Eight sacred Songs op. 138

for four- to eight-part mixed voice unaccompanied choir

  • No. 1 Der Mensch lebt und bestehet nur eine kleine Zeit

    Text: Matthias Claudius

  • No. 2 Morgengesang

    Text: Johannes Zwick

  • No. 3 Nachtlied

    Text: Petrus Herbert

  • No. 4 Unser lieben Frauen Traum

    Text: unknown

  • No. 5 Kreuzfahrerlied

    Text: unknown

  • No. 6 Das Agnus Dei

    Text: Nikolaus Decius

  • No. 7 Schlachtgesang

    Text: Matthias von Kemnat

  • No. 8 Wir glauben an einen Gott

    Text: unknown

Komponiert in Meiningen, vor 21. September 1914
Roderich Stintzing

Performance medium
No.1: Mixed choir [Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass], Mixed choir [Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass]; No.2: Soprano 1, Soprano 2, Alto, Tenor, Bass 1, Bass 2; No.3, 6, 7: Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass 1, Bass 2; No.4: Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass; No.5, 8: Soprano 1, Soprano 2, Alto, Tenor, Bass

Work collection
  • -
Original work
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Reger-Werkausgabe Bd. II/9: Werke für gemischten Chor a cappella II, S. 162–181.
Herausgeber Christopher Grafschmidt.
Unter Mitarbeit von Nikolaos Beer, Stefan König und Dennis Ried.
Verlag Carus-Verlag, Stuttgart; Verlags- und Plattennummer: 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.

1. Composition and Publication

Whilst Reger first composed the comparatively cheerful Telemann Variations op. 134 at the beginning of August 1914, before completing the work he turned to some reflective, confessional works mainly to religious texts,1 which he sketched more or less at the same time in direct succession. On 5 September he informed Fritz Stein: “The Chorale Preludes [op. 135a] are far from being finished. Meanwhile, I have written 12 sacred songs with piano accompaniment [op. 137] & 8 sacred songs for unaccompanied chorus [op. 138]. As well as the ‘Hymnus der Liebe’ for baritone & orchestra, op 136 (postcard). Reger had already sent the Hymnus to the publisher N. Simrock the day before, and the Sacred songs followed the next day to C.F. Peters; but the choral work was not so far advanced, as Stein learned from Elsa Reger on 10 September: “Max has dedicated his sacred songs (choruses), on which he is still working, to Stintzing”.2 Reger’s summary announcement of 21 September to Karl Straube, that he had also written opp. 137 and 138 amongst other works could, however, be a reference to the actual completion of the engraver’s copy of the Sacred songs, for he wrote: “Now I am working on very, very easy, childishly simple chorale preludes for organ [op. 135a].” (Letter)

On 15 November 1914 Reger reported to Hans von Ohlendorff: “[…] my op. 138a 8 sacred songs for mixed chorus will be published by Simrock in ¾ years; […] All these things have long been in the hands of the publishers.” (Letter) Reger seems to be mistaken here, despite the specific timescale. Firstly, the submission of the manuscript is not documented in the surviving publisher’s correspondence, and secondly, this information contradicts his letter of 1 March 1915 to the publisher, “this includes the manuscript of my op138a. The engraver’s copy was probably left lying around and only resurfaced as a result of the move to Jena. As Reger planned to combine all my sacred unaccompanied choral things under the opus number 138, (ibid.) at this point the suffix “a” was envisaged for the Sacred songs.

Reger received the set of proofs by 12 January 1916 at the latest.3 However, throughout the whole of the winter he was only ever at home in Jena for a few days, whilst more and more proofs accumulated, and the choral works were amongst the tranche which he took with him in May when he travelled to Leipzig to teach composition. When Reger was found dead in his hotel bed on the morning of 11 May, the proofs of op. 138 were lying on the table. Gerhard Dorschfeldt, one of Reger’s last composition pupils, reported that Reger had “come to Leipzig on Wednesday morning the 10th May, to teach his weekly composition students in the afternoon”. After the lesson he had accompanied his teacher i.a. to the Hotel “Hentschel”, “as he had to write an important letter to an American. […] After finishing the letter I asked him to rest a little; he did this and explained to me that when he was in Leipzig in the mornings, he often worked by this hotel window, as here was the most peaceful place and he would not be disturbed by anyone.” (“Die letzten Stunden mit Max Reger”)

The first proofs of the parts, dated “7.Jan.1916”, in which just two missing commas and a melisma slur were added (in red ink), remained in the possession of Elsa Reger. However, the first proofs of the score do not survive; presumably they were returned to the publisher via Karl Straube who took over responsibility for the proof-reading after Reger’s death.4 It is therefore not known how far Reger got with checking through the score.5 On the other hand, what is probably a surviving second proof of the score was dated July 1916 by the engraver; in this the now-obsolete “a” by the opus number was simply crossed out.6

