In a letter to his publisher and friend Fritz Simrock, Brahms wrote: “I gladly risk being called an ass if our Liebeslieder doesn’t give a few people pleasure”, and surely he was right. Brahms is nowadays considered in many different ways, as a symphonist, for instance, or a composer of concertos, quartets and sonatas, as a writer of songs and poet, or as an arranger and editor, just to mention some things that probably spring to our mind when we think about him. To understand his deep knowledge of the “popular style”, it’s important to remember that Brahms was born in relative poverty, as he was the son of a double-bass player and a seamstress, who was older than his father. Rather than playing the piano for sailors in the dockside saloons of Hamburg as often mentioned by a popular legend – that Brahms himself seems to have encouraged – what developed his talent was his early studies in music. Thanks to his teacher Eduard Marxsen, he was able to gain the basis of composition, managing to compose some of the most beautiful masterworks in the history of music. Brahms choral works are a few in number if placed in the context of such an impressive output. Hand in hand with unforgettable masterworks as the Ein Deutsches Requiem, his best-known choral work, the Schicksalslied, the Triumphlied and Nanie, stand out the two sets of Liebesliederwalzer. As Malcolm MacDonald comments in his biography about Brahms “These works, in deliberately “popular” style, were overwhelmingly responsible for spreading his reputation to the general music-buying public and became the chief source of his personal wealth”.
In the 19th century, four-part choral works were probably the leading musical genre in Europeans everyday life, alongside the wide variety of chamber music played in domestic settings. It was surely easier to gather together a few singers, including amateurs, rather than assembling an entire orchestra and this mostly contributed to the enormous success of both Op. 52 and 65, composed mainly as Hausmusik, a common music-making style with informal singing around the piano. These dances immediately gained popularity bringing together the lilting Viennese waltzes and the love poetries of an appreciated writer. Even in these pieces, the musical language of Brahms demonstrates an extraordinary ductility, technique and craft.
The use of melodies and harmonies, as his knowledge of contrapuntal technique, shows us a composer who’s perfectly able to master the rhythmic and metric that constantly flow from his composition; as Glen Olsen said in his studies about Liebesliederwalzer: “Brahms uses the tools of musical motion to create a composition that goes beyond simple melodic and harmonic understating”. The op. 52 was completed during the summer of 1869 in Baden-Baden, where Brahms was close to the Schumann Family. He used poems from Georg Friedrich Daumer’s Polydora, a collection of Russian, Polish, and Hungarian folk poems. Brahms himself admits in a letter: “On this occasion, for the first time, I grinned at the sight of a work in print – of mine”. In other letters, he promoted this work to his close friends, even if the composer had great concerns on the effective order of such seemingly unrelated pieces until the publication. The composer deeply acknowledged the potential that such a work, an enchanting combination of songs and waltzes scored for piano duet and vocal quartet, could achieve on a concert stage and in the private parlour. At their first appearance, the pieces crossed over quickly to the “pop” charts of that time, and Brahms had to compose an orchestral arrangement and a version for unaccompanied piano as a consequence of such a success. He completed the set in 1874 with a second part called “Neue Liebesliederwalzer” [New Love Songs], the Op. 65. This second set differs from the first one for several reasons. Composed by popular demand, Brahms emphasised the word “new”, in the hope of further capitalising on that success.
The piano duet accompaniment is retained throughout as the texts used are once again from Polydora, but this time the fifteenth and final song, entitled Zum Schluß [In Conclusion] is composed on a text by Johann Wolfgang Goethe. And the differences don’t stop here: nearly half of the new songs are for solo voice, the new set is more structured, almost a cycle with an increasing complexity both in harmony and in lyrics meaning. A good example is Lied N° 14, by far the most elaborate Daumer Liebeslieder in either sets, followed by the above-cited Goethe’s Zum Schluß, which is surely a personal statement that recalls the composer’s relationships, but even a profound indication that Brahms would have never compose again that kind of pieces.
Even if every page is masterly written, and somehow encompasses the popular mood of its time with harmonic and melodic compositional process from the past, Brahms was too smart not to understand by himself the true nature of what he created, i. e. a collection of brilliant pieces made for cultured bourgeois consumption.
