Gesang der Verklärten op. 71

for five-part mixed voice choir and orchestra

  • Gesang der VerklärtenGesang der Verklärten

    Text: Carl Busse

Komponiert in München und Berchtesgaden, März bis September 1903
Meiner geliebten Elsa

Performance medium
Mixed choir [Soprano 1, Soprano 2, Alto, Tenor, Bass]; Orchestra [Flute 1, Flute 2, Flute 3, Oboe 1, Oboe 2, Oboe 3, English horn, Clarinet 1, Clarinet 2, Clarinet 3, Bass clarinet, Bassoon 1, Bassoon 2, Bassoon 3, Contra bassoon, Trumpet 1, Trumpet 2, Trumpet 3, French horn 1, French horn 2, French horn 3, French horn 4, French horn 5, French horn 6, Tenor trombone 1, Tenor trombone 2, Bass trombone, Bass tuba, Timpani 1, Timpani 2, Timpani 3, Bass drum, Tamtam, Harp 1, Harp 2, Strings]

Work collection
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Original work
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Reger-Werkausgabe Bd. II/11: Chorwerke mit Klavierbegleitung, S. 26–58.
Herausgeber Christopher Grafschmidt, Claudia Seidl.
Unter Mitarbeit von Knud Breyer und Stefan König.
Verlag Carus-Verlag, Stuttgart; Verlags- und Plattennummer: CV 52.818.
Erscheinungsdatum September 2022.
Notensatz Carus-Verlag, Stuttgart.
Copyright 2022 by Carus-Verlag, Stuttgart and Max-Reger-Institut, Karlsruhe – CV 52.818.
Vervielfältigungen jeglicher Art sind gesetzlich verboten. / Any unauthorized reproduction is prohibited by law.
Alle Rechte vorbehalten. / All rights reserved.
ISMN M-007-29723-7.
ISBN 978-3-89948-433-5.

1. Composition and Publication

When Reger presumably sent Theodor Kroyer the poem by Carl Busse on 3 May 1902, which was later to be used in his Opus 71, the Munich critic seemed to already be aware of Reger’s composition plan: “Enclosed you will find the text for the choral work (5 parts with large orchestra); […] something new! How do you like it? – NB. the fact that it is occasionally somewhat “lacking in rhythm” does no harm – this gives the opportunity for the “elaboration” of the finest interruptions to the symmetry.” (Letter)1 Reger does not seem to have pursued this plan at first, but around the end of the year he reported to Kroyer2 and his publishers Lauterbach & Kuhn3 what seemed like a new project, although he was almost certainly referring to the same text.

Preoccupied with the composition of the Seventeen Songs op. 70 in January and February 1903, Reger only began work on the conception of the choral work around the second half of March, when he evidently sent Kroyer the poem a third time: “When you receive this letter, I will already be occupied with the enclosed text “Gesang der Verklärten”, a text which has been haunting my mind for a long, long time! But I have a dreadful anxiety about whether I will succeed in giving the text the musical guise which I have in mind as ideal!”4 Nevertheless, he had already successfully promoted the work, which was only in its early stages: “Herr Stolz (Chemnitz) informs me that he will perform my work “Gesang der Verklärten” […] as soon as it is published! […] And just think, Prof Erdmannsdörffer, conductor of the local Porges’scher Gesangverein, made enquiries about whether I had anything for chorus & orchestra! Well, he can do the “Gesang der Verklärten” then as well!”5 On 29 March he told his publisher: “My “Gesang der Verklärten” has already largely been sketched out, work has also already begun on the score; (also with piano reduction! I think that it will be really good.” (Letter) The sketch was completed during April, and work on the fair copies continued: “My Chor der Verklärten, sketched out in full long since, grows & grows; I believe that I may hope to be able to deliver you a first-class work with this! I am working over & over again on the score! So you can look forward to this!” (Letter dated 2 to 3 May) In May he presented the latest state of the work (and of the Violin Sonata op. 72) to Karl Straube, who was “completely enchanted” with it: “He says: “fantastically beautiful”!” (Letter dated 14 May 1903 to Theodor Kroyer)

At the beginning of June, the chorus was “finished in score; a task which cost me quite a few nerves; now I am on to the piano reduction & meticulously poring over the score!”6 A month later he informed Kroyer: “My “Gesang der Verklärten” is now finally finished in full score (50 pages) & piano reduction with text” (letter dated 10 July 1903). He gave the sketch which was no longer needed to his wife Elsa, the dedicatee of the work.

