Two Songs op. 144
for solo voice, mixed voice choir and orchestra
- No. Der Einsiedler
- No. Requiem
1. Early reception
The Two Songs op. 144 were included in the programs of several commemorations in the second half of 1916 for the composer, who died on 11 May.1 The Requiem was given priority as, in Karl Ebert’s opinion, it was “a heroes’ lament, whereas every pain of the Einsiedler [hermit] requires a symbolic reinterpretation in order to be regarded as intellectually equivalent” (review). The first performance of both works on 16 July in Heidelberg with the Bachverein under Philipp Wolfrum and the soloists Rolf Ligniez and Eva Katharina Lissmann, to which Elsa Reger, Hans Pfitzner, and others travelled, was thoughtfully received. The ground had been laid for as sympathetic reception as possible by a detailed analysis prepared by Wolfrum’s assistant Karl Salomon. And the reviewers were largely of one mind: “The works are amongst the very best which the great master wrote; in particular, the Requiem proved to be a creation which has not many equals in terms of grandeur and depth, of serene purity and shattering power of expression in contemporary music.” (Willibald Nagel, in Neue Musik-Zeitung) The compactness of both works, the concentration on the essential and the direct musical language were also praised: “The wondrously shaded harmonies are of compelling power, the orchestral transformation shows, where the heightened expression demands it, a barely surpassable imagery of expression; but all of that is tailored to the most concise extent, so that the sense is not diverted from the main thing, the inner processes. Although there is nothing of a brooding nature in either work, it must also be emphasized that Reger has not sacrificed a single iota of his characteristic style. He has remained the same everywhere, but everything problematic has disappeared.” (Ibid.)
Anna Müller virtually raved about the Requiem: “[…] one would almost like to call this noble mourning which speaks from Reger’s music supernaturally beautiful” (Heidelberger Tageblatt). Here in particular, according to Willibald Nagel, the listener feels “with shock, how the burden of the war lay heavily on the master, how a holy glow quivered through him to portray through his art the greatness of the sacrifice imposed on his people and to proclaim with this depiction the high duty that the non-combatants have to fulfil: to remember the faithful dead at all times and to worthily honor their devotion to the fatherland. […] Reger’s whole heart was at work here. So, he has not created a mere occasional work; the work grew out of the mood of the times into the sphere of the generally human, but without being anything other than an expression of true and deep German artistic will.” (Neue Musik-Zeitung)
For others, on the other hand, “Eichendorff’s wonderful poem of old age […] had awoken all the loving musical spirits in Reger’s soul. Orchestra, chorus and solo voice combine to create beautiful sounds of a completely new, peculiar charm. One is scarcely aware of the entangled, artistic writing, so simple does the effect ultimately seem. […] The way in which it builds and finally arches over the Bach chorale2 so calmly and peacefully, that is a rare, reconciling art.” On the other hand, in the Requiem, “orchestral and vocal parts [are] the expression of a deep painful inwardness in a rare variety of tonal colors” (Dr. S., in Heidelberger Zeitung). Almost inevitably, Karl Eschmann, with thoughts about forebodings of death, stated: “How strange it is that Reger, at the height of his powers, wrote these two works shortly before his unexpected death!” (Neue Badische Landeszeitung) Only Fritz Simon thought he could detect “that it is the overwhelming contrapuntal potency in the main which gives the work its vitality and emphatic effectiveness. The heart of the thematic content is, as almost always with Reger, not significant, nor is the originality of his rhythm great. But it is fully thought through inwardly; no overloading, no bombast disturb, so that one can be heartily glad of the real Reger here for once.” And with Einsiedler in turn, one is “as in most of Reger’s works, witness to the artist’s tremendous struggles with the subject matter, which does not want to submit to his will” (Der Merker).
On the occasion of a performance on 26 November 1916 in Berlin, Heinz Tiessen criticized that the Requiem was “not very vividly or purposefully shaped and above all, not correctly judged poetically or artistically […]. The great master musician Reger has not entirely succeeded in finding and shaping the right contrast as organic factor of a higher superior unity of the whole here. He loses the basic mood of the poem by allowing the forgotten souls of the dead to experience the content of the poet’s words directly before our ears, instead of letting them feel their fate indirectly from the feelings of the one who says: “Soul, do not forget …!” […] The “Einsiedler” is more tasteful and personal in musical language than the “Requiem”, a work of wonderful poetry. The juxtaposition of the two works makes the difference striking; perhaps there is too little in one of what is too thickly applied in the other: the inner and at the same time the architectural tension. […] These are more subtle artistic objections, but the emphasis of these lines should not remain on these; for on the contrary, I would like to emphasize that such rich and beautiful music does not come our way every day.” (Allgemeine Musik-Zeitung)
Translation by Elizabeth Robinson.
Weiterlesen in der RWA
Max Reger: Two Songs op. 144, in: Reger-Werkausgabe, www.reger-werkausgabe.de/mri_work_00175.html, last check: 28th March 2023.
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