Detailed Discussion: Brahms: Sappische Ode

This is a detailed discussion of a performance of Brahms’ song: Sapphische Ode
The discussion is based on recording by Thoomas Quasthoff
The discussion was developed with the aid of an OMS Profile,  see the following .
OMS Composite Score is:  412

[1] Primary impressions: Very emotional and intimate; direct (to the point); almost overwhelming in its intensity and richness; strong “identity”. Somewhat miraculous in how it achieves so much with so little. This work has a presence about it, individuality, “strength”. It sounds “important” (like an anthem or ode). It exudes “greatness”.

[2] However the way it achieves greatness is somewhat hidden from view.

The means to greatness is somewhat revealed in the OMS Profile – the Profile shows that the song provides a very wide variety of strong stimulation. But this fact is “hidden” in the sense that it would not be apparent to most listeners while they are hearing the piece (while listening to the song, it sounds more like “one thing” than “many things”).

However even after the OMS Profile is understood, there is still the amazement that Brahms could achieve such broad-ranging stimulation with apparently little material (3 lines of vocal melody, repeated once with just a little variation).

[3] The song grabs the listener’s attention in the first 5 notes of the melody (a phrase with great sweep, and a spectacular low note). If an OMS profile were done just on these 5 notes (as arranged by Brahms, sung by Quasthoff), it would show very rich stimulation. A partial list of stimuli for this brief phrase: Spatial, tonally rich, emotional, intimate, spiritual, high/low, tonality, lyrics, virtuosic, oddity, … and more.

[4] The poem by Hans Schmidt is intense, concentrated; and Brahms’ music is closely integrated with the poem. So the poem provides Brahms with structure (the song is modeled somewhat after the poem),  and it also provides considerable stimulation of its own as a foundation for the music.

Here is the text of the poem [Translation by Leonard Lehrman]

Roses from the dark hedge I plucked at night;
They breathed sweeter fragrance than ever during the day;
But the moving branches abundantly shed
The dew that showered me.
Thus your kisses’ fragrance enticed me as never before,
As at night I plucked the flower of your lips:
But you too, moved in spirit as they were,
Shed a dew of tears.

[5] The work is very thoroughly integrated. Although the stimulation is very broad, the song also operates almost as a single “mega-stimulus”.

[6] Additional effects or impressions: A suspension or alteration of time; wonder (at the craftsmanship; and at how the sources of greatness seem hidden from view); persistence; mildly though-provoking. A conservative work – the results are achieved not through new methods but through excellence of common techniques.