As Reger was busy from May at the same time with composing the Violin Sonata in C major op. 72 and other works, he only added the date of completion at the end of the engraver’s copy on 20 August after a “meticulous checking-through”7. He postponed the promised submission date of the end of August to the beginning of September owing to the “very involved work” on Hugo Wolf’s estate. (Letter dated 13 August 1903).8 On 18 September he finally sent the score & piano reduction as a registered business document. (Letter)

After the Hymne an den Gesang op. 21 (1898) and the unpublished Fünf Stücke zu Johanna Baltz’ “Castra vetera” WoO V/1 (1899–1900) Reger wrote no more works for large orchestral forces. With the two Romances for Violin and Orchestra op. 50 (1900) the brass forces in particular were much smaller, and the Symphony in D minor WoO I/8, the 1st movement of which had “miserably preoccupied” him in spring,9 remained a fragment (“[…] the manuscript is resting in my cupboard as a cautionary example!”, letter dated 26 December 1902 to Kroyer). Not only did Reger put himself under pressure to stand up to the “Munich School” around Max Schillings and Ludwig Thuille with a work for large orchestra, but he was also conscious of the critical expectations of his opponents, which is why he felt compelled to provide his publishers with a pre-emptive defence: “Opp. 71 & 72 are now in your hands! […] You know that I only submit such works to you which I am able to defend against any criticism, even the harshest; furthermore I ask you to accept that I am very well aware that, so to speak, no living composer is as “closely observed” as I am right now & that as a result of this I am doubly careful & only send you such things where I know that people will “try to cut their teeth on them in vain!”” (Letter dated 18 September)

The fact that as well as this, Reger not only submitted the Chorale Cantata “Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her” WoO V/4 no. 1, which promised to be a good seller, but also the demanding Variations and Fugue on an Original Theme for organ op. 73 for publication made the young publishers hesitate. On the other hand, Reger disliked the fact that Lauterbach & Kuhn sent his works “to the experts for assessment before definitively accepting them, now, when my name is already really well-known”, something which he regarded as a “major vote of no confidence” (letter dated 5 October 1903): “In the event that you & the experts should not agree to my opera 71, 72 & 73, I ask you to return the manuscripts to me as soon as possible, as I have exceptionally favorable offers from publishers especially for these 3 works! […] I assure you that I will not be at all angry with you if you return my opera 71, 72 & 73, as I am not in the position to fight against the wisdom of the experts – I am too poor a musician for that!” (Postcard dated 29 September 1903)

When Lauterbach & Kuhn informed Reger of their decision not to publish Opus 71 on 7 October, they argued that the production costs would be too high, which Reger accepted.10 He immediately turned to Richard Linnemann from the publisher C.F.W. Siegel’s Musikalienhandlung, who had rejected his Beiträge zur Modulationslehre (RWV Schriften-A1) in July, and sent him the score and piano reduction on 12 October: “Although I have some very good offers from publishers for the work, I am sending it to you, as you have asked me for it & you already have a lot of choral works in your catalog! […] but it should be noted that in the musical world in general, a major work such as my Op71 is awaited with excitement!” (Letter) Probably mindful of the cost argument, Reger suggested the “laughably small sum” of 500 M to Linnemann in contrast with the sum of 1,200 Marks originally demanded from Lauterbach & Kuhn, at the same time promising that he “would gradually supply other more popular works in every respect which should compensate you for the risk with regard to my op 71 Gesang der Verklärten in every way!”, and indicated his willingness to accept the royalties proposed. (Letter dated 19 November) Linnemann accepted the suggestion, and Reger signed the copyright agreement on 29 November.11

