Edited by Joachim Draheim. Breitkopf
Brahms was beset, not to say besotted, by the problems of damsels in distress, especially when deserted. This seems to he a personal preoccupation, transcending the Romantic tradition; perhaps it derives in part from his Düsseldorf days of caring for Clara and the children after Schumann’s “delivery into a clinic”, to cite the sub-standard translation of the editor’s excellent preface. Here is a new song on the same old theme. There is no doubt of its authenticity; one wonders what other holdings still remain to be prised out of private hands.
The surviving 22-bar fragment appears on the verso of an autograph copy, made for Louise Japha, of the song Liebe und Frühling II, dated July 1853. That manuscript was seen by Florence May (Brahms, 1905, i, 146), who either failed to realize that the song had stayed unpublished or else chose to respect its pencilled deletion mark, probably also autograph. Like Liebestreu and Lied aus ‘Ivan’ it treats the betrayed-maid tragedy in a sombre and agitated E flat minor. Even Brahms must have felt that two such songs would suffice for the time being, especially since similar semitonally sighing strains and stresses resound in the Sonatensatz for violin and piano, also from 1853. So he too seems to have abandoned Die Müllerin, which now contains only Chamisso's first quatrain plus the next word.
But the music is predictable in every sense; and its structure would no doubt have been strophic, as the editor suggests. The given bars can be performed four times to fit the poem, with the prelude used again for an extended postlude. There is thus no need for new material; so perhaps the title-page should have read “repeated” rather than “completed” by Joachim Draheim. This is not to cavil at the outcome, indeed it is hard to see how the 22 Brahms bars could have been repeated better. Unfortunately the first verse was already a musical image of moan and monotony, with its own insistent repetitions of a rhythmic figure which is now heard unchanged for nearly 90 bars, including some 50 of typical tonic pedal, with 50 syncopated accents on a mid-bar C flat.
There is some relief in the memorably wistful prolongation of an otherwise rather formular melody, to match the fourth line “da weinet die Müllerin”; but even this agreeable effect is notably less apt in the other three verses. So not everyone will share the editor's surprise that the song remained unpublished and perhaps unfinished, or his enthusiasm for this “particularly expressive early example” of the 20-year-old composer’s lied technique. But it is well worth knowing: and all keen Brahmsians will be grateful for this edition of his only Chamisso solo setting.
Though it will no doubt “remain unclear where Brahms obtained the poem”, since his own library had no Chamisso, his likeliest source was surely, as for many another early song, Schumann’s well-stocked bookshelves in Düsseldorf. They could have furnished not only Chamisso’s Gedichte but the obscure 1820 almanack Moosrosen, which contained a Rückert lyric set by Schumann as well as the first appearance in print of Die Müllerin. Thus the second and quite different Brahms setting of that poem (n. 5 of the op. 44 set, dated 1859-66 in The New Grove, for female voice quartet with piano ad lib) might well also have been written c1853 with its source ready to hand and its subject matter much in mind. A small detail: in performing the present version it seems more sensible to sing “sauset” in bar 8 than the admittedly autograph “saus't” since the former scans better and is also what the poet actually wrote.
The Musical Times, Sept., 1984 (p. 509) © the estate of eric sams