Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)

Born May 7, 1833 in Hamburg Germany.
Died April 3, 1897 in Vienna Austria.

Akademische Festouvertüre

Academic Festival Overture, Op. 80.

Composed Summer 1880.

First Performance: January 4, 1881 at Breslau with Brahms conducting.

Instrumentation: piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, and strings.

Duration: ~10 min.

Bernhard E. Scholz (1835-1916), the director of the Orchestra Society in Breslau between 1871 and 1883, nominated Brahms to receive an honorary doctorate from the University of Breslau – now the University of Wrocław, Poland. The chair of Philosophy at the university granted the doctorate to Brahms on March 11, 1879, describing Brahms as “Artis musicae severioris Germania nun princeps” (The most famous living German composer of serious music). Brahms sent a thank you letter to the University, but week later, Scholz wrote to Brahms suggesting that he write a doctoral symphony for the university – or at the least, a “Festal Ode”. It wasn’t until August of 1880 that Brahms delivered his “Academic Festival Overture“. He was not happy with the title. He suggested an alternative title – Viadrina – to describe the river Oder in Breslau, but decided after consulting with his violin virtuoso friend Joachim that it did not “sound” right. In the end he kept the original title.

Brahms did indeed feel honored by the degree – even more so when he learned that Richard Wagner was envious! Brahms humble circumstances in his youth prevented him from entering academia. He was previously offered this honor by Cambridge, but declined. For the rest of his life, he used the honorific Dr. Brahms. But being described by the phrase “composer of serious music” was motivation enough for him to be mischievously contrary.
In a letter to his biographer Max Kalbeck, Brahms described his overture as “a very boisterous potpourri of student songs à la Suppé.” Brahms was referring to light music composer Franz von Suppé, who had written an overture to his operetta Flotte Bursche (1863) that simply stitched together student songs, including the well-known Gaudeamus Igitur. Brahms’ overture also uses Gaudeamus Igitur, but his overture works four student songs into an artful sonata-like masterpiece.
Brahms conducted the premiere at the university in January 1881, along with the premiere of his Tragic Overture, which was written concurrently. One can imagine the reaction of the faculty who were expecting a “serious” symphony, but were instead presented with student drinking songs! Imagine an American composer today accepting an honorary doctorate from the Curtis Institute using Louie Louie by the Kingsmen, 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall, and Margaritaville as part of an overture!

The overture begins with an original introduction in C minor. The mood is hushed and mysterious. A soft timpani roll sets the stage for the stately almost hymn-like C major introduction by the trumpets of the first student song, Wir hatten gebauet ein stattliches Haus. This song, which dates to 1819, is thought to have originated as a Thuringian folk song. The violins present the flowing second “subject” (m 129) in E major based on Hört, ich sing das Lied der Lieder from Landesvaterlied (“The Father of Our Country”). This is quickly followed (m. 157) by Was kommt dort von der Höh from das Fuchsenlied, at first humorously scored for bassoons and oboes, then answered by the full orchestra. The Maestoso Finale (m. 379) is a grand setting of Gaudeamus igitur by the winds while the string scurry along in 32nd notes. This is the largest orchestra Brahms employed, including what he described as his Janissary instruments – cymbals, triangle, and bass drum – to make this truly a “Festal Ode.”


Wir hatten gebauet

Alles schweige, jeder neige (Der Landesvater)

Was kommt dort von der Höh’

Gaudeamus Igitur


Wir hatten gebauet ein stattliches Haus

Alles schweige (Hört, ich sing das Lied der Lieder)

Fuchsenritt (Was kommt dort von der Höh’)

Gaudeamus igitur

Tom Lehrer Bright. College Days

Gaudeamus Igitur

Latin English
Gaudeamus igitur
Iuvenes dum sumus.
Post iucundam iuventutem
Post molestam senectutem
Nos habebit humus.
Let us rejoice, therefore,
While we are young.
After a pleasant youth
After a troubling old age
The earth will have us.
Ubi sunt qui ante nos
In mundo fuere?
Vadite ad superos
Transite in inferos
Hos si vis videre.
Where are they who, before us,
Were in the world?
Go to the heavens
Cross over into hell
If you wish to see them.
Vita nostra brevis est
Brevi finietur.
Venit mors velociter
Rapit nos atrociter
Nemini parcetur.
Our life is brief
Soon it will end.
Death comes quickly
Snatches us cruelly
To nobody shall it be spared.
Vivat academia!
Vivant professores!
Vivat membrum quodlibet;
Vivant membra quaelibet;
Semper sint in flore.
Long live the academy!
Long live the professors!
Long live each student;
Long live the whole fraternity;
For ever may they flourish!
Vivant omnes virgines
Faciles, formosae.
Vivant et mulieres
Tenerae, amabiles,
Bonae, laboriosae.
Long live all girls,
Easy [and] beautiful!
Long live [mature] women too,
Tender, lovable,
Good, [and] hard-working.
Vivat et res publica
et qui illam regit.
Vivat nostra civitas,
Maecenatum caritas
Quae nos hic protegit.
Long live the state as well
And he who rules it!
Long live our city
[And] the charity of benefactors
Which protects us here!
Pereat tristitia,
Pereant osores.
Pereat diabolus,
Quivis antiburschius
Atque irrisores.
Let sadness perish!
Let haters perish!
Let the devil perish!
And also the opponents of the fraternities
And their mockers, too!


Wir hatten gebauetein stattliches Haus

German English
Wir hatten gebauet
ein stattliches Haus,
und drin auf Gott vertrauet
trotz Wetter, Sturm und Graus.
We had built
a stately house,
and there to trust in God
in spite of the weather, storm and gray.
Wir lebten so traulich,
so innig, so frei,
den Schlechten ward es graulich,
wir lebten gar zu treu.
We lived so confidential,
so intimate, so free,
the wicked was there grayish,
we lived all too true.
Sie lugten, sie suchten
nach Trug und Verrath,
verleumdeten, verfluchten
die junge, grüne Saat.
You peeked, they sought
by deceit and treachery,
slandered, cursed
the young, green seed.
Was Gott in uns legte,
die Welt hat’s veracht’t,
die Einigkeit erregte
bei Guten selbst Verdacht.
What God put in us,
the world has veracht’t’s,
the unity aroused suspicion
in the good itself.
Man schalt es Verbrechen,
man täuschte sich sehr;
die Form kann man zerbrechen,
die Liebe nimmermehr.
It is switching crimes,
you deceived greatly,
the mold can be broken,
love nevermore. 
Die Form ist zerbrochen,
von außen herein,
doch, was man drin gerochen
war eitel Dunst und Schein. 
The mold is broken,
from the outside in,
but what is in it smelled
was vain haze and sheen 
Das Band ist zerschnitten,
war schwarz, rot und gold,
und Gott hat es gelitten,
wer weiß, was er gewollt. 
The ribbon is cut, was black, red and gold, and God has suffered it, who knows what he wanted.
Das Haus mag zerfallen.
Was hat’s dann für Noth?
der Geist lebt in uns Allen,
und unsre Burg ist Gott!
The house may fall apart.
What’s it for Noth?
The spirit lives in all of us,
and our refuge is God!