Twelve Songs op. 66

for medium voice and piano

  • No. 1 Sehnsucht

    Text: Marie Itzerott

  • No. 10 Morgen

    Text: John Henry Mackay

  • No. 11 Jetzt und immer

    Text: Richard Dehmel

  • No. 12 Kindergeschichte

    Text: Ludwig Jacobowski

  • No. 2 Freundliche Vision

    Text: Otto Julius Bierbaum

  • No. 3 Aus der Ferne in der Nacht

    Text: Otto Julius Bierbaum

  • No. 4 Du bist mir gut!

    Text: Martin Boelitz

  • No. 5 Maienblüten

    Text: Ludwig Jacobowski

  • No. 6 Die Primeln

    Text: Rupert Johannes Hammerling

  • No. 7 Die Liebe

    Text: Richard Dehmel

  • No. 8 An dich

    Text: Marie Itzerott

  • No. 9 Erlöst

    Text: Martin Boelitz

Komponiert in München, Nr. 1 und 12 vor Juni 1902, Nr. 2–11 Anfang August 1902
Elsa Reger

Performance medium
Middle voice; Piano

Work collection
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Original work
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  • -


Reger-Werkausgabe Bd. II/3: Lieder III, S. 86–117.
Herausgeber Knud Breyer und Stefan König.
Unter Mitarbeit von Christopher Grafschmidt und Claudia Seidl.
Verlag Carus-Verlag, Stuttgart; Verlags- und Plattennummer: CV 52.810.
Erscheinungsdatum September 2022.
Notensatz Carus-Verlag, Stuttgart.
Copyright 2022 by Carus-Verlag, Stuttgart and Max-Reger-Institut, Karlsruhe – CV 52.810.
Vervielfältigungen jeglicher Art sind gesetzlich verboten. / Any unauthorized reproduction is prohibited by law.
Alle Rechte vorbehalten. / All rights reserved.
ISMN M-007-29722-0.
ISBN 978-3-89948-432-8.

1. Composition and Publication

The history of composition of the Twelve Songs op. 66 is closely linked with Reger’s engagement to Elsa von Bercken, and at the same time marks the beginning of his business relationship with the lawyers Carl Lauterbach und Max Kuhn in Leipzig, who were about to found a music publishing company.

In summer 1899 Elsa von Bercken, by then divorced, had rejected a first proposal of marriage from Reger. However, contact was not completely broken off and in February 1902, they met again at a song recital in the Museum Room of the Palais Portia in Munich.1 A private meeting followed at which Reger, by now established as an artistic personality in Munich and also financially secure, made a second proposal, documented in an intensive correspondence. At first Elsa asked for a six month period of consideration, but on 30 May she asked for the wedding to be brought forward to January.2 At the beginning of August Reger wrote his proposal of marriage to Elsa von Bercken and at the same time asked Auguste von Bagenski, his future mother-in-law, for her daughter’s hand;3 on 25 October the civil marriage took place at the Munich I register office.4 The guests at the following celebra- tion in the Parkhotel included the poet friends Martin Boelitz and Richard Braungart.

The months of becoming emotionally closer inspired Reger to compose new songs. On 26 May 1902 he surprised his future wife, who was a keen singer herself and had expressed a wish for new song compositions several times,5 with the announcement: “the song which I recently told you in a card was one of my latest, I have dedicated to you & it will be reprinted in a periodical which has 80 000 subscribers, then it will be sold on further!” (Letter dated 25 and 26 May 1902 to Elsa von Bercken) This was Sehnsucht, the setting of a poem by Marie Itzerott, ending with the words: “meine Seele dir zu eigen”. The periodical mentioned was the Neue Musik-Zeitung, in which Reger had regularly published piano pieces (from WoO III/12) and songs (WoO VII/23–29) in the two years preceding. Sehnsucht was submitted to the editors together with Kindergeschichte (text: Ludwig Jacobowski) by the end of May at the latest.6 Reger checked the proofs around the beginning of July;7 on 21 August both songs appeared in the same number as music inserts, Sehnsucht with the dedication “to Frau Elsa von Bercken, née von Bagenski”.

