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Hugo Conrat, a member of a well-to-do Jewish family in Vienna (and later a close friend of Brahms), had made translations of these Magyar texts with the help of two of his children’s Hungarian nannies; he sent to Brahms a volume of twenty-five Ungarische Liebeslieder, supposedly original gypsy folk melodies with piano accompaniments by one Zoltán Nagy, published in Budapest with Conrat’s polished German translations (and, strangely enough, without the original Hungarian). Brahms, already a veteran of the Hungarian dances for piano and for orchestra, was enchanted; as the composer of the famous Liebeslieder-Walzer for vocal quartet, he first composed eleven of these poems for SATB (although some of the songs have solo passages for tenor). These settings owed almost nothing to the original melodies with accompaniments by Nagy, and the work enjoyed immediate success. A year later, Brahms made solo versions of eight songs—selecting Nos 1-7, and ending with No 11—of the multi-voiced version; these represent the texts of Nos 2, 3, 6-9, 13 and 21 of the Nagy arrangements. Despite the erotic nature of the songs, they found unexpected approval from the two critics of the composer who were most inclined to be prudish: Elisabeth von Herzogenberg and Clara Schumann. It was Clara who first praised Brahms’s achievement in having written a cycle where all the songs were in 2/4 (a metre required by the pervasive trochees and spondees of the text) but which nevertheless succeeded in holding the listener’s attention throughout. She might have added that, with the exception of the first, all these songs are printed on two pages and are composed with an economy and unpretentiousness that belie the extravagant emotions given musical voice in this vibrant cycle.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 2020
|Brahms: The Complete Songs, Vol. 10 - Sophie Rennert|
The final release of Brahms songs promises more of the familiar virtues which, throughout, have distinguished the series.» More