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 Hoelderlin, contrasting in its first part the blissful Greek Gods on Mt Olympus, and in its second, the miserable suffering of we mortals below.
Brahms discovered the poem in the summer of 1868 while visiting his friend Albert Dietrich on the shores of the North Sea. As Dietrich recalled, during one sea-side 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. The 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, conductorTelarc CD 80176
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