These painfully beautiful organ works were the last works of Brahms' before his death. His reluctance to die is especially haunting as the fifth and last track of the Eleven Chorale Preludes are titled, "O Welt, ich muss dich lassen," or "Oh world, I must leave you."
Aside from the Eleven Choral Preludes, Op. 122, this recording features 2 Fugues and 2 Preludes + Fugues, all of which were composed some 40 years prior to the others.
On May 21, 1896, Brahms' lifelong friend and champion, Clara Schumann, passed away in Frankfurt am Main. Brahms, who considered Clara to be the 'greatest wealth' in his life, was so devastated that he bungled his travel arrangements and missed the funeral in Bonn. Upon his return to Ischl, where he spent his summers, Brahms' friends noticed an unsettling change in his appearance. Physicians at first told the composer that he had jaundice, though they secretly believed he was suffering from liver cancer, the disease that had killed his father. When Brahms left Ischl to 'take the cure' at Karlsbad, it is possible, though unlikely, that he was unaware of the seriousness of his condition; he rarely admitted to having an illness, even if he knew it was the truth.
In was in this atmosphere that Brahms composed the Eleven Chorale Preludes, his first music for the organ since 1857. It is possible that some of the settings may have originated before 1896; most of Brahms' work on the set, however, took place during that year. Brahms may have known, if only subconsciously, that he might not live to see another summer; this may have influenced his decision to set, twice each, the chorales 'Herzlich tut ich verlangen nach einem sel'gen End' (I sincerely wish for a happy end) and 'O Welt, ich muss dich lassen' ('O world, I must leave you'). Indeed, the second of the two 'O Welt' settings contains the last notes the composer ever wrote.