Four Songs op. 23

for high or medium voice and piano

  • No. 1 Das kleinste Lied

    Text: Rupert Johannes Hammerling

  • No. 2 Pythia

    Text: Anna Ritter

  • No. 3 Das sterbende Kind

    Text: Emanuel Geibel

  • No. 4 Vom Küssen!

    Text: Anna Ritter

Frau Elsa von Bercken geb. von Bagenski verehrungsvollst gewidmet Frau Dr. Marie Wilhelmj verehrungsvollst zugeeignet Fräulein Sophie Schröter hochachtungsvoll gewidmet Fräulein A. Kuznitzky hochachtungsvoll gewidmet

Performance medium
No.: High voice, Piano; No.: Middle voice, Piano

Work collection
  • -
Original work
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  • -


Reger-Werkausgabe Bd. II/1: Lieder I, S. 114–122.
Herausgeber Alexander Becker, Christopher Grafschmidt, Stefan König, Stefanie Steiner-Grage.
Verlag Carus-Verlag, Stuttgart; Verlags- und Plattennummer: CV 52.808.
Erscheinungsdatum Juni 2017.
Notensatz Carus-Verlag, Stuttgart.
Copyright 2017 by Carus-Verlag, Stuttgart and Max-Reger-Institut, Karlsruhe – CV 52.808.
Vervielfältigungen jeglicher Art sind gesetzlich verboten. / Any unauthorized reproduction is prohibited by law.
Alle Rechte vorbehalten. / All rights reserved.
ISMN M-007-17140-7.
ISBN 978-3-89948-268-3.

1. Composition and Publication

In summer 1898, having returned from Wiesbaden to the family home in Weiden, Reger immersed himself a great deal in contemporary literature. In the Taubald’sche Bookshop which he often frequented (see WoO VII/19) he came across a poem by Anna Ritter in the periodical Jugend (Vom Küssen, his future opus 23 no. 4). He bought the first volume of poetry by this author, from which he set further texts (see also Opus 31).

Opus 23 went through several transformations as regards content, sequence, and numbering. At the end of June 1898, Reger told his friend, the Wiesbaden music retailer Ernst Guder: “Today I have written a new song. Tomorrow there will be another one. This week I will send another volume to London” (letter). This continuously-paginated first copy, evidently planned as an engraver’s copy, is now divided into single and double folios (joined together), and contains the following songs:

Das kleinste Lied
Vom Küssen
Vergangen, versunken, verklungen
Das sterbende Kind

It is not known whether Reger sent the manuscript of the Four Songs to London. Earlier Augener had accepted several works of Reger’s, but had not published these, and the collaboration ended prematurely in summer 1898.1 In a letter dated 16 August 1898 to Ernst Guder, Reger reported that he had sold several works to the Bremen publisher Praeger & Meier, including “op 23 4 Songs (to be published separately)” (letter). But this publication, too, ultimately came to nothing,2 so that in mid-September Reger turned to the publisher Max Brockhaus in Leipzig. In a letter dated 18 September 1898 Reger mentioned that he wanted to send Brockhaus “op 23. Three Songs (quite different from previous ones)” (letter); in the meantime, he had rejected Vergangen, versunken, verklungen. The collection, provided with a new numbering of the songs in Roman numerals, now comprised: Das kleinste Lied, Vom Küssen and Das sterbende Kind. Reger also offered the publisher C.F. Peters just the “3 Songs op 23” at the end of September (letter dated 28 September). In the course of this intensive search for a publisher, the new engraver’s copies of the remaining three songs may have been prepared which contain differences in detail compared with the earlier stages of the work.

A month later Reger added a fourth song to the collection: The manuscript of “N IV Pythia” contains a date of completion of 12 October 1898. It has a different title page from the other three engraver’s copies and as well as this, is notated on a different kind of paper from the previous songs.3 In a letter to Caesar Hochstetter dated 23 December Reger now referred to them again as “4 Songs op 23 (easier than op 4, 8, 12, 15)”.(letter) On 11 January 1899 Reger offered this four part collection to Breitkopf & Härtel; but the publisher turned it down on the basis of reviews which said: “A wretched scrappy thing, without imagination, without elegance, without any feeling for beauty of sound, without feeling f[or] rhetoric.” (letter with note by the reviewers on the back side)” 4

After concluding a publishing contract with the Munich firm of Jos. Aibl Verlag, in a letter dated 7 February 1899 to Baron von Fridagh, his former patron in Wiesbaden, Reger listed the ““op. 23a Two Songs for high voice, op. 23b Two Songs for medium voice” for the first time amongst the planned new publications with Aibl (letter). For publication in individual volumes, where the songs were divided up according to vocal range, the order of the songs was altered for a last time:

