Four Songs for a Brahms Birthday

A somewhat off-the-beaten track selection to share for Johannes’ 181st….

Ever since I played these pieces in college i’ve adored the Four Songs for Women’s Choir, Two Horns, and Harp, Op. 17, dating from the time Brahms founded, and subsequently wrote a lot of pieces for, The Women’s Chorus of Hamburg. Brahms’ father was a horn player, which adds a poignant touch to this gorgeous – and I believe unique – combination of voices and instruments.

And Brahms picked some pretty interesting texts, too…who knew that he set Shakespeare?

The Four Songs are, in order:

1. .Es tönt ein voller Harfenklang (Harp Notes Ring)
2. Lied von Shakespeare (Song of Shakespeare)
3. Der Gärtner (The Gardener)
4. Gesang aus Fingal (Song from “Fingal”)

Texts and translations can be found here.   The video features the Choir of the Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona’s storied opera house, led by the Italo-Argentinian conductor José Luis Basso.  Not bad for a live performance, but if you want to dig deeper there are a number of excellent recordings.  Used to be that this piece was hard to find on disc — my original copy was an LP on the long-forgotten Onyx label.  No, not this recent startup, I’m talking about the old staple of the cutout bins.   But today, it’s a different story: Classical Archives lists no fewer than eight recent albums containing this work.  I think my favorite is a domestic product: a shimmering performance by the Kansas City Chorale, led by former Robert Shaw disciple Charles Bruffy.

Brahms Kansas City Chorale



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