by Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) ,
from "Vier ernste Gesänge" (Four serious songs),op. 121 no. 3
O Tod, wie bitter bist du?
'See what violent words these are: 'for that which befalls man, befalls beasts,' and then in the fourth song, 'though I give my body to be burned'!" This was Johannes Brahms' comment, on the occasion of his first performance of his "Four Serious Songs" ("Vier Ernsten Gesänge") (Op. 121), for his Rhineland friends, at the Hager Hof estate in Bad Honnuf, in May 1896, as quoted by Gustav Ophüls in his Memories of Johannes Brahms. It was Pentacost, only a few days after the death of Clara Schumann, who had died on the twentieth of May.
"... It was more an intensified recitation of Biblical text in tones, which he gave us in his hoarse voice; and what we heard was entirely different than an art song. Since then, no singer, not even Meschaert himself, has been able to awaken the same mighty impression in me, which the improvised rendition of these songs by their creator made on me at that time. It was actually no different than if the prophet himself had spoken to us." Ophüls mentioned Brahms' shaking while performing the third song: "The third song, 'O death, how bitter thou art,' plainly gripped him so strongly during its delivery, that during the quiet close, 'O death, acceptable is thy sentence,' great tears rolled down his cheeks, and he virtually breathed these last words of the text, with a voice nearly choked with tears. I shall just never forget the moving impression of this song."
The "Four Serious Songs" were the last songs composed by Brahms, when he was 63 years old. He died less than a year later, on April 3, 1897. This song-cycle for bass voice and piano, which uses texts from the Old Testament, and the famous words of St. Paul to the Corinthians, has the character of a musical last will and testament by Brahms: "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels and have not charity [love, agape], I am become as a sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal," culminating in the exclamation, "But now abide faith, hope, and charity, these three, but the greatest of these is charity," (Opus 122, his very last compositions, are eleven organ chorale preludes, which Brahms completed in 1896.)
Visit below link for the rest of this article as an introduction to Brahms' "Vier ernste Gesänge".
O Tod, wie bitter bist du,
Wenn an dich gedenket ein Mensch,
Der gute Tage und genug hat
Und ohne Sorge lebet;
Und dem es wohl geht in allen Dingen
Und noch wohl essen mag!
O Tod, wie bitter bist du.
O Tod, wie wohl tust du dem Dürftigen,
Der da schwach und alt ist,
Der in allen Sorgen steckt,
Und nichts Bessers zu hoffen,
Noch zu erwarten hat!
O Tod, wie wohl tust du!
O death, how bitter is the remembrance of thee
to a man that is at peace in his possessions,
unto the man that hath nothing to distract him,
and hath prosperity in all things,
and that still hath strength
to receive meat!
O death, how biter is the remembrance of thee.
O death, how aceptable is thy sentence unto a man
that is needy and that faileth in strength,
that is in extreme old age, and is distracted in all things,
and that looks for no better lot,
nor waiteth on better days!
O death, how acceptable is thy sentence.