This is the fourth installment in a limited series of columns highlighting standard choral repertoire. It is easy to get enamored by the music of today’s composers to the point where the classics that inspired them are forgotten. True music education must have as one facet a historical perspective. Students who only sing music in one style or era are short-changed. In this issue, I discuss some standards of the Romantic period. The list of pieces is by no means complete. Space prohibits the listing of every masterwork, but this survey will serve as an introduction for the novice and reminder to the veteran. Most titles are available from at least one traditional publishing company, but are also available for free download from www.CPDL.org. For purposes of this column, I have stuck to original voicings, however many titles are available in alternate scorings.
– Drew Collins, forum editor
FOR ANY SIZE ENSEMBLE
Brahms: Love-song Waltzes
Brahms wrote two sets of waltzes for SATB quartet and piano 4-hands: Liebeslieder (opus 52) and Neue Liebeslieder (opus 65). All of the movements of each are great. Often excerpted are Rede, Mädchen, allzu liebes (No. 1 of op. 52), Ein Kleiner, hübscher Vogel (No. 6 of op. 52), and the last movement from op. 65. Most are available separately, and the whole set is available, too. Because some movements are written for SA or TB duets, this can be a fun way to give your mixed choir a female-only and male-only singing experience. Robert Shaw’s CD on Telarc is a great reference recording.
Brahms: O Schöne Nacht SATB
During his lifetime, Brahms’ accompanied SATB quartets were very popular sellers. His most popular quartets are the two sets of love-song waltzes discussed above. But he wrote many others, including the shimmering O Schöne Nacht, mythological Der Abend, and eerie Nächtens (which is about a deranged mind at night, which Brahms illustrates partly by setting it in 5/4 time!). Though these works were intended to be sung by quartets in the home, they are most frequently performed today by choruses in the concert hall.
Brahms: Waldesnacht SATB
Published decades ago as “Wondrous Cool, Thou Woodland Quiet,” this simple (but not simplistic) strophic partsong is great for choirs of any size. Program the work for your whole choir in the fall, then assign it to an octet later in the year for contest. Subtle difference in dynamics can help achieve variation between verses.
Schumann, R.: Zigeunerleben SATB
Both Brahms and Robert Schumann wrote works for chorus in what they intended to be a Hungarian or gypsy style. As Turkish music was the fad in Mozart’s day, so Hungarian music was for Brahms and Schumann. There are several vocal works for each composer with the name “Zigeunerleben,” so make sure you are ordering the one you want. Some involve piano only, and some have some fun additional percussion.
Brahms: Wie Lieblich… (mvt. 4 from Ein Deutches Requiem) SATB
Thought of by many as the emotional turning point from sorrow to comfort in Brahms’ Requiem, this excerpt is a beautiful work in its own right. The accompaniment in the classic G. Schirmer edition works very well, and there is also a piano 4-hands version available that works well with larger choirs. It is best sung in German, but the English translation that begins, “How lovely is thy dwelling place…” can work quite well.