Questions about performance rights – unlike Reger, the publisher C.F.W. Siegel’s Musikalienhandlung was not a member of the Genossenschaft Deutscher Tonsetzer – delayed the printing process and were only clarified on 21 August 1904 with an additional contract. The proofs must have been ready to send at the beginning of October: Please, have the score, orchestral & choral parts & piano reduction of my op 71 thoroughly checked through first by a good proof-reader before you send them to me for a final check!” (Letter dated 10 October 1904 to Linnemann) Reger had received them by 14 October and “checked through them today” (letter to Karl Straube),12 but because of concert engagements, did not get round to dealing with them and on 3 December had to put off the publisher until the end of April 1905 (see letter).13 A further attempt by the publisher to speed up the process remained unsuccessful.14

On 21 April Reger finally promised that he would “go over my op 71 as soon as possible!” (postcard), but on 29 April protested against the accusation of idleness, and again passed the buck back to the publisher (“The irritable tone of your letter is incomprehensible to me in so far as you alone are to blame that my op 71 will be published so late!”) and notified them that the choral parts and the piano reduction would be ready by “mid-May, and the score “(as I have to go to Graz to the Tonkünstlerfest) certainly by mid-June at the latest!” (Letter) On 11 June Reger thanked them politely for the first printed edition of the piano reduction,15 returned the corrected proofs of the score on 21 June,16 and received the first printed edition of this in mid-July.17 Despite his promise to “send something suitable” again when the opportunity arose (postcard dated 17 July), the Gesang der Verklärten was Reger’s last collaboration with the publisher.


Translation by Elizabeth Robinson.

In this letter Reger gave neither the title nor the author of the poem. – Interruptions to the symmetry seem to have preoccupied Reger at this time, see letter dated 9 April 1902 to Kroyer: “The church modes are very often found in J. Brahms & his actual predecessor Friedemann Bach (that sounds paradoxical, doesn’t it – but it really is so; […] e.g. the very nature of interrupting the symmetry within the periods as Brahms frequently did. (The Double Concerto op 101 (A minor) in particular – points directly to Friedemann Bach, & no composer before Friedemann had this distinctive characteristic which Brahms later “took up” again! For example, the Andante of the A major Sonata for Violin and Piano by Brahms has passages which can be found note for note (with exactly the same interruptions to the symmetry) in Friedemann Bach in the latter composer’s F major keyboard concerto!” (Staatliche Bibliothek Regensburg, shelf number: IP/4Art.714).
“I have found a wonderful text; here it is” (Letter dated 26 December 1902)
“I have discovered a wonderful text for a choral work with orchestra lasting around 1/2 hour!” (Letter dated 5 to 8 January 1903)
He also informed Kroyer about a text alteration which he was thinking of making: “I will compose (2nd line) not dusty, but stony paths! The expression “dusty” does not seem pleasant to me & is also not concise enough, whereas “stony” is much more “apt” – at least in my opinion.” (Letter dated 22 March 1903). Interestingly, Reger had already made this alteration in his letter dated 26 December 1902.
Letter dated 25 to 26 March 1903 to Carl Lauterbach, as cited in Lauterbach & Kuhn-Briefe 1, pp. 116–119, here: p. 118.
Letter dated 9 June 1903 to Lauterbach & Kuhn, as cited in Lauterbach & Kuhn-Briefe 1, pp. 158–163, heer: p. 160.
Letter dated 20 July 1903 to Lauterbach & Kuhn, as cited in Lauterbach & Kuhn-Briefe 1 (see note 22), p. 184f., here: p. 185: “I am still working on my “Gesang der Verklärten”; but I will not hand over anything which is unfinished; score, piano reduction – everything is finished – but I think a meticulous checking-through is necessary; otherwise you would have already received the choral work on 18 July!”
Until 6 September Reger was busy with revising the String Quartet in D minor and the hymn Christnacht (RWV Wolf-H2 and -H3).
letter dated 13 July 1902 to Henriette Schelle, as cited in Erinnerungen und Beiträge persönlicher Reger-Freunde, p. 54.
See letter dated 8 October 1903, Lauterbach & Kuhn-Briefe 1, p. 217f., here: p. 219.
See letter dated 29 November, ibid., shelf number: Ep. Ms. 220, and the corresponding copy of the copyright agreement, shelf number: Ep. Ms. 220a.
Here, Reger mentioned Straube’s rejection of the work: “With the greatest of respect for your opinion; but today I am of the firm conviction that you […] are not entirely right! I very much hope that when I present you with the score soon, that after closer study you will judge it a little differently!”
On this occasion Reger accused the publisher for the first time of having contributed to the present situation: “Why have you hesitated for so long to have the chorus printed? Your ultimately unsuccessful battle against the confraternity prevented you from doing things in such a way that the proofs might have arrived last summer!”
See Postcard dated 11 January 1905.
see postcard
See postcard
The choral and orchestral parts were not mentioned again. Opus 71 was advertised in the September edition (p. 479) of Hofmeisters Musikalisch-literarischer Monatsbericht with the complete parts.

