No 1: Es ist das Heil uns kommen her
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No 2: Schaffe in mir, Gott, ein rein Herz
‘Es ist das Heil uns kommen her’ is richly scored in five parts (divided basses), consisting of a chorale harmonization (cf Op 74 No 2), followed by an extended Allegro fugal setting based on the main chorale melody. Brahms alleviates the relatively conventional approach to harmony by the subtle use of a number of archetypal chromatic inflections, most potently in the final bars, intensified by their suspension over a tonic E pedal point in the bass.
‘Schaffe in mir, Gott’, also with divided basses, opens with a canon (Andante moderato) in augmentation; that is to say, whilst the sopranos sing their melody twice through, the basses simultaneously sing the identical melody but at half speed, the two parts finally meeting up at the end of the section. However, such is the resulting simplicity of musical utterance, that the casual listener would hardly be aware of this intellectual conceit. ‘Verwirf mich nicht’ (Andante espressivo) is texturally more complex, exhibiting a transcendental contrapuntal mastery. Particularly notable is the exhilarating effect caused by the canonic interplay between the sopranos and tenors just before the end of this section, sending both parts soaring up to a top A flat within a beat of each other. The following ‘Tröste mich’ (Andante) is another canon, this time overlapping horizontally at the distance of one bar, and vertically by the interval of a seventh, appearing initially between tenors and second basses. This leads directly into the final section (‘und der freudige’—Allegro) which, with its thrilling sequences of running thirds, ends the motet in a mood of resounding affirmation.
from notes by Julian Haylock © 1991