Brahms – Nanie, for Chorus and Orchestra, Op. 82 (1882)

by Max Derrickson

Johannes Brahms (1833 – 1897)

Nanie, for Chorus and Orchestra, Op. 82 (1882)

[. . .]
Of  Brahms’ professed agnosticism his friend Antonin Dvorak proclaimed “Such a great man, such a great soul, but he believes in nothing.”  Therefore in these two works, Nanie and Schicksalslied, Brahms chooses poems which echo the struggle of Man on earth, and which imply the nothingness beyond death, to which Man’s only comfort is, as given in Nanie, “Even to be an elegy in the mouth of the beloved is glorious, for the ordinary goes down unsung to Orcus.”

Nanie was composed between 1881 and 1882 after the death of  Brahms’ friend the painter Anselm Feuerbach.  The text was written by the great German poet Friederich von Schiller.  The poem is, as Brahms’ biographer stated, a “[characteristic] hypertrophy of mythological allusion.”  It speaks of Euridice, brought back from the grave but having a second chance revoked at the last minute, of Adonis, killed by a wild boar, and of Achilles and his tragic fate.

[. . .] As the chords progress in reprise, the leading tone C# is flattened to C natural, and this opens the door to the hollowness, mystery, and darkness of the heart’s reaction to divine indifference.  It is one of the most breathtaking effects that Brahms had ever penned.

Nanie (Friederich von Schiller, Translation: Friedel Becker)

Even Beauty must Die!
That which subdues men and gods
does not move
the steely heart of Stygian Zeus.
Only once did love touch [. . .]