Composers Datebook®

Premiere of Brahms' 'Schicksalslied'

Composer's Datebook - October 18, 2023


On today’s date in 1871, Hermann Levi conducted the premiere of a new choral work by Johannes Brahms titled Schicksalslied, or Song of Destiny. It’s a setting of a poem by Friedrich Hölderlin, contrasting in its first part the blissful Greek gods on Mount Olympus and in its second the miserable suffering of we mortals below.

Brahms discovered the poem in summer 1868 while visiting his friend Albert Dietrich on the shores of the North Sea. As Dietrich recalled, during one seaside stroll: “Brahms, usually so lively, was quiet and grave. Earlier that morning (he was always an early riser), he had found Hölderlin’s poems in my bookcase and was deeply impressed. Later on, some of us were lounging by the sea, when we saw Brahms a long way off sitting by himself on the shore writing.”

Brahms originally planned to repeat the blissful opening words of the poem as the ending of his setting, but that didn’t ring true to the poem. He was stuck. Conductor Hermann Levi suggested a solution: Repeat the serene opening music, yes, but as a wordless, instrumental-only close.

Brahms had his solution, and, as a reward, Levi his premiere.

Music Played in Today's Program

Johannes Brahms (1833 – 1897) Schicksalslied (Song of Destiny) - Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus; Robert Shaw, conductor Telarc CD 80176

On This Day


  • 1706 - Italian composer Baldassare Galuppi, in Burano, near Venice;

  • 1924 - Norwegian composer Egil Hovland, in Mysen, near Oslo;

  • 1961 - Jazz trumpeter and composer Wynton Marsalis in New Orleans;


  • 1545 - English composer and organist John Taverner, age 55, in Boston, England;

  • 1817 - French composer Etienne Méhul, age 54, in Paris;

  • 1893 - French composer Charles Gounod, age 75, in St. Cloud;


  • 1873 - Brahms: String Quartet in a, Op. 51, no. 2, in Berlin by the Joachim Quartet;

  • 1887 - Brahms: Double Concerto in a, Op. 102, in Cologne, by the Gürzenich Orchestra, with Joseph Joachim (violin), Robert Hausemann (cello), and the composer conducting;

  • 1881 - Tchaikovsky: Serenade for Strings (Gregorian date: Oct. 30);

  • 1882 - Tchaikovsky: Piano Trio, Op. 50 (Gregorian date: Oct. 30);

  • 1904 - Mahler: Symphony No. 5, in Cologne, by the Gürzenich Orchestra, with the composer conducting;

  • 1923 - Prokofiev: Violin Concerto No. 1, in Paris, at a concert conducted by Serge Koussevitsky, with Marcel Darrieux, the concertmaster of Koussevitzky's orchestra, as the soloist; At this same concert, Igor Stravinsky leads members of the orchestra in the premiere of his Octet for Winds;

  • 1943 - Jerome Moross: Symphony No. 1, by the Seattle Symphony, Sir Thomas Beecham conducting;

  • 1946 - Copland: Symphony No. 3 (in memory of Mme. Natalie Koussevitzky), by the Boston Symphony conducted by Serge Koussevitzky;

  • 1953 - Stravinsky: "Preludium" for Jazz Ensemble, at an "Evenings on the Roof" concert in Los Angeles, with Robert Craft conducting;

  • 1957 - Creston: "Toccata" for orchestra, by the Cleveland Orchestra;

  • 1958 - Harald Saeverud: "Minnesota Symphony," by the Minneapolis Symphony. Antal Dorati conducting;

  • 1981 - Pierre Boulez: "Répons" for 30 instruments and electronics, at the Donaueschingen Festival of Contemporary Music in West Germany;

  • 1984 - Harrison Birtwistle: "Secret Theatre" for chamber ensemble, in London at Queen Elisabeth Hall, by the London Sinfonietta, David Atherton conducting;

  • 1990 - Elisabetta Brusa: “Nittemero Symphony,” by the London Chamber Orchestra, Odaline de la Martinez conducting;

  • 2000 - Lukas Foss: "Solo Transformed" for piano and orchestra, in Minneapolis by Peter Serkin with the Minnesota Orchestra, Eiji Oue conducting;


  • 1739 - Handel completes in London his Concerto Grosso in c, Op. 6, no. 8 (Gregorian date: Oct. 29);

  • 1961 - premiere of United Artists film "West Side Story," based on the musical by Leonard Bernstein.

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

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