Hymnus der Liebe op. 136

for baritone (or alto) and orchestra

Komponiert in Meiningen, August 1914

Performance medium
Baritone; [Alto]; Orchestra [Flute 1, Flute 2, Oboe 1, Oboe 2, Clarinet 1, Clarinet 2, Bassoon 1, Bassoon 2, Trumpet 1, Trumpet 2, French horn 1, French horn 2, French horn 3, French horn 4, Timpani 1, Timpani 2, Timpani 3, Harp, Strings]

Work collection
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Original work
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Reger-Werkausgabe Bd. II/6: Lieder mit Orchesterbegleitung, S. 36–75.
Herausgeber Christopher Grafschmidt, Claudia Seidl.
Unter Mitarbeit von Knud Breyer und Stefan König.
Verlag Carus-Verlag, Stuttgart; Verlagsnummer: CV 52.813.
Erscheinungsdatum September 2023.
Notensatz Carus-Verlag, Stuttgart.
Copyright 2023 by Carus-Verlag, Stuttgart and Max-Reger-Institut, Karlsruhe – CV 52.813.
Vervielfältigungen jeglicher Art sind gesetzlich verboten. / Any unauthorized reproduction is prohibited by law.
Alle Rechte vorbehalten. / All rights reserved.
ISMN 979-0-007-30199-6.
ISBN 978-3-89948-446-5.

Hymnus der Liebe

Text template
First edition

Template edition

Used for comparison purposes in RWA: First edition

Copy shown in RWA: DE, Karlsruhe, Max-Reger-Institut/Elsa-Reger-Stiftung, G.


Note: Der von Reger vertonte Text ist nur ein kleiner Ausschnitt aus der 1887 verfassten »Metaphysischen Dichtung« Vom Geschlecht der Promethiden.

Note: Ein halbes Jahr später in Ludwig Jacobowski, Funken. Neue Dichtungen, Verlag E. Pierson, Dresden, Juni 1891, S. [125]–152, hier: S. 146–147 (ebenfalls ohne Titel).

1. Composition and Publication

Reger suffered a nervous breakdown following a concert in Hagen on 28 February 1914 (see The biographical context). He thereafter spent four weeks in his sickbed in Meiningen, then went for a month’s1 cure to the Martinsbrunn Sanatorium near Merano in what is today the South Tyrol in Italy. He was accompanied there by Fritz and Gretel Stein. It seems, however, that it was only after having completed his Hymnus der Liebe that it occurred to him to dedicate a work to the two of them for the kind favour they had paid him.

We do not know exactly when Reger began work on the Hymnus, but it is mentioned for the first time in a letter of 24 August 1914 that he sent to Karl Straube: “It might interest you to know that I have not been lazy recently! The Variations with Fugue on a Theme by Mozart with orchestra op. 132 have long been finished, are already engraved and the proofs corrected; after that, my op. 133 Piano Quartet (in a minor) is being engraved! and I have just sent op. 134 to the engraver’s, Variations and Fugue for Piano 2 Hands on a Theme by Telemann. (It is a piano work in the grandest style.) Now I am working on op. 135 [sic]: ‘Hymnus der Liebe’ – a wonderful text by Ludwig Jacobowsky for baritone (or contralto) with orchestra.” (Letter)

The outbreak of the World War does not initially seem to have left any obvious traces in Reger’s music. Reger positioned himself publicly neither as a supporter of the war nor as an opponent of it.2 There is no proof that the Hymnus der Liebe, his first wartime vocal work, in any sense reflected a desire on his part to adopt an alternative position to the war euphoria displayed by many of his artist colleagues. But his choice of text is nevertheless significant for what is considered “probably one of Reger’s compositions that are least in tune with the times”.3 In any case, he was already hoping by early August “that this terrible war will be over as soon as possible” (letter of 3 August 1914 to Richard Chrzenscinski). By the time of his Twelve sacred Songs op. 137 and his Eight sacred Songs op. 138, he seems to have consciously withdrawn from any process of “mental mobilisation”. But in September 1914, in an act of “patriotic solidarity”,4 he now fulfilled the expectations of his relatives who were sympathetic to the military5 by composing his Vaterländische Ouvertüre op. 140 (the “Patriotic overture”), which he dedicated to the German army: “Dem deutschen Heere!”.

The text that Reger set to music here is just a brief excerpt from Vom Geschlecht der Promethiden (Of the race of the Prometheans), a “metaphysical poem” (thus its subsidiary title) of epic proportions by Ludwig Jacobowski, a poet who had died early and whose work Reger admired.6 We do not know whether it was Reger himself who extracted the stanza that he set to music and to which he gave a new title, or whether he was working from an independent source. This stanza comprises Prometheus’s desperate plea to the “All-Merciful” to “rekindle in the anxious soul of the individual […] the dying spark of divine love”. In any case, the copy of the work that Reger sent to the engraver referred specifically to the complete poem.

