Funeral Song (Begräbnisgesang), Op. 13

Johannes Brahms composed his Burial Song (Begräbnisgesang, Op. 13) in 1858 while he was in the service of Prince Lippe-Detmold. It was during this period that he first started composing choral music and wrote his juvenile masterpiece, the Begräbnisgesang. The composition is thought to have been connected to the death of Schumann two years before. A curiously orchestrated instrumental ensemble, consisting of winds and tympani, accompanies the five-part choir. Brahms’s setting of Michael Weisse’s poem is archaising, attesting to his familiarity with the music of Schütz and Bach.

The structure of the piece follows the seven verses of the text. The start conjures up the image of a funeral procession. The louder dynamics of the second section indicates the coming of the Last Judgement, reaching its climax in fortissimo return of the opening melody in the third verse. In the middle section (verses 4–5–6) the key changes from the dramatic X minor to the C major, and the choir sound like a chorus of angels. The last verse brings us back to the reality of the funeral procession, as if the images of the Last Judgement and Heaven had been a figment of the imagination. The work ends on a positive note on a final C major chord, symbolising hope.

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