As well as this small courtesy, Reger also planned to honor his fiancée with a Symphony in B minor (WoO I/8) – he had broken off writing this in the first movement – plus a Liederheft (letter dated 11 June 1902 to Elsa von Bercken). For the publication Reger wanted to explore new avenues as Eugen Spitzweg, the owner of his main publisher Jos. Aibl, had to reduce his commitments because of a protracted illness and Reger did not get on well with his brother Otto (“a real Philistine”; [Letter fragment from around the end of May 1902 to Elsa von Bercken]). He planned:“I will no longer rely on Aibl alone – but on more (5–6) publishers – & there will gradually be more and more; by this means I will gain power against Spitzweg!” (ibid.)

Amongst the enquiries Reger received from publishers was an offer from Carl Lauterbach and Max Kuhn, who were sifting through compositions in music periodicals and elsewhere for the company they were founding, and had become aware of Reger’s music in this way.8 On 30 June 1902 Reger and Kuhn came to an agreement for two projects: “First of all we will publish 4 Bach Cantatas! Then gradually more; as well as this I have promised him for October [annus currens = current year] about 8 songs, for which he will pay me a royalty of 400 M! (I will comfortably write these 8 songs in 8 days. (3 years ago (not quite 3 years) Aibl paid me 200 M for 10 songs, now I am receiving 400 M for 8 songs; a small difference.) (letter dated 30 June 1902 to Elsa von Bercken)” From the beginning of August Reger then worked in parallel on the Bach cantata Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten BWV 93, for which he produced a practical edition with realized organ part and a vocal score, and on the songs. He advised Kuhn that the manuscripts should be ready “by the middle of August!”, and promised: “They will be beautiful songs; I have wonderful texts for them.” (letter dated 23 Juli 1902 to Max Kuhn) In keeping with his own hoped-for happiness in marriage, these poems combine the atmosphere of peaceful, fulfilled love: “And I go with one who loves me [...] into the peace which waits, full of longing (Und ich geh mit einer, die mich lieb hat [...] in den Frieden, der voll Sehnsucht wartet)”, is the text in Otto Julius Bierbaum’s Freundliche Vision, “You saw through my soul into the world, it was also your soul (Du sahst durch meine Seele in die Welt, es war auch deine Seele)” in Richard Dehmel’s Die Liebe and “When my head rests on your cheek, I already hear wedding bells softly ringing (Wenn sich mein Haupt an deine Wange schmiegt, hör ich schon leise Hochzeitsglocken klingen)” in Du bist mir gut! by Martin Boelitz. Reger reported to his fiancée almost daily about progress on the song collection: on 1 August the setting of Bierbaum’s Aus der Ferne in der Nacht was completed (see letter dated 31 July to 1 August 1902 to Elsa von Bercken), on 6 August Freundliche Vision (“I believe this is the best song which I have ever composed”; Postcard dated 6 August 1902)9, a day later Du bist mir gut!, the text of which he had personally received from his poet friend Boelitz the day before.10 In addition, at daily intervals followed Morgen by John Henry Mackay and Erlöst, set to music from a manuscript by Boelitz.11 With Freundliche Vision, set to music at his publisher’s suggestion (see postcard dated 5 August 1902 to Max Kuhn) and Morgen, Reger ventured comparison with the extremely successful songs by Richard Strauss, as in earlier opuses. (see Parallelvertonungen mit Strauss)12

