Agogic accents in Brahms

There’s nothing like a good agogic accent to add a little punch to a special moment in a piece.  Once you come to expect one in a piece, it’s really hard to listen to it or perform it any other way.   Its use works well in a few Brahms pieces, including one we’re singing this weekend.

My favorite agogic accent has always been in the Wie lieblich fourth movement of the Brahms Requiem, right before the subito piano toward the end after the series of die loben phrases.  But alas, not every performance features it.  I find that that heartbeat of a delay is so powerful.  The entire choir takes a breath as the onset of the next note is moved off the beat enough to make eyebrows raise.  It makes the next note, word, or phrase have extra oomph and meaning.  In the Requiem, it’s the word immerdar (“forever”).

In the Nänie piece we’re performing tomorrow, we’re including an agogic accent right before the word Herrlich (“glorious”) and, again, it adds extra emphasis on the importance of the word.  At today’s rehearsal both John Oliver and Fruhbreck de Burgos insisted on it being there.  Now I can’t imagine the piece without it.   Unfortunately, others can.  The difference between plowing through that last section – the whole point of the piece – and this one, which observes that break.

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