»Discovery of a Brahms-Bach adaptation«

A surprising discovery – performance of a Brahms-Bach adaptation
2013-09-02 | 13:00
Gächinger Kantorei & Bach College Stuttgart - Hans-Christoph Rademann Conductor
Cantata »I had much affliction« BWV 21  
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) revered the works of Johann Sebastian Bach. They were “stars of utmost magnitude“ for all his life. Brahms not only performed Bach’s piano pieces but also was inspired by Bach’s complete works for his own compositions. For instance The Cello Sonata No. 1 in E minor op. 38, whose first motifs correlate almost perfectly with the theme from Bach’s »Art of Fugue«. Or in the last movement of the 4th Symphony in E minor op. 98, of a Passacaglia-Chaconne to which Brahms was inspired by a Bach cantata. Brahms had a special relationship to Bach’s cantata works.
From 1872 to 1875 Brahms was concert director of the Society of Friends of Music in Vienna. At the beginning of the 19th Century Bach’s works had been forgotten as sentimental and virtuoso lyrical compositions were now „en vogue“. At his time Bach’s works were considered to be very scholarly due to the strict polyphonic form. These were only performed again due to the intervention of Mendelssohn Bartholdy. Brahms, who adapted works of other composers as well as his own, joined this movement.
The Neue Freie Presse wrote in a newspaper review 10th December 1873 :
»[…] It is one of many great merits of the concert conductor Brahms that he organized the performance of this choral (most probably not yet performed anywhere else) and one of the highest artistic achievements of our choir that he rose to this challenge so admirably […]«.
Brahms himself wrote in a letter dating from 1874 to the musicologist Philipp Spitta (1801-1859) about his preoccupation with Bach’s works: »For me these cantatas  […] were the most remarkable and enjoyable adventures in my concert life«.
A few weeks ago the Brahms researcher Robert Pascall (Nottingham) discovered a previously unknown Brahms adaptation dating from 1863 of the Bach cantata BWV 21 »I had much affliction« in the archives of the Vienna singing academy. This was performed for the first time since Brahms’ death at the MUSIKFESTUTTGART 2013 conducted by Hans-Christoph Rademann in cooperation with the Society of the Vienna Friends of Music and the Johannes-Brahms Complete Edition of the University of Kiel. In a symposium at the Stuttgart Fruchtkasten the cantatas were explained in detail not only with lectures by various musicologists but also with a facsimile exhibition. I found it exciting that this insight demonstrated quite clearly Brahms‘ method of working.
Brahms-Bach adaptations and performances:
   1864 Christmas Oratorio BWV 248
   1875 St. Matthew Passion BWV 244
   1879 Mass in B-minor BWV 232
   1880 Choral „What God does that is done well«
   between 1858-1875 five cantatas            
   »Christ lay in death's bonds«  BWV 4
   »Dearest God, when will I die?«  BWV 8
   »I had much affliction«  BWV 21
   »O eternal fire«  BWV 34
   »Now is come salvation and strength«  BWV 50



   right: Partitur Bach Cantata  BWV 4
   left: Brahms-Adaptation