By 12 August Reger had completed the song collection, which finally comprised ten instead of the agreed eight songs. When submitting the engraver’s copies to Kuhn he pressed for some ur- gency in printing the work because of impending events: “You will see from the dedication that I have become engaged & am to be married on 25 October! [...] Now the most heartfelt request to kindly have the songs engraved immediately so that they can be published by 1 October. If you can send these for engraving as soon as possible, they can easily be engraved within 14 day; I will then likewise deal with the proofs by return of post.” (letter dated 12 August 1902 to Max Kuhn) Reger received the increased royalty of 500 Marks13, on 14 August and on 26 August signed his first copyright agreement with Lauterbach & Kuhn.(see letter dated 26 August 1902 to Max Kuhn) On 1 September he also sent fair copies of the songs Sehnsucht and Kindergeschichte, published ten days earlier in the Neue Musik-Zeitung, in which he had “retained all the rights” (see footnote in the periodical insert), and asked for “the same to be included in my op 66, so that there will be 12 songs; the numbering I leave to you.” (letter to Kuhn) Sehnsucht was to begin the opus, and Kindergeschichte came at the end.14 Despite the expansion of the collection once again, it was possible to keep to the tight time schedule up to publication. On 12 September Reger received the proofs (see postcard Kuhn), which he returned twelve days later with the comment “new (2nd proof) no longer needed” (letter dated 24 September 1902 to Max Kuhn). On 13 October, in good time before the wedding date, he received the first printed editions. (vgl. postcard to Lauterbach & Kuhn) The first publication from Lauterbach & Kuhn (publisher’s numbers 1 to 12), which appeared simultaneously in twelve individual books and as a volume, was given an “artistic presentation, not usual in the book trade at that time”(see Carl Lauterbach’s recollections15 with the high-quality colored Jugendstil title pages by the well-known book illustrator Emil Rudolf Weiß.


Translation by Elizabeth Robinson.

Elsa Reger later wrote in her Erinnerungen, wrongly dating the song recital to April: “When he came on stage, he saw me straight away in the hall and the idea was born in him not to rest until he had overcome my resistance and I had given him my consent.” (“Mein Leben mit und für Max Reger. Erinnerungen”, Leipzig 1930, p. 26).
“>Would it not be long enough, if you write to Mama in Oct., if we say you came for me on the 2nd day of Christmas? Or January, whichever you prefer? Or would you prefer not to???”” (Letter from Elsa von Bercken dated 30 May 1902 to Max Reger).
Clear financial circumstanceswithout the slightest debts, – have become my life situation; my connections with only firms of the first rank, [...] my daily growing artistic renown ...], allow me, most highly esteemed lady, to be able to guarantee you that I will always be able to offer Frau von Bercken a life free of pecuniary worries by my side.” (Letter from Reger dated 4 August 1902 to Auguste von Bagenski).
Reger’s marriage to a divorced Protestant led to his excommunication. As the Protestant church in Bavaria also refused to bless the marriage, the newly- weds travelled to Württemberg for the church ceremony. This took place on 7 December in Bad Boll near Göppingen. – For information on the months of courtship and the wedding, see Susanne Popp,Max Reger. Werk statt Leben. Biographie, Wiesbaden 2015, p. 163ff.
A“m I not to receive a song of my own again, you have taken so much from me in defiance.” (Letter from Elsa von Bercken dated 22 April 1902 to Max Reger).
Reger wrote about this to Elsa von Bercken: “The text of the song I dedicated to you – now I cannot write any more of this for you, as it has already been sent off [...]. It is very fine the song & suits you wonderfully! The playful [children’s story] is splendid – also already sent off; now you will receive it in the next three months printed!” (Letter dated 30. Mai 1902).
See excerpt from a letter from around the beginning of July 1902 in Mein Leben mit und für Max Reger. Erinnerungen, Leipzig 1930, p. 32.
See Carl Lauterbach’s recollections. – According to Lauterbach’s recollection the song Sehnsucht fell “into the hands” of the two lawyers: “When we looked at this song, a feeling came over me which was impossible for me to describe, words failed me. I noticed straight away that an innovator[,] a genius was speaking to me.” (ebda.) However, at least for the first contact with Reger, Sehnsucht did not come into question, as the song was only published on 21 August 1902. However, the first contract had already been agreed at the end of June (see following comments).
The next day Reger sent Elsa von Bercken ““Freundliche Vision” (which I composed yesterday) for your” as well as the “original sketch” of this (letter dated 7 August 1902). As he could relinquish the engraver’s copy so soon before submitting it to the publisher, this must have been a second manuscript, presumably a duplicate which, unlike the sketch, has not survived.
“[...] yesterday Boelitz was with me; he has written a new book; he is a quite outstanding person; there are some beautiful poems in it again! Just now I have composed a setting of one: “Du bist mir gut” – a touching sweet thing! He is getting married in the near future & yesterday we agreed that he will write a cycle of poems “Ehefrühling” which I will set to music! He will stay here until the end of November!” (Postcard dated 7 August 1902 to Elsa von Bercken). – The new volume of poetry mentioned was the second, much altered edition of Aus Traum und Leben published shortly before (Krefeld and Leipzig 1902). “Ehefrühling” did not come to fruition.
See postcards from c. 8. and 9. August 1902, in Meisterbriefe, p. 99.
In the case of Morgen, Elsa von Bercken wrote: “Is that not strange, I wanted to ask you to set the song “u Morgen wird die Sonne wieder scheinen” to music. You gave it to me at the time by Strauß, & think I do not like it.” (Letter dated 9 August 1902 to Max Reger).
“Yesterday evening the royalty (500 M) for the 10 Lieder arrived! Promptly settled!” (Postcard dated 15 August 1902 to Elsa von Bercken)
The song which was originally first, Jetzt und immer after Richard Dehmel, was placed as the penultimate song (see subsequent alterations on the title page of the engraver’s copies).
Lauterbach explained: “The artist was also a an innovator and was rejected, just as the com- positions of Max Reger were. Only Herr Prof. Karl Straube understood us and wrote to us the most flattering review, also with regard to the presentation.” – The title pages by Emil Rudolf Weiß (1875–1942), who had studied at the Karlsruhe Akademie with Hans Thoma, and produced illustrations for periodicals including Die Insel and Pan, were described as “exemplary designs” in a review in the Monatshefte für graphisches Kunstgewerbe (II Jg. [1903/4], tables 31 and 42).

