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Brahms "O Traurigkeit, O Herzeleid"

Vox Humana

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The fugue of this bipartite work is full of two-note slurs, mostly due to the three pairs of quavers in the subject and the dotted crotchet + quaver rhythms in the counter subject. It feels to me that making audible breaks at the end of each slur results in a very lumpy, disjointed effect that does little for the flow of the music. Most of the performances on YouTube seem to betray a similar unease about this phrasing, often allowing no more than a barely imperceptible articulation, at least until the texture becomes busy enough for the breaks not to matter too much. Considering that Brahms's tempos were reported to be so flexible that sometimes the beat disappeared altogether, did he perhaps intend these slurs were to convey rubato rather than audible breaks? Does anyone happen to know what the mid nineteenth century performance conventions were and/or what Brahms would have expected here?

It is certainly possible to perform the slurs convincingly in the normal way (the fugue starts at 2:40):


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