1. Reception

Probably in October 1905 at the latest a Musikalisch-ästhetische Analyse of the Gesang der Verklärten by the Leipzig music critic Eugen Segnitz was published by C.F.W. Siegel’s Musikalienhandlung.1 The publisher had possibly suggested this measure to help improve sales and the understanding of the work.2 In the very detailed introduction, Segnitz praised the music as “suitable to the very highest degree for inspiring particular ideas. For in its ability to express what is actually inexpressible, it goes far beyond the poetic model”, but he could not avoid stating: “Great are the means used, but even greater the demands […] placed on all the performers” (broschure). Reger himself was not involved in the writing of the analysis: “I have written the work; I know nothing more! It is impossible for me to say more about it; not do I know what might be of interest to readers! […] Please, do not be angry.” (Postcard dated 15 September 1905) Probably straight after the publication of the booklet, Reger asked the publisher “for a large number of the explanatory essay really soon and received 25 copies by return of post which he probably used to promote the work. In addition, the analysis appeared as a four-part series in the Musikalisches Wochenblatt from 18 January 1906, the day of the first performance.3

The first performance of Gesang der Verklärten in the Kurhaus Aachen under Eberhard Schwickerath was a great success even if the audience’s applause was evidently intended for the performers, since the demands of the work “on the singers and the orchestra […] almost exceeded the possible […]. The vocal parts do not relate to each other, melody is barely present, and the constant high pathos of the whole never lets up.” (Aachener Anzeiger) But even if Reger “had undoubtedly far exceeded the boundaries which a composer should under all circumstances observe with regards to the human voice in this work”, the setting of Busse’s poem was acknowledged in itself: “Nowhere is a banal melisma to be found, everywhere that mystic solemnity which makes us tremble and yet draws us so powerfully to itself; despite the seemingly inextricable chaos of floods of sounds, despite an almost unheard of complexity of polyphony, the composer leads us with self-confident certainty through all musical confusions, one feels no length, no forcedness of the language, and even if one cannot gain a musical foothold between the gently rising and falling waves of sound, one is gripped to the very last chord, to the softly fading final harmonies.” (Echo der Gegenwart) The reviewer in the Aachener Allgemeine Zeitung even recognized in Reger “a thinker deeply empathetic with the secrets of the worldly soul” (review).

