Tom Strini
This Week at the MSO

German Fest 2, Gaudeamus baby!

By - Jan 27th, 2011 04:00 am
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If you can believe operetta — and what’s left if you can’t? — 19th-century student life in Germany went a little like this:

Which brings us to Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture, which the Milwaukee Symphony and music director Edo de Waart will take up in concerts Friday through Sunday (Jan. 28-30).

Brahms composed it in 1880 for the occasion of the University of Breslau bestowing upon him an honorary doctorate. Brahms, at 47, had just entered a long period of renown. The doctorate was one of many such achievement awards for Brahms, who never attended a university but was widely read and profoundly self-educated.

A life-long interest in German folk songs meant that he was well-acquainted with student songs. Choral and informal group singing was part of student life in those days, and it went beyond drinking. Brahms cannily decided to delight the students of Breslau by working in songs they sang all the time. It would be a little like Edo de Waart turning around at the concert this weekend and crying, “Go Packers!”

Brahms, at the height of his powers, did more than merely string together four student songs. He wove them into a sophisticated two-part form, with an exposition that winds through three keys. Whirlwind polyphony abounds, the recapitulation takes breathtaking developmental turns, and the whole thing builds to the grandeur of Gaudeamus Igitur, the most famous and rousing student song of all.

Now, wouldn’t you like to know those songs as well as Breslau U. sophomores did in 1880? I’m here to help. Just click on the links:

1. Wir hatten gebauet ein stattliches Haus (We have built a stately house)

It’s a sort of protest song about the closing of a progressive student organization in Jena during the suppression of democratic movements in the early 19th century, In case you want to sing along:

Wir hatten gebauet

Ein stattliches Haus

|: Und drin auf Gott vertrauet,

Trotz Wetter, Sturm und Graus. 😐

Wir lebten, so traulich,

So innig, so frei,

|: Den Schlechten ward es graulich,

Wir lebten gar zu treu! 😐

2. Der Landesvater (The Land Father)

This song, from what I can gather, accompanied a puzzling ritual involving running a sword through hats. Really. Those Germans are so wacky. By the way, by seven minutes into the linked recording, you’ll want to run a sword through your own hat. While you’re wearing it.

Alles schweige! Jeder neige

ernsten Tönen nun sein Ohr!

|: Hört, ich sing’ das Lied der Lieder,

hört es, meine deutschen Brüder!

|: Hall es 😐 wider, froher Chor! 😐

Deutschlands Söhne laut ertöne

euer Vaterlandsgesang!

|: Vaterland! Du Land des Ruhmes,

weih’n zu deines Heiligtumes

|: Hütern 😐 uns und unser Schwert! 😐

3. Was kommt dort von der Höhe? (What comes from afar?) (also called Fuchsenritt)

This song accompanied a freshman initiation rite called the “fox ride.” It seems freshman, in leather breeches and jackboots, “rode” on chairs, as if they were horses, into a great hall while amused upper classmen drank beer and sang this song. Oh, those collegiate hi-jinks.

|: Was kommt dort von der Höh’, 😐

Was kommt dort von der ledern Höh’,

Ca, ca ledern Höh’,

Was kommt dort von der Höh’?

|: Es ist der Fuchsmajor, 😐

Es ist der lederne Fuchsmajor,

Ca, ca Fuchsmajor,

Es ist der Fuchsmajor.

4. Last and best, Gaudeamus igitur (Latin, obviously; Let us rejoice, therefore). Find seven verses, in Latin and English, right here. And here’s a bit of its literary history.

And we’re right back where we started from. Do watch to the end.

Concert times are 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, at Marcus Center Uihlein Hall, 929 N. Water St. Pianist Garrick Ohlssohn will be the MSO’s guest in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5, and Schumann’s Symphony No. 3 completes this second of three German Festival programs.

Tickets are$25-$92 Friday and Saturday and $25-$79 Sunday. Visit the MSO website, call the MSO ticket (414 291-7605) or the Marcus Center box office, 414 273-7206.

Hey German speakers? Want to help? How about translating the lyrics in the comment boxes below?

Categories: Classical

2 thoughts on “This Week at the MSO: German Fest 2, Gaudeamus baby!”

  1. Anonymous says:

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  2. Tom, Read with interest the 4 german songs from Brahms Academic Festival Overture.
    You provided the German; do you have an transliterations of the text to English. Literal translations are a bit odd.
    What comes there from the leathers high? …doesn’t make a lot of sense.

    Any insight or sources you have would be help. We are presenting a concert which includes a performances of the songs as well as the Brahms overture…but could use the English translations if available….so far I have not found any useful sources. Thanks for an help or direction.

    Sincerely – Joseph Giallombardo

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