Tablet - Portrait

Tablet - Landscape


Johannes Brahms

Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Magic Horn of Youth), an anthology of German folk poetry put together during the first decade of the nineteenth century, was, famously, one of Gustav Mahler's favorite text sources; it might come as a shock to some to learn that probably the world's most famous lullaby, Johannes Brahms' Wiegenlied, Op. 49, No. 4, of 1868, takes its text, or half of it anyway, from that same imposing volume. This is a Lied that really needs no introduction. Few indeed are those who will not immediately recognize its tune (though recognizing its composer may well be another matter), who have not either sung it to a child or had it sung to them as a child, who have not run across one of the thousands upon thousands of music-boxes that play the song's melody when opened. The only other lullaby that can compare in international fame is Schubert's Wiegenlied, D. 498.

The first stanza of the Brahms Wiegenlied's text is, as mentioned, drawn from Des Knaben Wunderhorn. The second was written to match the first by Georg Scherer in 1849. Brahms sets each of these six-line stanzas to the same music. How wonderful and, for all the times we've heard it, still remarkable is the way that the melody's gentle upward groping -- suggesting a child looking up out of the cradle -- is expanded to a full octave at the end of each musical strophe! The touch, seemingly inevitable, is masterful.