And yet, turning to the composition, the greatest praise largely went to the prelude, which built up “this elevated mood which lies in the poetry by the richest means of musical technique” (A. von der Schleinitz, in Neue Zeitschrift für Musik). The wealth of ideas, the associated complexity of the writing, and the use of all the instruments nevertheless remained a point of criticism: “May the Transfigured rise from earthly torment towards the light, his instrumentation is too dense and turgid, too trapped in leaden thinking. […] Reger needs to become simpler, more melodious, learn to exploit themes and not disturb the devotional mood through a multiplicity of ideas.” (Joseph Liese, in Die Musik) A. von der Schleinitz found: “[…] in incredible harmonic sequences and in the degrees of intensity, it goes into the gigantic, so that every aesthetic effect is destroyed and the listener is only left with a dull, numbing pressure on the brain. […] This work has nothing to say to the feeling, to the heart, in contrast to the poetry, whose intimacy emphasizes the most congenial moods.” (Review) The composer must have been struck by the fact that the reviewers found the concluding Sinfonia domestica by Richard Strauss – a combination which might anyway not have pleased Reger4 – to be “much more congenial”, “peaceful and smiling, […] in the best sense refreshment for young and old”, even as “a truly soothing salvation”.

Despite the generally successful and widely noticed premiere, there was only one further performance during Reger’s lifetime, on 29 November 1909 in Leipzig, which, however, seems to have attracted little attention in the Feuilleton. Only Arthur Smolian gave considerable thought in the Leipziger Zeitung to the “strange interweaving harmonies of this completely new sound-world”, but gained the impression “that the composer has seriously damaged his work with an overladen, in fact failed orchestration and has almost made it unperformable […]. […] instead of supporting the singers through the accompanying instrumental writing, Reger expects a completely self-assured portrayal of a transcendent flowing in and out of cloud-like sound agglomerations from the orchestra and, with less sculptural elaboration of the musical material, has squeezed irritating melismas or figures into each tiny sound gap”5. So for Smolian the Gesang der Verklärten became “a Song of the Distraught, and only with the peaceful sounding D major concluding triad did the performers and listeners arrive at a feeling of blessed redemption” (review). And whilst, in each case in another context, Eugene Simpson with all his criticism of the orchestration saw the work as evidence of “what revolutionary beauty could be found in choral music of his” (The Musical Courier), Alfred Heuß counted it amongst “the most unfortunate products […] which can be found in vocal literature” (Leipziger Zeitung).

Only around the time of the anniversary years in 1923 and 1933 were there further performances which are known about.6 Reger’s student Karl Hasse, who had described the Gesang der Verklärten as the “problem child of Reger’s muse” in 1910, endeavored to forestall any possible criticism in 1923, by urging that “as with Beethoven and Bruckner […] enthusiasm helps to master the material. It is the ecstatic, the unworldliness, which must be understood, which one must submit to, if one is to approach the task of bringing the “Gesang der Verklärten” back to life with any prospect of success.” (Article) Hugo Holle followed Hasse’s example, coupled with analytical approaches as with Segnitz, and promoted the works from “that time, when Reger […], unencumbered by the daily hubbub, success, practical considerations about performability and comprehensibility, poured out work after work in an almost volcanic flow. […] The laudable efforts of the Allgemeiner Deutscher Musikverein […] will have to reveal whether the work, the performance of which has not seemed worthwhile to date, is still – or only now – viable.” (Neue Musik-Zeitung) Alfred Heuß consequently declared: “Reger’s “Gesang der Verklärten” is and remains an unfortunate work, which actually slaps its model directly in the face, so that you believe you are hearing a song of the damned. It is therefore interesting and important that one does not simply get used to this overloading with harmony and counterpoint.” (Neue Zeitschrift für Musik)

In the concerts in 1933 (Reger Festival in Kassel) and 1934 a rescoring made by Karl Hermann Pillney was used, “but which did not provide a final solution” (Gustav Struck, in Allgemeine Musik-Zeitung). And so, 30 years after its composition, performances of Opus 71 were still beset by the problem of reconciling the effort involved with the results gained. After a performance in Bonn on 1 March 1934, Heinz Freiberger stated that, “Here in the west, there may be a tiny number of choirs who are able to sing the “Gesang der Verklärten”, that witches’ sabbath of choral intertwining and devilish intervals, with such purity and artistic finesse”. (Review)


Translation by Elizabeth Robinson.