1. Reception

In order to help launch the first two publications of Carl Lauterbach und Max Kuhn, Reger himself started a wide-ranging concert and promotion campaign. He personally cultivated contacts with reviewers and performers, and in the winter concert season 1902/1903 organised song recitals in quick succession in cities including Mu- nich, Leipzig, and Berlin in which he himself played the piano. The Munich programs featured his own new publications as well as works by the best-known composer colleagues in the city, including Richard Strauss, Felix von Weingartner, Alexander Ritter, Max Schilling, Felix vom Rath, Ludwig Thuille, Joseph Schmid, and Richard Trunk, who were closely associated with each other both professionally and personally. As well as the opportunity of estab- lishing contacts with these circles, Reger wanted to attract direct comparisons between works, which raised attention especially in the case of Strauss. With his settings of Bierbaum’s Freundliche Vision and Mackays’s Morgen Reger drew attention to himself in the knowledge that the popular settings of the same poems by Strauss would be used as a benchmark. Thus, after the Geneva singer Augusta L’Huillier’s performance in March 1903 in the Bayerischer Hof, Wilhelm Mauke declared in the Münchener Post: “Of the contributions heard yesterday, I liked Mackay’s Morgen best, de- spite the obvious comparison with Strauß’s magnificent song. By comparison, Bierbaum’s Freundliche Vision is much too difficult. It is directly contrary to style to make heavy weather with organist’s harmonies over a cheerful “meadow full of marguerites” (recension, 13 March 1903). Although Rudolf Louis from the Münchner Neuesten Nachrichten, who had heard the song performed by Auguste Vollmar, spoke of a “brilliant talent, the tremendous skill, and the deep artistic seriousness” of Reger’s songs, in the same breath he wrote of the “outer affectation and torment without inner musical content”. Furthermore, he diagnosed a restlessness in the musical structure which “does not always wait for the melodic ideas [...] and then endeavors in vain to replace the lack of a motivic core through harmonic outlandishness” (recension, 7 February 1903). He summed up: “It is a beautiful thing around the piquant sauce. But if the roast which goes with it is missing, it cannot satisfy me.”

