Trees A Combrink

“O kühler Wald” Op.72 No.3, (Fünf Gesänge 1877)

(Music: Johannes Brahms (1833-1897). Original Key A Flat Major.  Text:  Clemens Maria Wenzeslaus von Brentano (1778-1842) , no title, 1802, published 1844.

The Composer
A product of Brahms in maturity, the Op.72 set of 5 songs appeared 6 months after the triumphant premiere. The 44-year-old composer was living comfortably off publishers’ royalties. He kept a comfortable flat in Vienna and spent holidays in Italy. In over 380 songs he created a vast body of work in the genre only surpassed by Schubert. He had a deep love for Clara Schumann, the wife of his dearest friend Robert Schumann, but even after the sad demise and death of Robert in a mental asylum, this love was never consummated. The poet walking in the forest communing with the forest – the only creature that seems to understand and echo his songs, might as well be a prototype of Brahms himself.

The first performance of this song was given by Adele Assman in Breslau on October 22, 1878.

The Forest:
This song contains many of the elements of the preoccupations of Romanticism: an absent lover, a forest in which nature not only contains and reflects the emotional state of the protagonist, but almost seems to become a living, breathing, understanding character in itself. The echo in the forest even understands the songs of the poet, blown hither and thither, as they are. Brahms was known for his regular walks in the Black Forest where he claimed to have often conceived themes for his works – the Horn Trio is a famous example.

"Evening" - Kaspar David Friedrich

“Evening” – Kaspar David Friedrich

A snapshot of a remembered forest, rather than a vivid nature painting, the song opens with gently plodding crotchet chords, not even rooted firmly enough in reality to warrant a root-position. The moment the tonality is established, Brahms adds the major 6th, immediately placing it in the unhurried explorations of the emotional interior worlds encountered in the Wagner of the Wesendonck Lieder, the Nachtgesang from “Tristan und Isolde” and the Mahler of the closing pages of “Das Lied von der Erde”. The beloved is long-gone or long-dead. The forest might not even exist anymore. But this is not the sickly suicidal torment of French Romanticism of Hugo or Flaubert, nor the threatening home of evil spirits such as the Erl-king or the Irrlicht of Schubert’s “Winterreise”. There is no drama or raging resentment in this forest.

If anything, there is a sense of “Waldeinsamkeit” – that almost untranslatable German word that seems to crop up in all study of German Lieder:


The Song
The slow tempo of the song (Langsam), is stretched to its limits between the two verses: enharmonic changes and the longest sustained note-values seem to suspend time as the poet examines the depth of his emotions:

Brahms O Kuhler Wald

Verse 2 varies the accompaniment by turning the chords of the opening harmony into slow, rumbling broken chords, at once providing momentum and the movement of undergrowth rustling in the wind, and simultaneously rooting the plants strongly enough in the Black Forest soil so that no storm or natural calamity can destroy the peace. In fact, the most dramatic “tone-painting” in the poem seems to occur at the end, where Brahms chooses to repeat the poet’s words, which describe how the songs have long since dissipated in the wind. Brahms lengthens the 3/2 time signature right at the end, to a lazier, disjointed and timeless 4/2. The final chords have an extraordinary visual effect as well. It is conclusively, THE END.

The Text:

“O kühler Wald” Op. 72 No.3  (Johannes Brahms) Text / Lyrics by Clemens von Brentano (1778 – 1842) in German

O kühler Wald,
Wo rauschest du,
In dem mein Liebchen geht?
O Widerhall,
Wo lauschest du,
Der gern mein Lied versteht?

Im Herzen tief,
Da rauscht der Wald,
In dem mein Liebchen geht,
In Schmerzen schlief
Der Widerhall,
Die Lieder sind verweht.

“O kühler Wald” Op. 72 No.3  (Johannes Brahms) Text / Lyrics by Clemens von Brentano (1778 – 1842) in English (Translated by Albert Combrink)

O cool forest,
Where do you rustle,
In whom my darling walks?
O echo,
Where do you listen,
Who understands my song so well?

In the depth of my heart
There rustles the forest
In which my darling walks;
In pain sleeps
the echo;
The songs have been blown away

The sheet Music:

Download Free Sheet Music of  Fünf Gesänge 1877 by Johannes Brahms, a set of 5 songs of which the third is “O kühler Wald” Op. 72 No.3, in the original key of  A Flat Major:
Brahms 5 Songs op.72 (Complete Set)

Download Free Sheet Music of  “O kühler Wald” Op. 72 No.3, (Fünf Gesänge 1877) by Johannes Brahms in B Flat Major:
Brahms Op.72 No.3Bflat


See below a phonetic pronunciation chart below taken from:
Paton, John Glenn, ed., “Gateway to German Lieder: An Anthology of German Song and interpretation, Volume 2”, Alfred  Music Publishing, 2000, P.146
O Kuhler Wald (Brahms) Phonetic

About the Poet Clemens Brentano:

Clemens Brentano, (born Sept. 9, 1778, Ehrenbreitstein, near Koblenz, died July 28, 1842, Aschaffenburg, Bavaria) German poet, novelist, and dramatist. He was one of the founders of the Heidelberg Romantic school, which emphasized German folklore and history. With his brother-in-law Achim von Arnim, he published Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Youth’s Magic Horn), a collection of German folk lyrics (including successful imitations of folk style) that became an important inspiration to lyric poets and composers such as Gustav Mahler. Among his most successful works are his fairy tales, particularly Gockel, Hinkel and Gackeleia (1838). The greater part of his poetic works remained unpublished during his lifetime and was published (with this poem amongst them) only after his death, by his sister, Emilie Brentano.