Letzte Bitte WoO VII/22
for voice and piano
Text: Otto Julius Bierbaum
|Reger-Werkausgabe||Bd. II/2: Lieder II, S. 30–31.|
|Herausgeber||Stefan König, Dennis Ried.
Unter Mitarbeit von Alexander Becker, Nikolaos Beer und Christopher Grafschmidt.
|Verlag||Carus-Verlag, Stuttgart; Verlags- und Plattennummer: CV 52.809.|
|Copyright||2021 by Carus-Verlag, Stuttgart and Max-Reger-Institut, Karlsruhe – CV 52.809.
Vervielfältigungen jeglicher Art sind gesetzlich verboten. / Any unauthorized reproduction is prohibited by law.
Alle Rechte vorbehalten. / All rights reserved.
The composition of opp. 35 and 37 as well as WoO VII/21 and WoO VII/22 cannot be separated from each other. As early as 16 February 1899 Reger mentioned to Josef Loritz the composition of a song collection of “5–6 piece[s]”, which he wanted to dedicate to his friend. (Letter) Initially the project was not taken any further, then in the summer a larger collection of ten songs was composed, to be published under the opus number 35. Subsequently this was initially expanded with three further songs, then divided into two separate opus numbers, from which two songs (WoO VII/21 and 22) were in turn omitted. Ultimately Six Songs op. 35 and Five Songs op. 37 were published.
Following an invitation from Auguste von Bagenski, Reger spent from the last week of May to the second half of July 1899 on holiday in Schneewinkl near Berchtesgaden. There he met Auguste’s daughter Elsa von Bercken, his future wife, again, whom he knew from Wiesbaden and who was in the process of getting a divorce. In her Erinnerungen Elsa Reger wrote: “Ten songs were written in a short time. With the ink still wet on the page, learning the songs began, and in the evenings we sang “the new song” to my mother”.1
Reger made two manuscripts of each of these ten songs – one served as the dedication copy for Elsa von Bercken, and the other as the engraver’s copy for the publisher. The manuscripts differ mainly because the copy intended for Elsa von Bercken contains breath marks2. A few of the manuscripts contain dates of completion which provide information about the compositional process: on 16 June Dein Auge was completed, Der Himmel hat eine Thräne geweint probably on 22 June, a day later Glückes genug and on 24 (or 27)3 June »Frauenhaar«; at the beginning of the next month he composed Flieder (2 July) and Du liebes Auge (4 July), and probably Volkslied (date unclear). On 16 July Reger finally announced euphorically to his former teacher Adalbert Lindner in Weiden: “A song cycle is finished. Op 31 is a mess compared with it.” (Postcard)
Shortly after this, however, there was a serious disagreement between Elsa von Bercken and Reger, who left Schneewinkl because of this.4Later, looking back, Reger’s widow wrote about the reason for his sudden departure, on which he took the manuscripts with him: “But this beautiful time came to a sudden end when Reger made it clear to me that he felt more for me than just admiration and friendship. I, however, did not feel more than this, and the parting was a disagreement.”5 Despite this unsuccessful courtship6 Reger continued to remain in contact with Elsa von Bercken. On 21 July, after he had prepared the songs for print, he sent the dedication copies made for her in Schneewinkl back to her from Weiden. On this occasion he made a title wrapper7 with the inscription: “To Frau Elsa von Bercken | née von Bagenski | most cordially dedicated. | Ten Songs for a medium voice with pianoforte accompaniment […] op 35”.Note: Last listed: private collection. – The page was dated 21 July 1899. Elsa Reger also recorded the order of the songs in manuscript in her Erinnerungen: “1. Dein Auge; 2. Der Himmel hat eine Träne geweint; 3. Traum durch die Dämmerung; 4. Flieder; 5. Du liebes Auge; 6. Glückes genug; 7. Volkslied; 8. Frauenhaar; 9. Der Tod, das ist die kühle Nacht; 10. Letzte Bitte”.8 Reger kept the other copies of the songs intended as engraver’s copies.