It is not known how many sets of proofs there were, including of the parts, in total. The first page of music of the second proof of the score, for example, contains the stamp “Zum Druck” [ready for print], but it has been crossed out. And the score which was ultimately published does indeed contain a few significant differences; for example, in no. 2, measure 8, the correction of “ausgeht” to “ausgaht”, to match the text source, and an alteration of the metronome marking for no. 3 from crotchet = 80 to crotchet = 60 – both changes which could have been made by Karl Straube. The publication of the Eight sacred songs op. 138 was advertised in Hofmeister’s Musikalisch-literarischer Monatsbericht for August 1916,7 but there is no record of a first performance8.


Translation by Elizabeth Robinson.

By 21 August, as Reger reported to Fritz Stein (letter), as well as some of the Twelve sacred songs op. 137 he had also written eight of the Chorale Preludes for organ op. 135a. Because the engraver’s copy was missing, it was unclear until recently which of the total 30 preludes these were (the pieces were not published in the order of the manuscript, but in alphabetical order); however, the manuscript, since rediscovered in Prague, now reveals that they were the chorales in the collection which deal with the expectation of death and dying, of spiritual need and trust in God. Their composition at this time seems to have reflected Reger’s personal feelings (see separate edition of the Thirty Little Chorale Preludes on the most common chorales op. 135a, Carus-Verlag, Stuttgart 2021).
Letter, Max-Reger-Institut, Karlsruhe, shelf number: Ep. Ms. 3207.
See postcard dated 12 January 1916 to Simrock-Verlag, in ibid., p. 303. As Reger did not raise the subject again, these must have been the complete proofs (score and parts).
“His last works lie before me, and I need to check the proofs” (letter by Straube dated 11 June 1916 to Niels Otto Raasted).
As was presumably the case with the missing engraver’s copy of the score, in the proofs of the parts, e.g. in no. 1, soprano I, measure 56, second half of the measure, the rhythm is dotted crotchet-quaver, whereas in the printed score, this has been rendered as minim with a cue-sized closing turn. An engraving error is extremely unlikely, and it cannot be assumed that Straube intervened here arbitrarily. This would mean that Reger must have improved this passage in the first proofs of the score.
In the edition (no. 18) of the Neue Musik-Zeitung published on 22 June 1916, which had an editorial deadline of 10 June, both Fritz Stein’s essay “Max Regers letzte Werke” (pp. 281–283) and the advertisement from Simrock-Verlag (p. 292) give the opus number as “138”.
88 Jg., p. 109.
The earliest known performance of an unknown selection of the Sacred songs was given on 12 October 1916 during Vespers in the Stadtkirche Limbach, conducted by Rudolf Levin (see Aufführungen).

1. Reception

In the absence of reviews from this time, it is worth citing Reger’s pupil Hugo Holle, who wrote in 1922: “These simple unaccompanied songs (4–8 parts), avoiding anything difficult, really show Reger’s art in writing diatonic settings for several voices with simple figurations in chorale style. The archaic effect is achieved through the harmonies and the compact phrase structure which springs from the concise style. […] “Nachtlied” (no. 3) is infinitely tender in its mood”.1


Translation by Elizabeth Robinson.

Max Reger. Eine Sammlung von Studien aus dem Kreise seiner persönlichen Schüler, ed. Richard Würz, Vol. III, Hugo Holle, Regers Chorwerke, Munich 1922, p. 61f.

1. Quellenbewertung

Der Edition liegt als Leitquelle die posthume Erstausgabe zugrunde. Als zusätzliche Quellen wurden der von Reger unbearbeitete Korrekturabzug der Stimmen sowie der posthume Abzug der Partitur herangezogen.

Die letztliche Revision der Abzüge nahm, notwendigerweise mithilfe der (seither verschollenen) Stichvorlage, offenbar Karl Straube vor – “Seine letzten Werke liegen vor mir, und ich habe die Korrekturen zu lesen”, berichtete er am 11. Juni 1916 Niels Otto Raasted (Brief). Welche Druckfahnen er dafür verwendete, ist unklar.

2. Sources

  • Entwürfe
  • Stichvorlage
  • Korrekturabzüge Partitur und Stimmen
  • posthume Erstausgabe

Weiterlesen in der RWA

Object reference

Max Reger: Eight sacred Songs op. 138, in: Reger-Werkausgabe, www.reger-werkausgabe.de/mri_work_00168.html, last check: 3rd June 2023.


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