The Graz composer and music critic Wilhelm Kienzl, a former student of Eduard Hanslick and Franz Liszt, described the Twelve Songs op. 66 in a music review as a clear example of “cerebral music”, which – and this must have particularly affected Reger – “is in strict contrast to the music from the heart of a Hugo Wolf” and in which “only one more [...] step towards the dissolution of the tempered tone system and into the realm of the tetrachord” is missing. He gave the song Du bist mir gut! (no. 4), “only apparently in C major”, as an example, in which “every melody note has its own key”. In the example of the Dehmel setting Die Liebe (no. 7) he also took issue with the “instrumentally conceived vocal part” which “wallowing in lengthenings, syncopations, slurred and unslurred leaps” did not reveal “any rhythmic structure”. He too used the obvious comparison with his famous contemporary: “A Richard Strauß song, by comparison – I do not exaggerate – is a true folk or children’s song. And where is that supposed to lead us?” (music reviews of op. 66 ) In 1908 Kienzl published his criticism again and, referring to current compositional trends, expanded the question: “[...] should the paths which Arnold Schoenberg pursues in his one-movement String Quartet op. 7, with talent in the same measure as lack of restraint [...], already be a fruit of Reger’s inspirations? How indeed could Reger be responsible for such a disaster?”1 The accusation of compositional-technical l’art pour l’art, of complexity for complexity’s sake, which subsequently also increasingly affected Reger’s chamber music, was then taken to its polemical extreme by the conductor and singing teacher Adolf Göttmann, Chairman of the Berlin Tonkünstlerverein in his collective review of opp. 66 and 68 published in October 1904 in Die Musik. He saw Reger in these songs as having “strayed onto such paths [...] that make a serious assessment of his further work difficult. [...] What the composer allows himself, with few exceptions, in these short songs in terms of cacophonous harmonic bombast, hazy rhythms and breathless eccentricity of melody, annoys us even more than his harmonious other-writing in principle than expected by common sense, purely external and formulaic. [...] This much is certain, that Reger’s demands on the singer with regards to phrasing and declamation, show quite plainly that he is either completely unclear about the capabilities of the human organ and about the characteristic exploitation of the rules of Sprachgesang (speech-song), or that he goes about composing with boundless superficiality.”

Both Göttmann as well as some his fellow critics orientated their judgements towards an ideal of “clarification”2 regarded as fixed, to which Reger probably did not aspire in his works. Thus Karl Thiessen’s laudatory statement that Reger “had often returned to greater simplicity in op. 66 [...] but without losing any effectiveness” (»Reger in seinen Liedern«, in Signale für die Musikalische Welt), does not seem to have been received by the composer as a compliment. At the very least, he described the review to his publishers Lauterbach & Kuhn as very superficial, but added the pragmatic comment: “In any case, however, the article again represents a big step forwards for me; for because of this, many singers will look at my songs & sing them!” (letter, 8 february 1903) There were still very few declared supporters amongst the critics. As Reger was unable to convince his friend Karl Straube to write a music review, (vgl. letter, 3. October 1902 to Straube) reliable supporters of his vocal music included in particular the music critic Theodor Kroyer from the Münchner Allgemeine Zeitung: “Engelwacht” [op. 68 no. 4], “Ruhe”, “Strampelchen” [op. 62 nos. 3 and 9], “Freundliche Vision” [op. 66 no. 2] [...] are delightful, glorious creations, full of richn“ess of imagination and spirit, it is the style of a Salvator Rosa, the style of the up-and-coming generation of artists.” (recension, 4 February 1903).

