A few weeks ago I got a sudden urge to listen to a Brahms motet I had sung about a thousand times before, first in my college chorus and then in a chamber choir. I've given a great deal of thought to the question of what one piece of music I'd bring to a desert island, and this is it. (Sorry, Bach, Carlebach, and The Beatles. I still love you.) In just about six minutes, Schaffe in mir (here's a nice performance by a college choir from the Philippines) conveys just about every single human emotion: contentment, anticipation, discovery, despair, doubt, excitement, ecstasy. I also love Brahms because Brahms loved me--well, not personally, but he clearly luxuriated in female voices, particularly altos. He knew how to write melodies for us, substantial, womanly lines rather than our all-too-frequent "sing an A for as long as you can to support those beautiful sopranos, and then switch to C on the last chord, you lucky people." That is, when we're not holding up entire middle with complex harmonies no one hears because the basses are too loud. I never tire of singing Brahms, even with all the fast and crunchy German. (A language I took up in my senior year of college mainly because I wanted to do greater justice to this composer.)
But I couldn't find Schaffe in mir on any of my CDs or MP3s. I did, however, rediscover a recording of Liebeslieder Waltzes, my second-favorite Brahms piece, which is like a long, lusty, loudly whispered conversation between two lovers as they race hand in hand down cobble-stoned streets, knocking over all the other bustling townspeople in the process. (Here are two of them--the whole cycle is about a half hour long.) I miss being in a chorus where we can breathe together after laughing about nightingales, but listening was almost as satisfying. And hearing Liebeslieder Waltzes made me want to practice chanting, which also challenges me to string together words I only half understand with as much spirit and joy as a choir singing about rum and love. The language, culture, and delivery are very different, but we both dance--the peasant racing urgently from tavern to tavern looking for his lover, and me in place, with decorum, the yad grasping the words on the scroll and pushing my eyes from one to the next faster than my mouth can articulate.