The Austro-German Connection: Brahms and Bruckner

This week, the Cecilian Choir arrived at the Austro-German part of their programme; pieces by Brahms and Bruckner. Bruckner’s Locus iste is a hardy perennial, and gave the choir a chance to work on their vowel-shapes and sustained phrases. The third section is wonderfully chromatic and harmonically uncertain, ‘irreprehensibilis ist,’ and we strove to capture some of that hesitancy in both the dynamics as well as in the unfolding chromatic lines: there’s a tendency to want to crescendo too soon, but holding back and only reaching mezzo-forte before subsiding back to piano for the reprise keeps the excitement of the passage.

The foggiest notion: Der Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer, Friedrich

The Wanderer: Caspar David Friedrich

From Latin text to German: Ach, arme Welt by Brahms, and a chance to develop the linguistic skills of the choir by getting to grips with German. This chorale has some great colours to enhance the text – ‘’Du falsches Welt, du bist nicht wahr (You false world, you are not real) and ‘’Mit Weh und grossem Leiden (with pain and bitter anguish);’’ wonderful lines to sing in German. The most striking aspect of the piece is that, full of impassioned power and dynamics and crescendi, at the last phrase ‘hilf mir, Herr, zum Frieden (help me, Lord, to peace)’’ the piece ends with a diminuendo and ends piano on the final chord. After all the Sturm und Drang of the rest of the piece, it’s a great trick and creates a rapt ending.

We left German Romanticism behind and ended by returning to French neo-Classicism to revisit the first part of the Poulenc that we’d looked at last week. It’s still a terrific piece: I’m delighted we’re learning it.

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