Music Note:
Beautiful Brahms
2 November 2018

¶ Now that I have the Liebeslieder scores, all I want to do is to listen to the music with the book in hand. Published by Peters, it’s a beautiful book — big, clearly printed, and so handsome that it’s almost musical itself. The rather heavy, old-fashioned type on the cover is offset by background of mint greens that couldn’t be nicer to look at. 

Although I know the music by heart, I know it as a flat panel of sound. Although I hear inner voices, I don’t always know where they’re coming from (or where they’re going), and I don’t recognize patterns as quickly with my ear as I do with my eye. (Which may be why audiobooks are not for me.) For example, take the first two lines of Nº 4 of the first set — the song I was craziest about when first heard this music, fifty years ago.

Wie des Abends schöne röte
Möcht ich, arme Dirne, glühn.

There is a pattern here that I didn’t grasp until had the score in front of me. There are five words of two syllables in these lines, and the first syllable of  each of these words is slurred over two notes, the second a tone below the first. The second syllables of the three words in the first line are also set to that second note — a perfect lilting waltz, (Abends and schöne are set to the same three notes, A’s followed by two G’s.) The two two-syllable words in the second line are treated in the same general way as to the first syllable, but the drops are half-tones. The third notes do not repeat the second, but link the words in a minor-mode melodic chain that not only continues the lilt but expresses the sadness of the “poor girl” who, as the third and fourth lines tell us, only wants to find a man to please. The variation on the pattern subtly but unmistakably marks the difference between the serenely setting sun and the unfulfilled damsel. I was aware of all this musically, but it was locked into my musical awareness; I couldn’t have spoken of it. But I saw it right away. 

That’s why I read scores.

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