Composed around 1860, Schaffe in mir, Gott, ein rein Herz is divided into three sections, each corresponding to a verse from Psalm 51. The first movement is based on a canon between the soprano and bass at the octave in augmentation. The middle movement is a chromatic fugue set to the words “cast me not away from thy presence.” Aptly depicting the wrenching text, Brahms goes on to invert and augment the countersubject in tight, overlapping entrances that create a conflict between major and minor. The third movement, as the text suggests, brings comfort by restoring the technique of canon used in the first movement, this time at the 7th between the tenors and basses, then echoed in the treble voices. The tenors and basses return with a new canon at the same interval, which gives way to a spirited fugue based on the motet's opening theme.
© Ryan Turner