After playing the works of Bach the last few weeks, this week it will be romantic music. On Sunday I’ll be playing two chorale preludes from Johannes Brahms’ op. 122, “O wie selig Seid ihr Doch, ihr Frommen” for the prelude and “Herzlich tut verlangen” during communion. The choir will sing Brahms, too, for communion, a setting of Psalm 51: “Schaffe in mir, Gott.”
Usually when someone mentions Brahms, one thinks of the monumental works — Ein Deutsches Requiem (German Requiem) or the massive Symphonies. But the two chorale preludes I’m going to play are small pieces written in the last year of Brahms’ life, a premonition perhaps of his impending death. Except for one piece (“Es ist ein Ros entsprungen”) all of the preludes in Opus 122 deal with death. One of the pieces was O Welt, ich muss dich lassen “O World, I now must leave thee” — maybe this was Brahms’ goodbye?
These are pieces that I often teach to students, not only for their simplicity, but to expose them to works of composers other than Bach. I was very interested to read an article on Brahms’ conflicted personality, which you can find by clicking here. The author, Arthur D. Colman, says “Descriptions of Brahms’s personality were contradictory: He was called gruff, generous, withholding, unpleasant, secretive, shy, mean, serious, boorish, and immature. He could be both fantastically loyal and alienating to his friends, many of whom were the great musical performers and critics of his day. He was a man defiant of convention and full of irony, reserve, and even meanness. While he could be kind and forthcoming with advice and aid and was extremely generous in providing fully for family, friends, and even other musicians, he allowed few close friendships lest they impinge on his freedom.”
The choir will also sing “Ecce sacerdos magnus” by Anton Bruckner for the offertory. He was a friend of Gustav Mahler who said that he was “half-simpleton, half God.” Although he was a renowned organist in his day, Bruckner wrote no organ music.
And that’s why I don’t play any Bruckner!