Segnitz remained true to the composer, and in 1922 published the booklet Max Reger. Abriß seines Lebens und Analyse seiner Werke with Historia-Verlag in Leipzig.
Reger’s next purely orchestral work, the Sinfonietta op. 90, resulted in three explanatory brochures by Eugen Schmitz, Georg Gräner, and Hugo Leichtentritt.
37 Jg., no. 3 (18.1., p. 51), no. 4 (25.1., p. 71f.), no. 5 (1.2., p. 92f.) and no. 6 (8.2., p. 115f.).
Reger had aired his grievances about this work at length to his publishers, and accused Strauss of a “prostitution of music” in regard to this subject (letter dated 5 June 1904).
See an episode recorded by Alexander Berrsche: “I sat […] by a remarkable coincidence next to Reger, and saw how he wrote out a page of the score [of Opus 71]. […] the clear and firm traits of his handwriting flew over the lines at astonishing speed. Then he said, half to me, half to himself: “Yes, here we ostensibly let the clarinets play along, but they still get a special counterpoint, just watch this. All right then. And that the trumpets have something to say too…”” (“Gesang der Verklärten”, published in 1934 presumably in the Münchner Zeitung, as cited in Trösterin Musica, pp. 395–398, here p. 395f.).
But a performance planned for the Kieler Herbstwoche in 1923, together with the Psalm 100 op. 106, the Requiem op. 144b, and the Nonnen op. 112 conducted by Fritz Stein (Signale für die Musikalische Welt 81 Jg., no. 38 [19.9.1923], p. 1351) did not take place, according to a history of the Städtischer Chor Kiel e.V. (, pp. 71 and 79f., consulted on 12.4.2021).

1. Stemma

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

2. Quellenbewertung

Aufgrund der Bestimmung des Klavierauszugs als Hilfsmittel zur Einstudierung des Werks liegt der Edition als Leitquelle für die Gesangsstimmen sowie für die allgemeingültigen Tempoangaben der Erstdruck der Orchesterpartitur zugrunde, für die Klavierstimme der Erstdruck des Klavierauszugs; punktuell fehlende dynamische Angaben oder Artikulationszeichen u.Ä. in Vor-, Zwischen- und Nachspielen des Klaviers werden entsprechend der Umgebung ohne diakritische Auszeichnung nach der Orchesterpartitur ergänzt.

Als Referenzquelle wurde die Stichvorlage der Orchesterpartitur herangezogen; der Entwurf war für immerhin zwei Stellen von entscheidender Bedeutung. Da sowohl die Stichvorlage des Klavierauszugs als auch beide Korrekturabzüge verschollen sind, fehlen wesentliche Quellen für die Bewertung einiger Unterschiede zwischen den beiden Erstdrucken.

Es ist denkbar, dass Reger bei der Erstellung des Klavierauszugs oder der Bearbeitung von dessen Korrekturabzug manche Stellen im Chor bewusst oder unbewusst anders auszeichnete als in der Orchesterpartitur bzw. gar den Notentext änderte, diese bedeutungstragenden Abweichungen jedoch nicht durch Nachtrag in der Orchesterpartitur, deren Korrekturabzug er als Letztes bearbeitete, für das Werk an sich legitimierte. Dass er andererseits eine erkennbare Korrektur in der Stichvorlage der Orchesterpartitur (T. 213, Sopran II%Anm.-LINK-ID 27504) rückgängig gemacht haben sollte, erscheint zumindest fragwürdig, sodass die Möglichkeit besteht, dass der Klavierauszug stellenweise einen älteren Stand repräsentiert.

3. Sources

  • Entwurf
  • Stichvorlage der Partitur
  • Stichvorlage des Klavierauszugs
  • Erstdruck der Orchesterpartitur
  • Erstdruck des Klavierauszugs

Weiterlesen in der RWA

Object reference

Max Reger: Gesang der Verklärten op. 71, in: Reger-Werkausgabe,, last check: 10th December 2022.


This is an object entry from the RWA encyclopaedia. Links and references to other objects within the encyclopaedia are currently not active. These will be activated with an update later in 2022.