Work on the Hymnus proceeded quite quickly. By 25 August 1914, Reger was able to put the finishing touches to the engraver’s copy. Fritz Stein learned of the completion of the Hymnus on 27 August,7 but Reger did not inform him of its dedication until some ten days later. This ran: “Fritz u. Grethel Stein zur Erinnerung an Meran 1914 (“Fritz and Grethel Stein in remembrance of Merano in 1914”). (Letter of 5 September 1914) It was also now that he first mentioned the work’s definitive opus number.

After having been sent Reger’s opp. 132 to 134, Simrock now received a successive, fourth new work by the composer – probably once again without any prior notice: “You will then find the score of my op. 136 in the roll […], the piano reduction of which is enclosed with this letter. There is no hurry to engrave this work op. 136. […] if op. 136 appears next spring, that is very much in order […]. The orchestral parts do not need to be engraved – another manner of production will suffice that will be cheaper.” (Letter of 4 September 1914) All the same, it wouldn’t do any harm if you sent the work to be engraved now already. On 11 September, Reger confirmed having received his fee, and sent back the publisher’s slip with his signature. (Letter)

It is not entirely clear why Reger did not insist on haste, as was his custom. He was sure “that the sales of this work will always be relatively limited”, though he gave no reason for believing this. (Letter of 4 September 1914) It was only towards the end of the year, in a letter to the singer Anna Erler-Schnaudt, that he made any reference to the discrepancy between contemporary events and the text that he had set to music in his new orchestral song. At the same time, he emphasised the profundity of the poem, with a dig at the otherwise popular banalities of poetic diction: “It would be paradoxical if a ‘Hymn of love’ [were to be published] now – the text deals in a very reasonable manner with human love, i. e. the love of one’s neighbour! There are for once – thank God – no ‘little blue eyes’ in it!” (Letter of 19 December 1914)

Reger received the proofs on 2 June 1915 and promised to “see to them at some point, (letter of 2 June 1915) adding curtly: “The proofs of the ‘Hymnus der Liebe’ can take their time!” (Letter of 9 June 1915) As in the case of his Einsiedler op. 144a, Reger did not expect the Hymnus to appear in print “until after the war”. (Postcard of 19 July 1915 to Anna Erler-Schnaudt)8 But this reminder of the Hymnus prompted him to promise his Leipzig patron Marie Wach that he would visit her and bring Jacobowski’s wonderful text” with him. Immediately after this visit, he wrote and promptly repeated his recommendation to read the poem.9

The proofs of the Hymnus indeed remained untouched for almost a year and were not corrected by Reger until April 1916, after the end of a winter season that devoured his time and energy. When he returned them to his publisher at the end of that month, he asked: “When the proofs of the score and piano reduction of op. 136 are not needed any more, please send them back to me.” (Letter of 28 April 1916) In the meantime, he no longer recalled his original plan to “honour” his publisher “with the manuscript of the piano reduction after it has been published” (letter of 4 September 1914). His final wish in this regard, just before his sudden death on 11 May, was presumably to leave it to his two joint dedicatees, as is suggested by a note from Elsa Regers of 1 June confirming this donation: “My husband still wanted to give this manuscript as a gift to both of you, and I now place it in your hands as a dear bequest from the great, beloved man who has now passed away.”10 The Hymnus der Liebe was published soon after Reger’s death.11 It seems that his request for the return of the proofs was thereafter forgotten.


Translation by Chris Walton.

