Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele, Op. 122, #5
by Johannes Brahms [playing time 1:30, 1.38 MB]  [Download the MP3]

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)

Exemplifying the tortured - or one might say neurotic - artist, Brahms struggled relentlessly over his works, ever striving to reach (and, in his opinion, falling short of) the achievements of Beethoven, whom he revered. He revised his works endlessly, sometimes after their public premieres (as with his Symphony #1), and we will never hear the many works destroyed by the composer's own hand.

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Johann Crüger's venerable Schmücke dich has been used as the basis for marvelous chorales by many composers. It remains in use today (e.g., #339 in the Episcopal Hymnal 1982). Brahms chose this tune among ten others for the last composition of his life: the Eleven Chorale Preludes, Opus 122, written in late 1896 and published posthumously in 1902.

The setting here hearkens back to the Baroque, in three voices, with the gently weaving contrapuntal lines underscoring the melody. This is a lovely piece for general use during the offering or Communion at a church service.

Listen here for Crüger's melody in the soprano, played by the Yamaha S-80 grand piano and a very soft choir, and the Edirol SD-90's oboe. Guitars play the accompaniment, projecting Brahms's quietly joyful lines that capture so well the essence of the text:


Deck thyself, my soul, with gladness,

leave the gloomy haunts of sadness.

Come into the daylight's splendor;

there with joy thy praises render

unto Christ, whose grace unbounded

hath this wondrous banquet founded.

High o'er all the heavens he reigneth,

yet to dwell with thee he deigneth.

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