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Thursday, February 07, 2008

"Die Mainacht" by J. Brahms

Brahms does an exquisite job conveying the text of "Die Mainacht" though his accompaniment and contour of the melody. The first definite key change in measure thirteen shows the change of thought of the singer. It also begins a new image of happy nature with the "pair of doves" juxtaposed with the previous image of the wandering, sad speaker. This cadence is especially important because it makes the rest of the second inversion tonic chords stick out as unsettling. It would be easy as a performer to relay this feeling of hopelessness and uncertainty with this accompaniment because the melody is very exposed just like the person observing this scene. The accompaniment is strong and smooth while the melody is very soaring and at parts seems detached because of the large range covered by the singer.
If I were to perform this piece it would be crucial to breath and connect the phrases according to the text. Brahms helps this feeling of movement by carrying the line forward and forcing the singer to attach each thought rather than giving specific rests for breathing purposes. A good example of this is measures thirty-three through thirty-eight. The line, "When, O smiling image, which like rosy dawn through my sould shines, shall I find you on earth?" must all be delivered on the same breath or else it will not make sense. It would also be extremely distracting and draw away from the dramatic sadness of this line if the singer were to breath in the middle of the phrase. This connection also allows for a stronger entrance on the next line, " And the lonely tear trembles, burning, down my cheek." This phrase also prepares the audience for the climax of the piece in measures forty-four and forty-five. Most singers would chose to breath in the last beat of forty-four in preparation for the high g natural at the beginning of measure forty-five. I also would breath there in order to highlight the repetition of the word "heisser." However, this is not a phrase ending. It should be treated as a strong reiteration of the speakers melancholy existence. The fact that Brahms chooses this word as the climax of the piece proves that is it extremely important to keep the intensity even if the singer takes a breath. Another way Brahms helps continue this feeling through these two measures is the pull from the d sharp to the d natural and the g sharp to the g natural. So, automatically the audience is waiting for that high note in forty-five and should not be distracted by the breath that comes before it. This same pattern is foreshadowed in measures twenty-eight through thirty. These measures preapare the audience for a climax, but it does not happen. I would perform this as if the speaker is about to give up but then retreats back into her thoughts in order to truly express the despair she feels. In fact, Brahms chooses to end this phrase with I64 chord to continue the unsettling melancholy into the third verse. The postlude serves as a return to the monotony of the singer's mind. Also, by ending with a V42/V into a I the audience is left with a feeling of doubtful resolution. This cadence also brings to mind all of the unsettling I64 chords throughout the piece, and it makes the final cadence very bittersweet and almost unfulfilling because it is so sad. The image I have in my mind is of a lonely person in a dark street dissapearing into the shadows to dwell on their unhappiness.
This work is a supurb example of text painting, and the purpose of mixed mode chords. Brahms does not employ these aspects to jolt his audience, or to be shocking. He inserts them slyly to convey the feelings of the speaker. They also point out the important words realted to the feelings of the singer whereas these images may be lost without such a harmonization.

1 comment:

Scott said...

Very good discussion of performance issues. I'd like to see more details of the mixture chords, especially given your last paragraph. Give some examples to support your claim.