Another aspect for the correct understanding of these works is to explore the direct influence that Shubert had on Brahms. It is no mystery that Brahms had a deep admiration for Schubert’s works. Eugenie, Schumann’s youngest daughter, remembered: “He would frequently come to our room and play us Schubert’s waltzes or his own Valses Op. 39, and wonderful, melancholy Hungarian melodies for which I have looked in vain among his published works; perhaps he never wrote them down”.
Schubert died in Vienna in 1828, five years before Brahms was born, and with his fellow friend Schumann, from his earliest days in Vienna, Brahms played a leading role in contemporary efforts to preserve the memory and to foster Schubert’s posthumous reputation. He was a passionate collector of the composer’s autographs. Perhaps, amongst the most striking editions he made of Schubert’s music are the 12 Ländler, D 790 (1864), and the 20 Ländler, D 366 and D 814 (1869), prepared during the same period as the first set of the Liebeslieder. Other references that bound the Liebeslieder to Schubert is the “Im Ländler Tempo” marked in Op. 52. His edition and transcription of twenty Schubertian Ländler for a piano duet and the Op. 52 were both published in 1869, establishing an interaction between editorial and compositional endeavours ruled by the same artistic sensibility. A clear example of how Brahms the musicologist was directly affected by Brahms the composer and vice versa.
Album Notes by Richard White
Brodbeck, David Lee. Brahms as Editor and Composer: his two editions of Landler by Schubert and his first two cycles of Waltzes, Op.39 and 52, diss. University of Pennsylvania, 1984.
Hussey, William Gregory. Compositional Modeling, Quotation, and Multiple Influence Analysis in the Works of Johannes Brahms: An Application of Harold Bloom’s Theory of Influence to Music. Ph.D. diss. University of Texas at Austin, 1997.
Olsen, Glen. The “Liebeslieder Walzer”, op. 52, of Johannes Brahms: Rhythmic and Metric Features, and Related Conducting Gestures. The Choral Journal (2001), 42(2), 9-15
Alessandro Vannucci: Native of Pisa he began his studies at the Arrigo Boito Conservatory in Parma under the guidance of the soprano Donatella Saccardi earning a bachelor's degree with honours in 2018.
He debuted as Don Eusebio in the Rossini’s "L’occasione fa il ladro" at the Teatro Regio (Parma) directed by Andrea Cigni and conducted by Alessandro Agostini.
In 2016 he also played the role of Don Basilio in "Le Nozze di Figaro" by W. A. Mozart performed at the Teatro Crystal in Collecchio (Parma).
In 2018 he sang the role of Dorvil in Rossini’s “La scala di seta”, first at the Auditorium del Carmine (Parma) directed by Roberta Farlodi and conducted by Riccardo Mascia, later revived in Collecchio, together with "Gianni Schicchi" by G. Puccini where he was cast in the role of Gherardo.
Federica Cacciatore: She began her studies at the Arrigo Boito Conservatory (Parma) under the guidance of the soprano Donatella Saccardi. In 2014 she debuted in "La Cambiale di matrimonio" in the role of Clarina at the Teatro Regio (Parma) and at the Teatro Valli (Reggio Emilia). In 2015 she took part in "Un petite theatre domestique" staged in the cities of Sion, Pisa and Florence. In 2016 she debuted in "L'Occasione fa il ladro" in the role of Ernestina at the Teatro Regio (Parma). She made her debut at the Piccolo Teatro Studio in Milan in the contemporary opera "Love Hurts". In 2017 she participated in the project “Imparo l’opera” staged at the Teatro Regio (Parma) singing the role of Giovanna Seymour in Donizetti’s “Anna Bolena”. She studied the Baroque repertoire taking the masterclasses by Sara Mingardo, Sonia Prina and Federico Maria Sardelli. In 2018 she graduated with honours at Boito Conservatory and made her debut in "Hänsel e Gretel" in the role of La Mamma at the Teatro Regio (Parma).
