Johannes Brahms

Alto Rhapsody, for alto, male chorus & orchestra, Op. 53

    Description by Rovi Staff

    Brahms composed the Alto Rhapsody, Op. 53 (1869) as a wedding gift for Julie Schumann, the daughter of Robert and Clara Schumann, who was for a time the object of the composer's affections. Forced to abandon his undeclared love upon her engagement to another man, Brahms sublimated his grief in this work for alto, male chorus, and orchestra. Shortly after completing the work, Brahms showed it to Clara Schumann, prompting her to write in her diary, "A few days ago Johannes showed me a wonderful work.... He called it his bridal song. It is long since I have received so profound an impression; it shook me by the deep-felt grief of its words and music." The Alto Rhapsody was first performed in Jena on March 3, 1870 of the same year.

    The text consists of three stanzas from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Harzreise im Winter (Harz Mountain Journey in Winter); together they make for a self-contained poetic and dramatic unit in which desolation gives way to the possibility of consolation. Brahms set each of the stanzas differently. The first, which introduces the wanderer's plight, receives the freest, most rhapsodic musical treatment; the fragmented voice part never repeats an idea, and there is a sense of aimless resignation. Significantly, it seems that the first lines of the first stanza were the last measures Brahms composed; the text "Who is that in the distance? His path is obscured in the thicket...." may indeed have encapsulated the composer's own feelings.

    The second section, marked by a faster tempo and more agitated rhythm, becomes an intense plea for pity on behalf of the lost wanderer: Is there to be no consolation for him? Brahms organized the second stanza along the lines of a da capo aria; the first lines of the stanza return at the end with the same melody and an only slightly modified accompaniment.

    The chorus makes its first appearance in the third stanza, which takes the form of a simple, hymn-like song. The warm harmonies of the chorus and the straightforward phrases are indeed a balm for the first two stanzas; perhaps the wanderer will indeed find hope and consolation. Though they begin homophonically, the alto's solo and the four choir parts eventually gain some measure of independence; the overall effect is that of a duet for alto and choir. Aside from a few flirtations with flat keys, the music remains in C major throughout.

    The Alto Rhapsody has remained one of Brahms' most popular and successful works; the sincerity of its sentiment and the universality of its plea for future contentment have given it a timeless quality that transcends its occasional inspiration.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Aber abseits, wer ist's?
    2. Ach, wer heilet die Schmerzen
    3. Ist auf einem Psalter

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2018 Münchner Philharmoniker 793052112875
    2018 BIS BIS 2319
    2018 Warner Classics 566890
    2018 Deutsche Grammophon
    2018 Warner Classics 9029569020
    2017 LPO LPO 1010
    2016 Phaedra PH 92091
    2016 Profil - Edition Günter Hänssler PH 13037
    2016 Decca / Philips 4788977
    2015 Deutsche Grammophon
    2015 Deutsche Grammophon 4794220
    2015 Sony Classical 88843072592
    2015 Deutsche Grammophon B002346910
    2014 Praga PRDDSD 350109
    2014 Newton Classics 8802103
    2014 Urania / Urania Records WS 121232
    2014 RCA Red Seal 88843006072
    2013 EMI Classics
    2013 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099940433820
    2013 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099990377
    2013 Deutsche Grammophon 4791046
    2012 Naxos 8572694
    2012 Decca
    2012 Decca 4783589
    2012 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099967813124
    2012 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099963565
    2012 Out Here / Phi LPH 003
    2012 Regis RRC 4011
    2011 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099902698
    2011 EMI Classics
    2011 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099909471
    2010 Deutsche Grammophon
    2010 Decca
    2010 Tudor Records 7167
    2010 Deutsche Grammophon
    2010 Guild 2354
    2010 Ars Musici 232310
    2010 Deutsche Grammophon 449 829-2GH3
    2010 Preiser Records 93456
    2010 Philips
    2009 Virgin Classics 6932282
    2009 Virgin Classics
    2009 Deutsche Grammophon 477 818-3
    2009 Soli Deo Gloria 703
    2008 Deutsche Grammophon 4356832
    2008 EMI Classics 5627422
    2008 EMI Music Distribution 3615942
    2008 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099920808
    2008 Brilliant Classics 93554
    2008 Decca 4756060
    2008 BBC Legends 42432
    2008 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099951760
    2008 Virgin Classics 502717
    2007 Urania 328
    2007 Orfeo 748071
    2007 Philips 4429788
    2007 Urania URN 22312
    2007 Preiser Records 89678
    2007 West End Records 892
    2006 EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics 0946365229
    2006 EMI Classics
    2006 Andromeda 5066
    2006 EMI Classics
    2006 EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics 0946361596
    2006 Haenssler 98228
    2005 Erato
    2005 EMI Classics
    2005 EMI Music Distribution 68655
    2005 Virgin Classics 61360
    2005 EMI Classics
    2005 EMI Classics
    2005 Erato
    2005 Penta Tone 186045
    2005 Edition HERA 2107
    2005 Philips 4756353
    2005 Urania 926
    2005 EMI Classics
    2004 Virgin Classics 45702
    2004 Chandos 10215
    2004 EMI Music Distribution 62760
    2004 EMI Music Distribution 62792
    2003 APR (Appian) 5579
    2003 Ais / Gala Records 7700012
    2003 Deutsche Grammophon 4744002
    2002 Deutsche Grammophon 471443
    2002 Concerto Royale 206215
    2002 D Classics 70541
    2002 Decca 4702542
    2002 Haenssler 94008
    2002 Virgin 62081
    2002 Living Stage 35146
    2002 EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics 7243575069
    2001 Urania 170
    2001 Deutsche Grammophon 469124
    2001 Avid Records 708
    2000 Urania 138
    2000 Dutton Laboratories CDK1210
    2000 Supraphon 3417
    2000 Ars Musici 1280
    1999 Haenssler 91112
    1999 Biddulph Recordings 150
    1999 Orfeo 500991
    1999 Forlane 16671
    1999 Deutsche Grammophon 439887
    1999 Angel Records 67029
    1999 Golden Melodram 40039
    1999 Danacord 301
    1998 Deutsche Grammophon 459054
    1998 Virgin 61469
    1998 Deutsche Grammophon 459071
    1998 Vocal Archives 1169
    1997 Deutsche Grammophon
    1997 Haenssler 98134
    1995 Capriccio Records 10600
    1995 ZYX Music 4185
    1995 Virgin 561226-2
    1995 Philips 442120
    1995 Sony Classical 64469
    1995 Preiser Records 89027
    1995 Reference Recordings 67
    1994 Philips 438760
    1993 Pearl 9405
    1992 London 433802
    1992 Decca / London 433477
    1992 Decca
    1991 Deutsche Grammophon 435 066-2GGA
    1990 Telarc Distribution 80176
    1990 Deutsche Grammophon
    1990 Philips 426253
    1990 RCA 7911
    1989 Deutsche Grammophon 427643
    1989 Decca / London
    1988 Stradivarius 10007
    1984 Orfeo 25821
    As Disc 621
    Arkadia 764
    Originals 840
    Decca 430281
    EMI Music Distribution 575722
    EXL 4272
    Brilliant Classics 93554/36
    EMI Music Distribution 69650
    Arts Archives 430582
    D Classics 705422
    EMI Music Distribution 4594
    Virgin 45006
    Musical Heritage Society 544604Z
    RCA Victor 61201
    Legend 121
    Deutsche Grammophon 431261
    Pro-Arte Records 3447