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Brahms, Nänie

Original Question
Looking for a good translation, but more important- explanation of the text
to Brahms Nänie. Suggestions anyone?
These are just translations:
>From many sources:
Translations and Annotations of Choral Repertoire
Volume II: German Texts
by Ron Jeffers and Gordon Paine
Pubished by earthsongs.

GARY D. CANNON. MUSICOLOGIST. Brahms and Young Death: The Inspiration of
Nänie. A composer.s sources of inspiration are generally many and
varied. For vocal works, one frequently need not...

When you search in the Musicanet database at
you will find the English translation.
The search must bring you here:

Henry Drinker "Texts of Brahms Choral Works" Old publication, but very
thorough. Go to liner notes
of practically any recent recording or old one for that matter. Or look
into Geiringer book on Brahms.
the Nanie is the German form of the Roman term noenia, a
funeral dirge that was sung by the parents upon the death of a child.
Brahms wrote it in in honor of his artist friend Anselm
Feuerbach, and dedicated it to Feuerbach's mother. The text focuses on
the aspect of remembrance as a healing force.
Here is my program note and translation of . You're welcome to
reprint either or both, giving credit as shown.

I've always loved this piece. Its rich Brahmsian textures and
harmonic writing strike me as a perfect language with which to memorialize
lost loved one. I enjoyed researching the (to me) obscure references and
learning more about classical myths and imagery in the process.

We enjoyed performing and recording in 1988 under Robert Shaw. Do

you know Brahms's similarly classical choruses and
? Rewarding too, but is the real gem.

Best wishes,
Nick Jones
Program Editor and Annotator
Atlatna Symphony Orchestra

Stanley Appelbaum has done a
translation, including explanations of the Gods,etc. in the Dover
volume that includes Nänie, Schicksalslied, Alto Rhapsody and Gesang
der Parzen.

Here are some program notes to save you some time is you would like to use
them. Our translation was in the choral score, but we searched for a
which I cannot put my mouse on right now. Hope these help. Best of luck
with your performance. I love that piece.

Charles W. Zwicki

Director of Music, Lake Forest Park Presbyterian Church
Magnolia Chorale, Seattle


The poem Nänie was written in 1799 by the German author Friedrich
a leading figure of German literature, not only poetry, but also as a
dramatist and writer of short stories and philosophical articles
German idealism. Brahms composed the music for Nänie in 1881 as a tribute

honoring his German artist friend, Anselm Feuerbach, who had recently
Many of Feuerbach´s paintings were scenes from classical antiquity--Greek

myths and philosophers.

Nänie means Song of Mourning; it laments the death of all things beautiful

or perfect. Schiller illustrated the idea that "Even beauty must perish"
with two stories from Greek mythology. Although he did not give names to
all the beings mentioned in the poem, we are able to identify them in the
stories, for they are well-known Greek myths.

The opening section mourns the death of Adonis, a beautiful young hero,
beloved of the goddess of love, Aphrodite. In an earlier myth, Zeus,
of all the gods including Hades, had allowed a loved one to leave the
underworld, but then he had cancelled his gift.* However, in the case of
Adonis, Zeus does not relent and Aphrodite is unable to heal the wounds
inflicted by a wild boar.

The closing section has to do with the perfect Achilles, son of the sea
nymph Thetis. Achilles dies in battle at the Scaean Gate, the main gate
Troy. Thetis rises from the sea with the other sea nymphs, singing a song

of lament at the loss of her son.

Schiller closed the poem with the observation that even though "Beauty
fade," and "the perfect must die;" nevertheless they are glorified because

of the songs of lamentation, for common ordinary people have no songs to
honor them.

* There is confusion about the myth referred to--Eros is mentioned only in

this translation (and not at all in the German); other translators omit
pleading of Eros."

Research on Schiller and Greek mythology involved in Nänie by
Louise Smith, 2001

Even Beauty must die!
That which subdues men and gods (beauty)
does not move the steely heart
of Stygian Zeus. (ruler of the gods)
Only once did Love touch Orpheus & Euridice
the ruler of the underworld,
and still on the threshold, sternly,
he recalled his gift.
Aphrodite does not tend Venus & Adonis (Aphrodite/Venus is

goddess of beauty)
the beautiful youth's wound,
torn by the savage bear
in his graceful body.
The immortal mother does not save Achilles (whose mother was

a naiad [or dryad -- can't keep those straight!])
the godly hero,
when, falling at the Scaean gate (at Troy)
he fulfills his destiny. (which was to die
of an arrow in the heel, the only vulnerable place on his body)
But she rises from the sea (where the naiads live)
with all the daughters of Nereus,
and the lament goes up
for the exalted son.
Behold, the gods weep
all the goddesses weep
that Beauty must fade,
that perfection must die.
[But] Even to be an elegy (Beauty dies, but at least

to be loved as a result is glorious)
in the mouth of the beloved is glorious,
for the ordinary
without song to Orcus descends. (to Hades, the place of the dead)

Best regards,

Jerome Hoberman
Music Director/Conductor
The Hong Kong Bach Choir & Orchestra


Thanks all,

Bob Eaton

on March 6, 2009 10:00pm
there is an error in the notes re orpheus, euridice and zeus