Johannes Brahms

Choral prelude and fugue for organ ("O Traurigkeit, O Herzeleid"), WoO 7

    Description by John Palmer

    From their first meeting in May 1853, Brahms and internationally famous violinist Joseph Joachim (1831-1907) became the best of friends. For several years the two collaborated on the study of composition, orchestration, and counterpoint, and Joachim's string quartet played through some of Brahms' chamber music. Brahms wrote many of his counterpoint exercises at the organ, creating Baroque-style compositions based on hymn melodies.

    While in Düsseldorf in 1856, visiting Clara Schumann, Brahms composed the Prelude and Fugue on "O Traurigkeit, O Herzeleid" for organ in A minor, WoO. 7. Of the four known works that appeared at this time, only two were published by Brahms during his life: the Prelude and Fugue on "O Traurigkeit" and the Fugue in A flat minor, published in 1882 and 1864, respectively. The other two are Preludes and Fugues in A minor (dedicated to Clara Schumann) and G minor, printed together in 1927.

    Brief organ interludes separate each phrase of the chorale during the "O Traurigkeit" Prelude, in which the highest and lowest voices are in 4/4 meter, while the central, accompanimental, voice moves in 12/8. The metric disparity is apparent in only a few spots, making it all the more effective. A continuous flow in the middle register creates a forward motion that stops, somewhat abruptly, on A major. Immediately returning to A minor, the Fugue subject is derived from the second, third and fourth notes of the "O Traurigkeit" tune and is used freely in each of its first three entrances in what is really a three-voice fugue, the pedal part of which never contains the subject. Brahms' abandonment of strict Baroque fugue practice is evident from the beginning as the second voice enters with an inversion of the subject, not the original form.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Prelude
    2. Fugue

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2016 Brilliant Classics 95310BR
    2016 Regent REGCD 484
    2015 Bayard Musique / Studio SM D 3170
    2012 TYX Art TXA 12012
    2012 Lawo Classics LWC 1023
    2009 DG Deutsche Grammophon 477 818-3
    2009 Centaur Records CRC2996
    2009 Tudor Records 790
    2009 Regent 221
    2009 Pro Organo 7235
    2008 Thorofon / Zebralution
    2008 Regent 198
    2008 Brilliant Classics 93554
    2007 Jav / JAV Recordings JAV170
    2007 Gothic Records 49255
    2004 OrganArts 4002
    2003 Raven 610
    2001 Pro Organo 7060
    1998 Thorofon DCTH 2385
    1998 Simax 1137
    1996 MDG 3170137
    1996 DG Deutsche Grammophon 449 623-2GJB9
    1995 Motette 10711
    1994 BIS 479
    1994 Naxos 550824
    1992 Nimbus 5262
    Universal Music 109378
    Brilliant Classics 93554/60
    Pavane 7315