Chorus & Orchestra ~ Brahms


Understanding Nanie for Chorus and Orchestra

Nanie for Chorus & Orchestra was a composition made by Johannes Brahms in memory of his late friend Anselm Feuerbach. It was composed in 1881 and the word Nanie is a German term for the Latin Nenia which means a funeral song. This composition was made as a lamentation on how death is inevitable and how it does not spare anyone no matter how beautiful they are. The song takes about fifteen minutes to perform on average. It was one of the most rarely performed pieces by Brahms as it is very difficult to perform. It is only performed by very experienced choirs that have the ability to perform it in an almost perfect way. There is no other way to it other than perfection.
In this composition, Brahms exhibited agnosticism which was highlighted by his friend Antonin Dvorak referring to him as a great man who had a great soul but he believed in nothing. Brahms also used poems in his works to echo a man’s struggle while on earth and also to show the emptiness after death. He states that being an elegy is glorious for an ordinary man goes unsung to Orcus in the Nanie for chorus & orchestra.

The text of the composition was written by a great German poet called Friedrich von Schiller. The said poem was described by Brahms’ biographer as a “hypertrophy of mythological allusion”. It referred to various famous instances like that of Euridice being brought back from his grave and having his shot at a second chance nullified at the last minute. It further talks about Adonis whose life was ended by a wild boar and about the tragic fate of Achilles.

As the chords of the composition progress in reprise, the C# which forms the leading tone gets flattened to a C natural. This then leads to the hollowness, darkness and mystery of the reaction by the heart to the divine indifference. This breathtaking effect was one of the best penned by Brahms. It remains unknown where Brahms got this extraordinary idea of composing a requiem that was non-liturgical. It was unique as it did not connect to any influence from any church. It is three fold in that it was a dedication to those bereaved, consolation for humanity and also to serve as a prayer for the dead.
Brahms used a dark somber tone at the beginning avoiding cellos, violas and basses which gradually join in to form a sighing opening melody. There is also a three note cell that acts as the unifying motif throughout the entire work. Although the music was meant to be solemn, it also brings out an expression of sweetness which is veiled by the mourning. There are several established musical compositions of Nanie, some of which include the following:


  •  Alto Rhapsody,
  •  Gesang der Parzen, and
  •  Shicksalslied Song of Fate.

Nanie for Chorus & Orchestra

From the information above, a person can clearly comprehend the history and composition by Brahms and the factors that led to the creation of the master piece of Nanie for chorus & orchestra.