, Op 11, for six- or eight-voice mixed choir, were composed in 1871 and belong to Cornelius‘s finest music in any genre. The words of Nos 2 (‘An den Sturmwind’) and 3 (‘Die drei Frühlingstage’) are by Friedrich Rückert, those of No 1 (‘Der Tod, das ist die kühle Nacht’) by Heinrich Heine. Despite the lack of a unifying title for the collection, these choruses do share a common theme – the transitoriness of earthly pleasures and life itself. Through sensitive musical settings, Cornelius is able to bring out the latent spiritual meanings of these ostensibly secular texts, much as he did for Hebbel’s Requiem
. He creates longer choruses by repeating the short texts several times over. The choral writing and textures call to mind some of the best sacred choral music by Bach: all three feature double choral textures, for example, with the addition of a tenor soloist for a brief passage in No 1. The most striking features of No 1, in eight parts, are the modulations and dissonant harmonies used to create a sombre mood – they anticipate the harmonic language of Richard Strauss and other end-of-century innovators. The second chorus exploits dual four-voiced choirs by exchanging material between them (not necessarily audible to most listeners); here two contrasting sections alternate twice with each other. More continuous and homogeneous is the six-voiced final chorus, which gradually picks up speed to the reflective final bars.
from notes by James Deaville © 2000