Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) wrote the "Eleven Chorale Preludes, Opus 122," at Ischl, in Upper Austria, during the last summer of his life. Biographers agree that he composed them in memory of his dearest and most faithful friend, Clara Schumann. At the same time, the "Preludes" which were published in 1902, are a revealing document of Brahms' thoughts on his own life. He had not written anything for the organ since 1857. One biographer, Niemann, points out that most of the Preludes deal with "last things." They are, said Niemann, "A retrospect and an epilogue, a salutation to youth and its ideals, and a farewell to this world which is, after all, so fair." Somber as many of them are, they yet have a warm autumnal quality that is all Brahms' own. According to Kalbeck, Brahms' friend and first biographer, there is some doubt as to whether these pieces were intended for publication. Although Brahms had grown up in a Lutheran environment, he had quickly disassociated himself from Christianity. Antonín Dvorák, who visited Brahms on his deathbed, wrote later: "Such a great soul, and yet he believes in nothing". Why Brahms reverted to these "Chorales" at the end of his life will always remain a mystery.
Each Prelude is preceded by the Chorale itself. For these, I used the excellent, and in some cases, "unusual" version in the Biggs Mercury edition.