Francesca Cesaretti: Native of Rimini, she graduated in piano with Maestro Mazzoccante at the Braga Conservatory (Teramo) in 2009. She studied with pianists such as Padova, Risaliti, Canino, Masi and Faes. In 2013 she obtained a Bachelor's Degree in Piano at the Lettimi Conservatory (Rimini), with a dissertation on Brahms’s piano work, and in 2016 she accomplished her Bachelor's Degree in Chamber Music, at the Arrigo Boito Conservatory (Parma) under Maurizzi. In 2005 she graduated with honours in Conservation of Cultural Heritage, musical specialisation, at the University of Bologna. She catalogued 17,000 ancient records for “Museo del Disco” in Sogliano al Rubicone. Since 2008 she plays mainly in piano duo, performing in Italy and abroad. She teaches piano in various associations and schools of Emilia Romagna. Since 2010, she is the artistic director of the classical music festival Suono diVino in Sogliano al Rubicone, and since 2016 she leads concerts at the Rimini hospital through "I Donatori di Musica".
Ilaria Torresan: Graduated with honours from two Conservatories, the Benedetto Marcello in Venice and the Arrigo Boito in Parma.
She took Master courses with Gerlinde Otto, Andrea Bambace, Emanuele Torquati, Irina Chukosvkaya, and Boris Bekhterev.
She studied chamber vocal repertoire with Mirco Guadagnigni, Karl Kammerlander and Detlef Roth.
She worked as piano accompanist in various opera productions: the Teatro Malibran (Venice), the Auditorium del Carmine (Parma).
She was invited in New York as stage pianist for "Le Nozze di Figaro" in collaboration with the Metro Chamber Orchestra.
She recorded a series of twentieth-century American arias at the Mahler Hall (Dobbiaco), aired for Radio 3 in 2017, then performed at the Sale Apollinee (Teatro La Fenice, Venice).
She worked at the Verdi Festival (Parma) as a pianist.
She worked as choir and ballet pianist at the Opera Royal de Wallonie (Liège).
Lorenzo Bonomi: He began his singing studies at the age of sixteen. He attended the Arrigo Boito Conservatory (Parma), under the guidance of the soprano Donatella Saccardi, where he graduated with honours in 2016.
He participated in the project "Imparo l’opera" at the Teatro Regio (Parma) singing the roles of Falstaff and Dulcamara.
He worked as solo singer and actor in the “Verdi-Re Lear” production staged in the Teatro Lenz for Verdi Festival season 2015/2016. He participated in the performance of Laborintus II by Luciano Berio at the Teatro Due (Parma). In 2017 he debuted in "La Serva Padrona" singing the role of Uberto. He performed as a soloist at the Teatro Grande (Brescia) in "Ancora odono i colli" by Sylvano Bussotti. Currently he is an active member of the company “La Dual Band” with which he debuted at Le Fonderie Limone (Torino), Teatro Binario 7 (Monza) and in the theatre festival "Jours de theâtre" (Estagel).
Stela Dicusară: She started her singing studies with the alto Alessandra Perbellini. In 2013 she enrolled at the Arrigo Boito Conservatory in Parma where she studied under the guidance of the soprano Donatella Saccardi. She sang as a soloist in several concerts at the Teatro San Carlino and the San Barnaba Auditorium in Brescia. She participated in masterclasses held by Roberto de Candia, Daniela Barcellona, Jan Schultsz, Eva Mei, Filippo Faes and Federico Maria Sardelli. She performed in "Prima che si alzi il sipario" in the Sala del Ridotto (Teatro Regio, Parma) for the presentation of "Le nozze di Figaro" and "Giovanna D'arco". In 2016 she debuted as Susanna in the Mozart’s "Le nozze di Figaro”. In 2017 she graduated with honours at Boito Conservatory and had her debut in "La Serva Padrona" in the role of Serpina staged at the Auditorium del Carmine and the Teatro Crystal in Collecchio (Parma). In 2018 she debuted as Sabbiolino in the opera "Hänsel e Gretel" staged at the Teatro Regio (Parma).
Johannes Brahms: (b Hamburg, 7 May 1833; d Vienna, 3 April 1897). German composer. The successor to Beethoven and Schubert in the larger forms of chamber and orchestral music, to Schubert and Schumann in the miniature forms of piano pieces and songs, and to the Renaissance and Baroque polyphonists in choral music, Brahms creatively synthesized the practices of three centuries with folk and dance idioms and with the language of mid- and late 19th-century art music. His works of controlled passion, deemed reactionary and epigonal by some, progressive by others, became well accepted in his lifetime.
Here the original German lyrics with Italian translation by Ferdinando Albeggiani: