Johannes Brahms (1833–97)
Geistliches Lied (1856)
“Straight-away the ideas flow in upon me, directly from God, and not only do I see distinct themes in my mind's eye, but they are clothed in the right forms, harmonies.”
— Johannes Brahms
Johannes Brahms was a prolific composer with broad musical interests. He was an excellent pianist who premiered many of his own works and accompanied a variety of other instrumental and vocal soloists. He was a conductor, both choral and orchestral, and he was a composer in many genres, from large symphonic works to shorter Lieder for solo voice or chorus. His extensive choral output includes sacred and secular compositions, a cappella or accompanied by orchestra, chamber ensembles, organ, or piano.
He was a meticulous craftsman and perfectionist who destroyed some of his early works and left others unpublished. His Geistliches Lied was part of a mutual training project with the violinist Joseph Joachim in which the two friends criticized each other’s compositions so as to improve their skills at, in Brahms’s words, “double counterpoint, canons, fugues, preludes or whatever.” Geistliches Lied, John Rutter writes, is “a strict double canon in the vocal parts with canonic writing in the organ, [projecting] a mood of gentle, lyric serenity ... in the style of a Lutheran chorale, a form dear to Brahms’s heart.”
Paul Fleming (1609-40)
According to Rutter, Geistliches Lied, written in 1856, clearly foreshadows Ein Deutsches Requiem, which received its first full public performance in Vienna in 1868. As he did for the Requiem, Brahms used a German text he admired, this one from the 17th century.
Although he lived only 30 years, poet and physician Paul Fleming is regarded as among the finest German poets of the 17th century. His verses are well represented in Lutheran hymnody and appear in at least three Bach cantatas.
Fleming was a graduate of the Thomasschule in Leipzig, where J.S. Bach would later serve as Thomaskantor. He received his medical training at the University of Leipzig, where he also studied literature and earned a doctorate prior to his medical degree.
During the Thirty Years War, Fleming became physician to Frederick III, Duke of Holstein-Gottorp, who assigned him to travel with a diplomatic mission to Russia and the Persian Empire. He was away from Germany for six years, writing poetry and, for about a year, organizing a poets circle called “The Shepherds” in what is now Estonia. The German author Günter Grass has called Fleming “one of the major figures in German seventeenth-century literature.”
Laß dich nur nichts nicht dauren mit Trauren,
sei stille, wie Gott es fügt,
so sei vergnügt mein Wille!
Was willst du heute sorgen auf morgen?
Der Eine steht allem für,
der gibt auch dir das Deine.
Sei nur in allem Handel ohn Wandel,
steh feste, was Gott beschleußt,
das ist und heißt das Beste.
Let nothing make you regretful with sorrows.
Be calm, as God intends,
so be content, my will.
What do you want to worry about from day to day?
There is One who stands above all
who also gives you what is yours.
Just be steadfast in all you do,
stand firm; what God has decided,
that is and must be the best.