Songs for Alto, Viola, and Piano
These two songs - "Gestillte Sehnsucht" (1884) and "Geistliches Wiegenlied" (1864) - were dedicated to the talented contralto Amalie Schneeweiss Joachim, wife of Brahms' dear friend, Joseph Joachim. "Gestillte Sehnsucht." on a text by Friedrich Rückert, expresses a yearning desire and a nostalgia for death. In referring to this song, singer Elisabeth von Herzogenberg wrote to Brahms: "This is very difficult even for a talented singer. Why are you so cruel, turning women into oboes or violins?"
In "Geistliches Wiegenlied," Brahms borrows the melody of an old German cradle song ("Josef, lieber Josef mein"), which is presented as a viola obbligato. The poem comes from Geibel and Heyse's Spanisches Liederbuch, and is a translation by Geibel from the Spanish of Lope de Vega. The dark, brooding sonorities of the alto or mezzo voice and viola are beautifully complemented by a piano part that rarely rises above the middle of the keyboard. The exceedingly lyrical writing for the voice and viola could almost be described as a vocal duet. The melodic simplicity and expressive elegance splendidly correspond to the text, offering different shades of the same emotion. "Art-song and folk-song are blissfully at one," wrote musicologist Eric Sams in his study of Brahms' songs.
- Lynne S. Mazza also annotates programs for the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and the New York Philharmonic, among other organizations.