huge success with an admittedly limited readership. This was because Quickborn
was written in Plattdeutsch, the Low German that was a delight to someone like Brahms, who came from Hamburg; on the other hand, the poems in the slim and modest volume of the Hundert Blätter
were in Hochdeutsch, and thus suitable for Lieder setting. Brahms chose no fewer than nine of these as song texts. The date of this inscription was 1856, a few years after the appearance of the book, and it seems that Brahms set to work in attempting to set the words more or less immediately. The result, however, clearly took a long time to come to fruition. The composer seems not to have been pleased with the result, and the song was posthumously published only in 1908. There is something about Groth’s rather dark and negative view of the world that appealed mightily to Brahms. Here the poet seems to imply that reciprocation of love is a cause for even greater sadness than rejection—this recalls the paradox of Heine’s lines, as set by Schumann in Dichterliebe
: ‘Doch wenn du sprichst: Ich liebe dich! / So muss ich weinen bitterlich.’ And yet this is a skilful, if slightly foursquare, setting of a text that does not promise much in the way of psychological illustration, and where the main feature of the accompaniment is the mezzo staccato chords between the hands that simulate the sound of falling rain as a metaphor for tears. (These are prophetic of the infinitely more subtle effect of such piano-writing at the opening of the Keller setting Abendregen
Op 70 No 4). The harmonic navigation through the text is distinguished and carefully thought-out, and the sound-world (the pacing of chords and plushness of texture where appropriate) is eminently Brahmsian.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 2011