For a long time now I have hoped to have the opportunity one day to record the sacred choral works of Johannes Brahms. In recent years these pieces have occupied me intensively and I have performed them frequently with a number of ensembles. The richness of their content has surprised me time and time again. In these works Brahms’s great examples were Schultz, Gabrieli and Bach, and it is wonderful to discover how he employs the compositional techniques of these masters to his own ends. In the patriotic Fest-und Gedenkspru?che op. 109, for example, inspired by the accession of Emperor Wilhelm II in 1888, the composer uses predominantly block-like, homophonic techniques (probably with an eye to open-air performance by large choirs). The choral groups alternate in broad movements, but occasionally the structure suddenly changes when prompted by the text: a reference to the disintegration of the kingdom in the second movement, for example, is illustrated by apparently random entries of the parts without taking the beat into account, as though the entire structure falls apart. In his harmonic language, Brahms goes much further than his Renaissance and Baroque examples, often adding notes beyond the key, for example in sequences of falling fifths, taking the music to keys hardly within reach of composers of the seventeenth century. Doing justice to this work requires a choir capable of developing a large, grandiose sound.
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