“N 1”
“N 2”
“N 3”
“N 4”
Das kleinste Lied
Das sterbende Kind
Vom Küssen

The copyright agreement and royalty receipt for 100 Marks were signed by Reger on 14 February 1899. As the printing of the opus 31 songs, which had been submitted at the same time, was brought forward, the preparation of opus 23 for print was delayed. Only on 22 May 1899 was Reger able to send the “just published 4 Lieder op 23 to his friend, the singer Josef Loritz. (letter)

Composition and publication · Early reception


Translation by Elizabeth Robinson.

See Lindner 1938, pp. 143 and 164.
It was agreed with Praeger & Meier that they should publish opp. 19, 22, 23, 24, and 26. But this ultimately fell through because of the contractual terms.
Reger also used the paper type B.&S. no. 112 for voice and piano in October 1898 for the Cello Sonata in G minor op. 28. From then onwards it became his standard paper both for songs and, from 1899, also for organ works.
The composer Carl Reinecke (1824–1910) and the singing teacher and song composer Gustav Borchers (1865–1913) referred to above acted as the publisher’s expert advisers. Their reports only survive in the publisher’s archive; Reger was not informed about these.

1. Reception

In August 1899 a detailed review of Reger’s works appeared in the periodical Die Redenden Künste by Caesar Hochstetter, who had “to give preference” to the Songs op. 23 over the Six Poems op. 31 “because of their greater simplicity and clarity” (review). Rudolf Buck, on the other hand, particularly praised Das sterbende Kind op. 23 no. 3: “[…] a full-bodied composition, but which is unfortunately somewhat restless harmonically. The concluding measures are movingly beautiful.” (Review) In 1901 the Swiss music critic Karl Nef studied Reger’s songs in detail and discussed their unusual style: “In the finely-characterized piano accompaniment, his considerable ability is evident everywhere. However, the accompaniment often runs wild, the song’s character is destroyed and the whole remains unimpressive. Often the composer can no longer escape from an accompaniment motif once chosen and hunts it to death. […] To understand what I mean […] look at Reger’s Op. 23, no. 1 […] and others; there, to my mind, a dead monotony is achieved by flogging one and the same motif from the first to the last bar. By contrast, other songs are definitely significant. The realm of the secret, folk-like, yet thoughtful seems to be the most characteristic of the composer, and this at least includes songs like ‘Das sterbende Kind’, ‘Vom Küssen’ (Op. 23, nos. 3 and 4) [and] ‘Ich glaub, lieber Schatz’ (Op. 31, no. 2)” (review).

There is no record of a performance of the complete Opus 23. However, in song recitals where he was the accompanist, Reger included individual songs from the collection in the program. So, for example, at a concert on 16 October 1903 in Munich, as well as newer songs, Pythia op. 23 no. 2 was performed, which the reviewer singled out as “simple and natural, and no less original for that”; by comparison, he described the more recent songs as “mainly, as is Reger’s style, more talented than pleasing” (review).1 In particular the advanced harmony, the compartmentalized melodic structure of the vocal line, and the complexity of the piano part attracted criticism.

Composition and publication · Early reception


Translation by Elizabeth Robinson.

Other individual songs from opus 23 were praised as well; after a song recital with Franz Bergen on 14 December 1904, Arthur Hahn, for example, described Das sterbende Kind op. 23 no. 3 as a piece “of pronounced strength and depth of feeling” (review).

1. Stemma

Die in Klammern gesetzten Quellen sind verschollen.
Die in Klammern gesetzten Quellen sind verschollen.

2. Quellenbewertung

Der Edition des Notentextes liegt als Leitquelle der Erstdruck zugrunde. Als zusätzliche autographe Quelle wurden die Stichvorlagen der Nrn. 1, 3 und 4 sowie die Stichvorlage der Nr. 2 herangezogen. Die erhaltenen Erstschriften der Nr. 3 sowie der Nr. 4 (früher »2«) wurden nur in Zweifelsfällen für die Edition herangezogen.

Die Edition des Liedtextes folgt Regers autographen Stichvorlagen.

3. Sources

  • Erstschrift
  • Erstschrift
  • Erstschrift
  • Stichvorlagen
  • Stichvorlage
  • Erstdruck

Weiterlesen in der RWA

Object reference

Max Reger: Four Songs op. 23, in: Reger-Werkausgabe,, last check: 28th March 2023.


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