Why I Love this Lush, Romantic, Secular Piece by Brahms

By Concentus Alto Maggie Symington

Brahms Four Songs coverConcentus Womens Chorus’ 2016/2017 season is turning out to be our year of brass and harp. At the holidays, we were privileged to sing a work with four brass instruments and harp. I remember a friend’s disappointment that the French horn was not among them, but guess what? We’ll have two at our June 11, 2017 concert!

When our conductor, Gwen Gassler, mentioned that she was considering Brahms’ Vier Gesänge für Frauenchor, I quickly called up a recording on YouTube, and instinctively started singing along. Obviously, I’d sung this piece, so I looked back through my programs and found it: in 1987, with the New Amsterdam Singers, in Manhattan. That was 30 years ago, but the music was still in my brain. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to sing it again, not just because it would be easy to re-learn, but because it’s such a lush, romantic piece. And because the texts are all secular (each of the four songs is about lament). And in German. Bonus!

Brahms composed the score in 1860, specifically for an amateur women’s chorus in Hamburg, and it is his only setting of women’s voices to this instrumental configuration. But the plaintive tones of the horns and the ethereal sounds of the harp perfectly match the poems of death. The Clover Center for Arts and Spirituality will provide the ideal acoustical setting for this piece.

Concentus rehearsal

Concentus will be performing a number of other pieces spanning the spectrum of love, lament and death, some already in our repertoire (e.g., Ēriks Ešenvalds’ ethereal “O Salutaris Hosta,” which we recently performed at Eastman’s Taste of Song prism concert) and some challenging new pieces, including a very moving piece called “Cassiopeia,” composed in 2013 by Timothy C. Takach (more on this in our next blog post!). This piece will definitely be new to Rochester audiences, as well. For me, it is a fulfilling reflection of the cycle of life.

My only regret about this spring’s repertoire is that we’ll only get to perform it once…

Posted: March 16, 2017

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