The often harsh reviews were a sensitive topic in Reger’s business relationship with Lauterbach & Kuhn from the outset. The business model of the new publisher was to produce a high-quality artistic product with the song editions which would appeal to all the senses. Following the modern Jugendstil idea, they used “the intentional artistic means in designing the title page to help disseminate musical works”3 and placed large publisher’s advertise- ments for the first printed editions of opp. 66 and 68. With the publication of the wedding songs, which they promoted as the “expression of the emotion of a blissful, boundless happiness” and the “high point in his [= Reger’s] lyrical output to date” (publisher’s advertisement in Signale für die Musikalische Welt), they once again unintentionally found themselves embroiled in the intellectual debate about the future of music, which contradicted this purpose. So they reacted sensitively to the reviews, which Reger also commented on ill-naturedly. The composer countered Göttmann’s invective with the sharp words “from a cow one can only expect a piece of beef” (Postcard dated 23 October 1904 to Lauterbach & Kuhn). Confronted with the bad reviews of the concerts with Auguste Vollmar and Augusta L’Huillier, he referred to insufficient preparation by the singers and the demands placed on performers by his songs, in which the vocal parts were independent and not supported by the piano, and consequently could not be mastered with previous practice routines.4 On the other hand, Reger used flattering words for the particularly accessible song Engelwacht op. 68 no. 4, in order to win the publishers over to the common cause: “Pay attention: the song “Engelwacht” from op 68 will bring you a small fortune; it is difficult neither for singer or accompanist. [...] By the way: would it not be an idea some time to produce a lower version for alto of op 68 no 4 “Engelwacht””? (letter dated 5 to 8 January 1903)

Reger’s proposal was not adopted in this case. It was only with Schlichten Weisen op. 76 that Lauterbach & Kuhn began to produce transposed editions. The tensions between publisher and composer triggered by bad reviews subsequently increased (see op. 70).


Translation by Elizabeth Robinson.

Idem., “Max Reger. Instrumental- und Vokalwerke", in ibid., Im Konzert. Von Tonwerken und nachschaffenden Tonkünstlern empfangene Eindrücke, Berlin 1908, pp. 91–100; there: p. 98 (footnote ***).
According to Göttmann, Reger had “by no means come to terms with the concept of clarification” (ibid.).
Udo Andersohn, Musiktitel aus dem Jugendstil. 64 Beispiele aus den Jahren 1886 bis 1918, Dortmund 1981, p. 147.
Reger wrote to his publishers about the concert with Auguste Vollmar: “Reviews! I have to remark that Frl Vollmar was so agitated in “Freundliche Vision” that she completely ruined this song”. (letter dated 8 February 1903 to Lauterbach & Kuhn) After the song recital with Augusta L’Huillier he reported: “Frl Huillier sang my things very badly; in true French flippancy she believed that singing Reger’s music would be child’s play; in short, she simply had not studied the songs, so that in the concert I had to play the whole song melody in Freundliche Vision, and Morgen so that she did not grind to a halt.” (letter to Lauterbach & Kuhn dated 14 and 15 March 1903)

1. Stemma

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

2. Quellenbewertung

Der Edition liegt als Leitquelle der Erstdruck zugrunde. Als Referenzquelle diente die vielfach differenzierter bezeichnete Stichvorlage (siehe Zu den editorischen Besonderheiten von Band II/3). Als weitere editionsrelevante Quelle wurden die Erstdrucke der Zeitschriftenbeigaben von Nr. 1 Sehnsucht und Nr. 12 Kindergeschichte herangezogen, die sich jedoch insbesondere auf Ebene der Vortragsanweisungen noch deutlich vom späteren Druck in Opus 66 unterscheiden. Die erhaltenen Entwürfe von Nr. 2–4 waren lediglich zum Verständnis der Werkgenese hilfreich. Die drei Heftausgaben sowie die Bandausgaben überliefern unverändert den Notentext des Erstdrucks.

3. Sources

  • Entwürfe zu Nr. 2 und 4 (E)
  • Autographe Widmungsexemplare für Elsa von Bercken (verschollen)
  • Stichvorlagen (SV)
  • Erstdrucke Nr. 1 und 12, Zeitschriftenbeigaben (ED-Z)
  • Erstdruck (ED)

Weiterlesen in der RWA

Object reference

Max Reger: Twelve Songs op. 66, in: Reger-Werkausgabe,, last check: 10th December 2022.


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