From Wind Repertory Project
Johannes Brahms

Johannes Brahms (ed. David Whitwell)

The title translates into English as "Funeral Song" or "Burial Song." It bears the designation Opus 13.

General Info

Year: 1858 / 2014
Duration: c. 6:40
Difficulty: IV (see Ratings for explanation)
Publisher: Maxime's Music
Cost: Score and Parts - $36.00


Full Score
Oboe I-II
Bassoon I-II
B-flat Soprano Clarinet I-II
Horn in F I-II
Trombone I-II-III


None discovered thus far.

Program Notes

In 1857 Brahms became the conductor of the choral society at Detmold. The fine wind players available in this court are reflected in a number of Brahms’ compositions at this time. Indeed, Florence May, an important early biographer of Brahms, indicated that the Serenade Nr. 1 was originally composed for a wind octet.

It was at this time that Brahms composed his Begräbnisgesang for chorus and wind band, a work Brahms himself conducted several times, the first under his baton being a performance at the Gradener’s Academy in Hamburg on December 2, 1859.

Traditionally scholars have this work as a study for the second movement of the later famous Requiem. But I believe there is a more important story behind this work. The reader will recall not only the long friendship which Brahms had with Robert Schumann, but his debt to Schumann for the promotion of his career. It is also well-known that Brahms had a close relationship with Schumann’s wife, Clara, and later widow, one of the great love stories of the nineteenth century. The three were very close during Schumann’s final illness and death on July 29, 1856. There is a long tradition in the Catholic Church, observed in Europe and in South America, that after one’s death the survivors must wait one year or more before the end of mourning and the celebrating a major Mass or commemoration. Therefore, one year after Schumann’s death would bring us to the general period when this work was written.

Since scholars have failed to find any other specific reason, or for whom, Brahms wrote this very special composition, I believe it was composed for some special private occasion when he and Clara and other family and friends gathered to remember Robert Schumann. It seems clear to me that the sixteenth century text, Nun lasst uns den Leib begraben, which Brahms selected for this music had Schumann in mind, and seems too specific to be used for general purposes. It speaks of “his work, sorrow and misery” and his having been “weighed down by fear.” Now he is at peace and [his reputation] will become “Radiant like the brilliant sun.”

It is the music which Brahms sets to “his work” (Sein Arbeit), beginning in bar 49, which first brought this idea to mind. Here, reflecting “his work” we hear, at a piano level, with half-chorus as if the angels were singing, music which sounds very characteristic of Schumann. Suddenly happy, it reminds us of some of the simple and buoyant character of some of Schumann’s music, for example the spirit of his Trällerliedchen [Humming Song] found among his Album for Youth. Surely this is a reference to his friend and his music.

It is often quoted that Clara Schumann said of this composition that it was “most glorious.” Perhaps, then, she was speaking not only of the composition, but the noble purpose it served.

- Program Note by editor

Johannes Brahms is best known for his symphonies, chamber music, and his monumental Em Deutsches Requiem. There are multiple lesser-known masterpieces in Brahms’s catalogue; tonight, we share his Begräbnisgesang, op. 13 in memory of Karel Husa. This “Burial Song” is both somber and uplifting in character. It was likely written in memory of Robert Schumann, who died two years prior to its composition.

In 1857 Brahms became conductor of the choral society at Detmold. His Ave Maria, op. 12 and Begrãbnisgesang were composed immediately after assuming this post. Both are among his first published pieces for chorus. Compositions written in Detmold usually conformed to whichever instrumentation was available at the time. In this instance, Brahms employed oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns, trombones, tuba, and timpani. The omission of strings was undoubtedly to allow for outdoor performances. Aside from four interludes, the wind ensemble is used exclusively to accompany the chorus. In the words of biographer Florence May, the work is “austere in its simplicity” and “characterized by uncompromising fidelity to the almost grimly severe spirit of the words.”

Although originally published as Zum Begrabnis (To the Funeral) in 1841, the text was written by Michael Weiße in the early sixteenth century. Much of the voice leading, including the haunting melody in the outer sections, is characteristic of a Lutheran chorale. Sopranos are withheld until just prior to the third stanza, which begins with the climactic line “His soul shall live forever with God.” As the text shifts its focus from death to eternal life, Brahms modulates into the parallel major key before eventually returning to the opening minor theme, which lends a solemn sense of finality to the work’s conclusion.

Although Brahms did not inscribe his manuscript in memory of Robert Schumann, Schumann’s influence on Brahms was substantial. Bedřich Smetana influenced his fellow Czech composer Karel Husa similarly. Husa, in turn, had a profound impact on the 20th and 21st century wind music that we celebrate this week.

- Program Note by Eric Scott for the University of Missouri at Kansas City Conservatory Wind Symphony concert program, 17 March 2017


State Ratings

None discovered thus far.


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