Sacred songs op. 110

Motet “O Tod, wie bitter bist du” op. 110 No. 3

for five-part mixed voice unaccompanied choir

  • Motet “O Tod, wie bitter bist du”

    Text: Jesus Sirach (41,1–4)

Komponiert in Meiningen, 21. bis spätestens 23. Juli 1912
Dem Andenken von Frau LILI WACH, geb. Mendelssohn Bartholdy

Performance medium
Mixed choir [Soprano 1, Soprano 2, Alto, Tenor, Bass]

Original work
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Reger-Werkausgabe Bd. II/9: Werke für gemischten Chor a cappella II, S. 132–137.
Herausgeber Christopher Grafschmidt.
Unter Mitarbeit von Nikolaos Beer, Stefan König und Dennis Ried.
Verlag Carus-Verlag, Stuttgart; Verlagsnummer: CV 52.816.
Erscheinungsdatum Oktober 2021.
Notensatz Carus-Verlag, Stuttgart.
Copyright 2021 by Carus-Verlag, Stuttgart and Max-Reger-Institut, Karlsruhe – CV 52.816.
Vervielfältigungen jeglicher Art sind gesetzlich verboten. / Any unauthorized reproduction is prohibited by law.
Alle Rechte vorbehalten. / All rights reserved.
ISMN M-007-26186-3.
ISBN 978-3-89948-418-2.

Motet “O Tod, wie bitter bist du”


Jesus Sirach (41,1–4)

Text template
First edition

Template edition

Used for comparison purposes in RWA: Jesus Sirach, in: Die Bibel oder die ganze Heilige Schrift des Alten und Neuen Testaments. nach der deutschen Übersetzung D. Martin Luthers, 1. Abdruck, ed. by Martin Luther, Halle 1892, p. 78.

Copy shown in RWA: DE, Münster, Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek.


1. Composition and Publication

The first beginnings of the composition of “O Tod, wie bitter bist du” are found in January 1911. Reger had compiled the text for a motet “from the Bible; it will be a shockingly sad work with transfiguring ending, i.e. the ending is simply death, which transfigures”. (Postcard dated 18 January to Gertrud Fischer-Maretzki) Although the compilation of different texts points to “Ach, Herr, strafe mich nicht!” op. 110 no. 2, the description clearly refers to “O Tod, wie bitter bist du”. It is conceivable that already at this point in time Reger had in the back of his mind the later dedication to Lili Wach (see below), who had died just three months earlier. However, it initially remained an idea for a composition, and whilst working on op. 110 no. 2 Reger announced: “I am going to produce a motet like this every year. (Postcard dated 29 July 1911 to Frieda and James Kwast-Hodapp)

The actual beginning of composition possibly dates from around the same time as Reger’s piano arrangement of Brahms’s Vier ernste Gesänge (no. 3 O Tod, wie bitter bist du) in early summer 1912.1 At any rate, he told Adolf Wach on 5 July of his intention to dedicate the motet op. 110 no. 3 “to the memory of Frau Lili Wach née Mendelssohn-Bartholdy”. (Letter) On 23 July Karl Straube then heard incidentally: “So the motet ‘O Tod, wie bitter bist du’ is finished, and is going to print today”. (Postcard) And the same day he reported to Duke Georg II of Saxe-Meiningen “most humbly […], that in 2 days (Sunday & Monday) I have once again composed something new: op 110 no. 3: Motet for 5-part unaccompanied mixed choir”.2

On 24 July Reger sent the engraver’s copy to the publisher Bote & Bock: “Please have the work engraved straight away; it is very urgent; I ask for the same format as op. 110 No 1 and 2 already have.” (Letter) Reger may have urged them to hurry because he had already agreed a performance with the conductor Gustav Schreck for Totensonntag (24 November, the Sunday before Advent on which the dead are commemorated).Note: Cf. letter dated 2 October 1912 to Adolf Wach. – There is no record of this performance. At any rate, he received the proofs on 13 August during his summer holiday in Schneewinkl near Berchtesgaden, but had to check these without the manuscript,3 returning them on 20 August: “[…] I only request that the few mistakes are most carefully corrected. Please ensure that the motet is definitely published by 15 September in score and parts, respectively.” (Letter) After Reger had impatiently enquired on 30 September (cf. postcard), he must have received his gratis copies soon after, as he was able to send a score to Adolf Wach on 2 October (letter).


Translation by Elizabeth Robinson.

RWV Brahms-B1. Das Manuskript sandte Reger vermutlich am 12. Juli an den Verlag N. Simrock (Eintragung im Postbuch 4).
Herzog-Briefe, pp. 294–297, here: p. 295.
The publisher neither sent the engraver’s copy with these (“The manuscript was not included!”, letter dated 13 August 1912 to Bote & Bock), nor did they send it on afterwards (“NB. I have not yet received the manuscript of the motet op. 110 no. 3 back!”, letter dated 20 August 1912 to Bote & Bock).

1. Reception

Neither the premiere on 10 November 1912 in Chemnitz by the church choir of St. Lukas conducted by Georg Stolz, nor the performance at the Reger memorial service on 20 May 1916 in Leipzig, presumably given by St Thomas’s Choir under Gustav Schreck, was reviewed by the music critics. A brief report in the Rheinische Musik- und Theater-Zeitung of the concert with exclusively Chemnitz first performances simply referred to the motet as part of a summary: “The highly interesting program was outstandingly performed, and with a wealth of musically beautiful and interesting works, was able to fill the audience with real optimism for contemporary art.” (Review)


Translation by Elizabeth Robinson.

1. Quellenbewertung

Der Edition liegt als Leitquelle der Erstdruck zugrunde. Als zusätzliche Quellen wurden die Stichvorlage und der Entwurf herangezogen.

2. Sources

  • Entwurf
  • Stichvorlage Partitur
  • Erstdruck
Object reference

Max Reger: Motet “O Tod, wie bitter bist du” op. 110 No. 3, in: Reger-Werkausgabe,, last check: 18th May 2024.


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