Even over a month after his departure from Schneewinkl, Reger regarded his op. 35 as a completed work, as he informed Ernst Guder on 18 August. But in the same letter, he reported to the Wiesbaden bookseller: “Today I found another 3 poems which could be set to music; they are very modern things.” (Letter) Just four days later he wrote the date of completion below the song Nächtliche Pfade. On 25 August he had also set to music the two other texts – Richard Dehmel’s Verlaine translation Helle Nacht, and Valerie Matthes’ d’Annunzio translation Wenn lichter Mondenschein…. He informed Elsa von Bercken: “Have now written three new songs, would happily send them to you, but don’t know whether it would be pleasant for you?” ( Letter)9
On 7 September Reger spent some time in Munich for discussions with his publisher Jos. Aibl and presented new compositions there, including op. 35. The same day his mother Philomena received a message of his success: “pleased him [the managing director Eugen Spitzweg] very much; he is to publish op 35, 37 (songs & sonata[)].” (Postcard) After this meeting, or in the course of preparing the works for print, the decision must have been made to divide what was until now opus 35 into two smaller song collections. Both the copyright agreement and the royalty receipt statement which Reger signed on 23 September record for the first time the final division into Six Songs op. 35 and Five Songs op. 37; the sonata referred to (in A major for violin) received the opus number 41. By this point at the latest, the songs Der Tod, das ist die kühle Nacht and Letzte Bitte (WoO VII/21 and and 22) were taken out of the collection, and Reger did not submit these for publication. The dedication to Elsa von Bercken was also dropped; instead, each song was given a separate dedication to well-known performers or singing teachers. The first two songs from op. 35 were dedicated to Josef Loritz and Susanne Triepel who were the first to sing Reger’s songs in public; other dedications followed to the bass-baritones Arthur van Eweyk and Anton Sistermans, and to Nikolaus Rothmühl, for many years director of the opera school at the Stern’sches Konservatorium in Berlin. Reger was also to continue with the strategy of these “individual dedications”10 in opp. 43 and 48.
No comments by Reger are known about the circumstances leading to the subsequent division of the songs into two opuses. In her Erinnerungen, Elsa Reger referred only to the events of July in Schneewinkl: “He tore away the bouquet of the 10 love songs, and did not publish them, as he wanted, in one volume dedicated to me, but scattered them between various volumes.”11 It is of course also possible that there were publishing reasons for the division. The words “to tear away” and “to scatter” do not adequately describe Reger’s process of reordering: the sequence of the first five songs in the original collection was retained, and as the conclusion of op. 35, Reger added Wenn lichter Morgenschein…, composed in Weiden. For op. 37 numbers “VI–VIII” of the songs composed in Schneewinkl were re-arranged (now op. op. 37 nos. 3, 2, and 4); the songs Helle Nacht (no. 1) and Nächtliche Pfade (no. 5), also newly composed, frame the collection.
The two songs which had been removed only came to light after Reger’s death. Der Tod, das ist die kühle Nacht (WoO VII/21) was published in the second half of June 1916, that is just four weeks after the composer’s funeral, in the Neue Musik-Zeitung, probably based on the manuscript marked up as an engraver’s copy.12 In 1921 the Leipzig publisher Steingräber published this, together with the song Letzte Bitte (WoO VII/22) and under the title Zwei Lieder 13.
Composition · Publication (op. 35 & 37, WoO VII/21 & VII/22) · Text choice · Early reception
Translation by Elizabeth Robinson.
As long as Reger still lived in Weiden, he could only call on performers from his close circle to disseminate his songs. For example, Maria Hösl sang the song Traum durch die Dämmerung op. 35 no. 3 in November 1899 in Heidelberg from a manuscript before it was printed. Josef Loritz performed songs including Glückes genug op. 37 no. 3 in December 1900 at a song recital he had organised at the “Bayerischer Hof” in Munich, and elsewhere. Also in 1900, the first reviews of the songs up to op. 43 appeared, which were largely positive. For the critic of the Musikalisches Wochenblatt, Eugen Segnitz, Reger was already “a predestined lieder singer”, who had “the whole gamut of lyrical expressive capabilities” at his disposal. He characterised the song "Frauenhaar" op. 37 no. 4 in the words: “A powerful blaze of passion, an ecstasy of happiness enjoyed, which, constantly resonating in gentle vibrations, never wants to end”. (Review) As preceding citation. The special features of the vocal part were also discussed, which was repeatedly described as “strange”, especially as “even the most distant echoes of familiar melodic expressions” were avoided. (Review from anon. in Neue Musik-Zeitung) The piano part was often seen as an “effective counterpart to the voice” (Ibid.) because of its striking independence, and criticism of its complexity and its recurring structural patterns, which were perceived as monochrome , was also sparked.1
Reger laid the basis for a more lasting reception of his songs after his move to Munich in September 1901. Just a month later he appeared as piano accompanist to Loritz in a song recital in the Museum Room of the Palais Portia. At this, three numbers from his opp. 51 and 55 as well as songs by Anton Beer-Walbrunn and Ludwig Thuille, both professors at the Munich Akademie der Tonkunst, were performed. Numerous other concert performances in the Museum and in the “Bayerischer Hof” Hotel followed. In these, in strategic fashion, he always “confronted” 2 songs by composers of the so-called Munich School (Thuille, Max Schillings, Ernst Boehe etc.), characterized by their restrained modernism, with a small selection of his own new works. In this way he “invited a comparison with his own songs”, particularly since in his choice, he always took care to select “one of the extremely wild, naturalistic” songs, “but also tender mood paintings”.3 At this time Reger acquired the reputation of an excellent, sensitive piano accompanist. As well as Loritz, from 1902 he also worked with singers including the tenors Ludwig Hess and Franz Bergen, and a little later the alto Iduna Walter-Choinanus and soprano Susanne Dessoir. Comparing his songs with contributions by contemporaries, the Munich critics repeatedly emphasized the atypical and contrary generic character of Reger’s works, sometimes relating this to the composer’s personality. Thus a reviewer writing in the Munich Illustriertes Salonblatt found the provocative-confessional setting of Jacobowski’s Der Narr op. 55 no. 5 to be a “clearly revealed construct of the unique nature of this volcanic genius”. (Review of the concert on 7 April 1902 in the “Bayerischer Hof”) Reger had understood the poem to be a general charge against philistines ignorant of art, and included it in his core repertoire as a song accompanist. Referring to the songs Schmied Schmerz and Frühlingsmorgen op. 51 nos. 6 and 11, the critic of the Allgemeinen Zeitung München (probably Theodor Kroyer) spoke of “incredible strange creations” and pointedly summarised: “For the “song rabble” they are of course nothing.” (Review of the concert on 4 January 1902 in the Palais Portia)
From about 1902 onwards the songs Reger had composed in Weiden increasingly featured in detailed collective reviews in music journals. In the Allgemeinen Musik-Zeitung Heinrich Lang noted a development between opp. 51 and 55 towards a less overladen musical language and demonstratively contrasted the complex structures of the first collection (“so much counterpoint, so much harmonic and rhythmic ‘secession’ and such an absurdly difficult piano accompaniment simply does not go with the concept of ‘song’”) with the melodically approachable Viola d’amour op. 55 no. 11 as an ideal (“that is the most deeply-felt language of the soul, that is music, in the words of the most sacred meaning!” (Review). In his article published in Die Gesellschaft, Karl Straube, Reger’s friend and main performer of his organ works, also interpreted the op. 51 songs as the artistic result of “Reger’s difficult German nature” and described the “sensory and supersensory nature of these songs, which find their artistic expression in the harmonic exuberance, now almost stammering, now overflowing and sentimental in the declamation of the melodic lines in wide-ranging melismas”, whereas in op. 55, he now recognized “a healthy naturalness of feeling in contrast with the hyper-symbolism of the earlier songs”. (Ibid.)
How much Reger’s song output polarised the musical public is revealed in the paper “Max Reger als Liederkomponist” by Richard Batka, the music editor of Der Kunstwart, in the periodical Deutsche Gesangskunst. The implicit accusation in some earlier reviews of an artifically forced, mathematically calculated atmosphere is openly voiced in this article, referring to opp. 51 and 55. On Wiegenlied op. 51 no. 3 Batka commented sarcastically: “Is it not dreadful? Will the poor child not be seasick with this ‘quasi vivacissimo’ triplet rhythm, will it not be frightened by these harmonic grimaces, or driven mad by the pained singing of its mother?” As well as this, he declared the vocal part of the song to be the “result of arithmetic”, the “voice by the grace of the piano” and reckoned that “if this kind of composing were to become so fashionable that singers believed they had to go along with it, it would ruin our far-from-ideal state of singing completely.” Batka’s harsh invective attracted the attention of the Munich poet and music writer Richard Braungart, who was known to Reger and was the poet of the song Ein Paar op. 55 no. 9. Braungart criticized Batka’s lack of willingness and ability to countenance new sounds4 and argued in favor of Reger, ultimately with reference to the difference between melodic song and the genre of declamatory song which was influential for Reger: “But with declamatory song, the voice never appears on its own, but always gains life and expressive power in the most intimate connection with the accompaniment (inadequate word!). Thus Reger, like other modern composers, cannot be criticized for this fact; because for them it is the (one could almost say: homophonic) polyphony of the human voice and of the piano part which gives the whole song the full melody, and it is in the inseparable combination of these two factors that the tremendous expressive power of such music lies.” (Ibid.)
After Reger had given concerts with Josef Loritz several times further afield since 1901 (including in Nördlingen, Frankfurt-am-Main, and Krefeld), in February/March 1903 he ventured to organize two purely Reger song recitals with Ludwig Hess in Leipzig (“Hôtel de Prusse”) and Berlin (Beethoven-Saal), followed later by a Reger- Wolf evening with Franz Bergen in Leipzig. The program of the two identical Reger evenings contained a total of 16 songs from opp. 37 to 55 composed in Weiden, as well as the collections opp. 62, 66, 68 and 70 , composed in Munich 5, which covered the entire spectrum of Reger’s song output – from melodic songs such as Glückes genug op. 37 no. 3 and Viola d’amour op. 55 no. 11 to expressive declamatory songs such as Schmied Schmerz op. 51 no. 6 and Wehe! op. 62 no. 1. The Berlin critics in particular regarded the songs as scandalous and an attack on good taste, used the cliché of musical “unnaturalness” 6 almost unanimously, and outbid each other with garish descriptions for the musically repulsive: thus the chronicler of the Staatsbürgerzeitung conjectured that “such shrieking […] such falsetto whimpering can give the listeners bad nerves” (Review from F. Hoyer), Max Marschalk (Vossische Zeitung) spoke of “a difficult affliction” (Review), and the organist and composer Heinrich Reimann, who had written a detailed appreciation of Reger’s first opus in 1893, diagnosed “stylistic violence and monstrosities in pseudo-polyphony” (Review in Das kleine Journal) The few balanced judgements amongst the great ranks of critics, who had to review George Frideric Handel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt in the Philharmonie the same evening, and therefore had to go “from Handel to Reger and from Reger back to Handel” in the interval, thereby travelling between different sound worlds7, included the account by Hugo Leichtentritt in the Allgemeinen Musik-Zeitung. Leichtentritt detected “on the one hand the most subtly refined harmony, on the other ruthlessly harsh and violent” and interpreted the avoidance of singable melody not as a deficiency, but as a conscious characteristic: “At any rate it was interesting and instructive for me to note that I did not find this neglect of melody in some songs to be entirely trivial, nor the artistic effect belittling.” (Review)8 In similar fashion, Ernst Günther had also detected a turning point in Reger’s vocal output in his review of the song opuses 35 to 62, beginning with the Eight Songs op. 43, in which “everything simple or folk song-like was stripped away”. On the occasion of Reger’s move to the musical center Munich he finally posed the question: “Will he become more malleable, more approachable, more urbane? I don’t believe so. May he just continue in the tone he struck in op. 55. We must rise to his level, he should not descend to ours”. (“Max Reger als Liedercomponist”, in Neue Zeitschrift für Musik)
Translation by Elizabeth Robinson.
Der Edition liegt als Leitquelle die posthume Erstausgabe zugrunde, die nach Vorlage des verschollenen Widmungsexemplars für Elsa von Bercken publiziert wurde.
- Posthume Erstausgabe
Max Reger: Letzte Bitte WoO VII/22, in: Reger-Werkausgabe, www.reger-werkausgabe.de/mri_work_00789.html, last check: 6th July 2022.
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