Gesang der Parzen (Song of the Fates), Op. 89
Monteverdi Choir/Orchestre révolutionnaire et romantique
Sir John Eliot Gardiner
"You have certainly conjured up passionate desperation," Brahms’ friend Theodor Billroth wrote to him after receiving a copy of the score to Gesang der Parzen; the composer had joked to Billroth, a prominent surgeon, that he should find the music interesting since both men shared a professional interest in scissors and string.
This “Song of the Fates” takes its text from Goethe’s drama Iphigenie auf Tauris, appropriate source material for Brahms’ final and probably least-known choral-orchestral work. The sensitive and dramatic text setting is remarkable even for a choral master of Brahms’ caliber, and may suggest something of what a Brahms opera might have been. The poem addresses the power held literally and figuratively over the heads of men by the gods, as well as their heavenly self-absorption and indifference—concepts the composer treats with a bold ingeniousness that seems far more heartfelt than contrived.
Gesang der Parzen is not frequently performed because of its brevity relative to the large forces required, an unfortunate quality it shares with Brahms’ other choral-orchestral works excepting of course Ein deutsches Requiem. But it will certainly reward a careful hearing or two, and a review of the text may be helpful.
Meeresstille und glückliche Fahrt /
Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage, Op. 112
Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique
Sir John Eliot Gardiner, cond.
While Mendelssohn’s overture of the same name is better-known, Beethoven before him had been inspired by Goethe’s two-part poem depicting a ship becalmed at sea followed by a fortuitous gust of wind and concluding, of course, with the long-awaited sighting of land.
This brief choral-orchestral cantata, which has a hard time of it finding a home on concert programs for logistical reasons, is a curious composition. The programmatic devices and choral writing are ingenious and effective, but the work as a whole is strangely direct and clear-edged for Beethoven. It makes for nice listening on a scorching, breezeless summer afternoon.
"Die ich rief, die Geister,
werd’ ich nun nicht los."