28 March to 27 April 1914.
Alexander Becker, “‘… wo ist die Liebe, die Menschenliebe?’ Zu Max Regers kompositorischer Reflexion des Ersten Weltkriegs”, in Zwischen den Fronten. Leben und Sterben im Ersten Weltkrieg, ed. Arbeitskreis selbständiger Kultur-Institute e.V. – AsKI 2014, pp. 286–299, here: p. 287.
Stefan König, “Regers Hymnus der Liebe für Bariton (Alt) und Orchester op. 136”, in Max Reger – ein nationaler oder ein universaler Komponist?, conference papers ed. Helmut Loos, Klaus-Peter Koch and Susanne Popp, Leipzig 2017 (= Musikgeschichte in Mittel- und Osteuropa. Mitteilungen der Arbeitsgemeinschaft an der Universität Leipzig no. 18), pp. [302]–325, here: p. 303.
Alexander Becker, “‘… wo ist die Liebe, die Menschenliebe?’”, in Zwischen den Fronten. Leben und Sterben im Ersten Weltkrieg, p. 292. – See also Susanne Popp, “Max Regers Weltkriegskompositionen und die Zwangsläufigkeit ihrer Rezeption”, in “… dass alles auch hätte anders kommen können.” Beiträge zur Musik des 20. Jahrhunderts, ed. Susanne Schaal-Gotthardt, Luitgard Schader and Heinz-Jürgen Winkler, Mainz etc. 2009 (= Frankfurter Studien, vol. XII), pp. 58–81.
Elsa Reger came from a Prussian officer’s family. The able-bodied men of her family were presumably already at the front at this time. Reger, by contrast, had only managed to scrape through his one-year voluntary military service in 1896/97 and was on 18 August 1914 classified as “permanently unfit for service either in the field or in the garrison” (see Becker, “‘… wo ist die Liebe, die Menschenliebe?’”, in Zwischen den Fronten. Leben und Sterben im Ersten Weltkrieg, p. 288).
Between 1901 and 1903, Reger had already composed eight settings of poems by the Jewish poet Jacobowski, who had died of meningitis in 1900. In 1901, he had also participated in a money-raising campaign to set up a memorial stone for him. Reger also planned a song cycle using his texts, though this was never realised. The poem Vom Geschlecht der Promethiden had first been published in the Litterarische Blätter, then in 1891 in Jacobowski’s volume of poems entitled Funken. Reger’s early settings of Jacobowski had not drawn on any texts from Funken.
See letter.
Nevertheless, Reger made statements to the press that stimulated interest in this as-yet unpublished work (Rheinische Musik- und Theater-Zeitung vol. 16 [1915], no. 29/30 [17 July], p. 176 and Neue Musik-Zeitung vol. 36 [1915], no. 21 [5 August], p. 262). He also showed both works to Anna Erler-Schnaudt when she visited him in Jena (see postcard to Erler-Schnaudt of 22 July 1915).
Postcards of 7 and 11 June 1915.
Engraver’s copy of the piano reduction, front flyleaf, private collection.
This orchestral song was announced in the July 1916 issue of Hofmeister’s Musikalisch-literarischer Monatsbericht über neue Musikalien, musikalische Schriften und Abbildungen (p. 94). This work is also already mentioned in a publisher’s advertisement in the Signale für die Musikalische Welt vol. 74 (1916), no. 24/25 (16 June), p. 433.

1. Early reception

Elsa Reger must have begun promoting the work immediately after its publication, as is confirmed by a letter of 4 August 1916 from the singer Albert Fischer, thanking her for sending him the music: “I hope I can often do my bit for this work. […] The ‘Hymnus’ is wonderfully beautiful + I am already looking forward to being able to sing myself ‘into’ it properly.” (Letter) Fischer’s first opportunity to perform it seems to have come about on 17 October 1917 at a charity concert in Rudolstadt, though it seems almost ironic that he was accompanied only on the piano by Fritz Busch. “Even though the work is intended for orchestra, I nevertheless hope that I will be able to play the accompaniment on the piano with as many colours as possible. I always think that it’s better for people to hear a work by Reger, even in a good arrangement, than not to hear it at all.”1

The first performance of the Hymnus with orchestra took place on 23 June 1918 during the second Reger Festival in Jena, organised by Elsa Reger, where “the nearest disciples celebrated their master with a love and understanding that are founded on spiritual elective affinities” (Rheinische Theater- und Musik-Zeitung). The reviewer of the Rheinische Musik- und Theater-Zeitung wrote: Prof. Albert Fischer-Sondershausen deployed his very beautiful, warm voice and his musicality in this ecstatic piece, which at times displays an almost Wagnerian panache, and is rich in precious ideas.” (Ibid.) Fischer was accompanied by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Fritz Busch. It is noteworthy that this “Hymn of Love” was followed by the “Patriotic Overture [op. 140], which is less worthy, but of elemental power” (ibid.) – an apparent contradiction in programming that was simply a reflection of the times.

The Hymnus der Liebe was regularly heard at the Reger Festivals of the inter-war period and also enjoyed further performances, such as at the memorial service held on 11 May 1930 when the urn with Reger’s ashes was transferred to Munich. The Münchner Neueste Nachrichten offered praise for its “delicate shimmering colours and the way sound is refracted in the orchestration of Reger’s late style”. The reviewer went on to write of the “poignancy of the vocal line’s eloquent, insistent declamation, and the warmth of its expressive melody. Its invocatory quality enables it to glide over pessimism and depression, soaring above a surge of pain to attain the soft, clear light of a gentle transformation in E major …” (Review)


Translation by Chris Walton.

Letter from Fritz Busch to Albert Fischer of 22 September 1917, BrüderBusch-Archiv in the Max-Reger-Institut, Karlsruhe; shelfmark: B 3080. – Elsa Reger had asked Busch to include the Hymnus der Liebe in the concert programme.

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 Referenzquellen wurden die Stichvorlage der Partitur sowie in wenigen Fällen Erstdruck und Stichvorlage des Klavierauszugs herangezogen. Der Entwurf spielte keine entscheidende Rolle.

3. Sources

  • Entwurf
  • Stichvorlage der Partitur
  • Stichvorlage des Klavierauszugs
  • Erstdruck der Partitur
  • Erstdruck des Klavierauszugs
Object reference

Max Reger: Hymnus der Liebe op. 136, in: Reger-Werkausgabe, www.reger-werkausgabe.de/mri_work_00166.html, last check: 17th April 2024.


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