Two Songs for Voice, Viola and Piano, Op. 91, were composed by Johannes Brahms for his friends Joseph Joachim and his wife Amalie. The full title is Zwei Gesange fur eine Altstimme mit Bratsche und Klavier (Two songs for an alto voice with viola and piano). The text of the first song, "Gestillte Sehnsucht" (Longing at rest), is a poem by Friedrich Ruckert, composed in 1884. The text of the second, "Geistliches Wiegenlied" (Sacred lullaby) was written by Emanuel Geibel after Lope de Vega, and set to music in 1863. They were published together in 1884.
The celebrated violinist Joachim, who also played viola, married Amalie Schneeweiss in 1863. She appeared as a contralto singer under the stage name Amalie Weiss. Both were friends of Brahms, who composed the song "Geistliches Wiegenlied" for the occasion of their wedding; he withdrew it but sent it again a year later for the baptism of their son, named Johannes after Brahms. Probably in 1884, Brahms revised the song and added the setting of Ruckert's poem, beginning "In goldnen Abendschein getauchet". It was again intended for the couple, but this time to help their troubled marriage.
Brahms announced to his publisher Simrock in a letter from August 1884 that he would send "einige Kleinigkeiten fur Gesang" (a few small pieces to be sung) to be published, Opp. 91?95. The first public performance was on 30 January 1885 in Kammermusiksoiree (Evening of chamber music) in Krefeld, on the occasion of the Stiftungsfeier of the Singverein. The singer was contralto Auguste Hohenschild, the violist Alwin von Beckerath, and the composer played the piano.
1. Gestillte Sehnsucht 鎮められたあこがれ 作品91-1
The first song, composed much later than the second, is a setting of three stanzas from Ruckert's poem of the same name in four stanzas, published first in 1816 in Jugendlieder (Youth Songs) in the second volume of his works.
The poem begins "In gold'nen Abendschein getauchet, wie feierlich die Walder stehn!" ("Immersed in golden evening glow, how solemnly the woods stand.") Each stanza is in six lines, rhyming ababcc. The first stanza remains a description of a peaceful evening, asking what the winds and the birds whisper, and giving the answer: they whisper the world into slumber. The second stanza mentions wishes and longing, and asks the wind and the birds to make them slumber as well. The third stanza, not set by Brahms, alludes in more images from nature to the longing. In the final stanza, the speaker admits that it is his (or her) personal longing ("mein Geist", my spirit) which will end only when life ends: "Dann lispeln die Winde, die Vogelein mit meinem Sehnen mein Leben ein." ("Then the winds, the birds will whisper to an end, with my longing, my life.")
Ruckert's poem about nature and yearning was appealing to Brahms, who returned to Baroque practices for the setting, not only the obbligato instrument, but also a da capo form, with a contrasting middle section. It illustrates the restless desires ("sonder Rast und Ruh") in an excited minor section. The third stanza is a recapitulation of the first.