The second volume in the Songs and Choral Works Series contains, in chronological order, the songs Max Reger composed between summer 1899 and spring 1901 in Berchtesgaden (Schneewinkl-Lehn) and Weiden.• Six Songs op. 35 (1899)
• Five Songs op. 37 (1899)
• Der Tod, das ist die kühle Nacht WoO VII/21 (1899)
• Letzte Bitte WoO VII/22 (1899)
• Eight Songs op. 43 (1899)
• Seven Songs op. 48 (1900)
• Nachtgeflüster WoO VII/23 (1900)
• Süße Ruh WoO VII/24 (1900)
• Brautring WoO VII/25 (1900)
• Geheimnis WoO VII/26 (1900)
• Mädchenlied WoO VII/27 (1900)
• Hoffnungslos WoO VII/28 (1900)
• Sonnenregen WoO VII/29 (1900)
• Twelve Songs op. 51 (1900)
• Fifteen Songs op. 55 (1901)
1.1. Biographical context
The years 1898 to 1901 marked Reger’s breakthrough as a composer. After a difficult physical and psychological crisis, he had returned from Wiesbaden to his parents’ house in Weiden. There he was able to concentrate on his composing without outside obligations, and he succeeded in consolidating things both artistically and personally. In just three years he composed over 40 works and numerous arrangements. His artistic productivity was helped not least the lack of distractions. An increasing sense of confidence also resulted in the successful conclusion of his search for a publisher which Reger had embarked upon after George Augener (London) had lost interest in his works. Thanks to an introduction from Richard Strauss, who initially recommended him as an arranger, then also as a composer,1 Reger met Otto and Eugen Spitzweg, the managing directors of the Munich publisher Jos. Aibl. In spring 1899 the company published works including his opp. 19–23, 28, and 30 –32, and in summer the first piano arrangements of songs by Richard Strauss (RWV Strauss-B1). Over the following years, Aibl could be relied on by Reger to publish his works, most of which he submitted in groups. As early as March 1899 the debts which he still had remaining from his period in Wiesbaden were almost paid off.2
In his works, Reger focussed primarily on three areas: major organ works, chamber music, and songs. In Weiden he composed works for organ including seven Chorale fantasias (opp. 27, 30, 40 nos. 1–2, 52 nos. 1–3), the Sonata in F sharp minor op. 33, Fantasia and Fugue on B-A-C-H op. 46 and Symphonic Fantasia and Fugue op. 57, in chamber music the Cello Sonata in G minor op. 28, the Violin Sonata in A major op. 41, Four Sonatas for solo violin op. 42, the Clarinet Sonatas in A major and F sharp minor op. 49 nos. 1 and 2, the Piano Quintet in C minor op. 64 and the String Quartets in G minor and A major op. 54 nos. 1 and 2. As well as this, Reger composed choral works and songs, the latter often individual works slotted in amongst the long progress of composing organ and chamber music. The extent of a collection was often not clear at the beginning. Reger, who was “always on the search for texts” 3, more often gradually gathered together songs he had composed into one opus, or divided them between several (see opp. 35 and 37). Over time the song collections became more extensive; opp. 51 and 55 (1900/01) already contained 12 and 15 songs respectively. The order of the songs was always decided upon subsequently by the composer (see the respective histories of each work’s composition).
Whilst Reger had set 19th century classics in the songs he composed in Wiesbaden (Friedrich Rückert, Emanuel Geibel),4 in Weiden he turned almost exclusively to contemporary lyric poetry, for which he held great musical hopes. At the beginning of 1900 he stated: “Equally I find the complaints in our “favorite German magazines of the snobbish cultured elite” [...], that there are no longer any ‘poets’, simply laughable! e. g. what marvellous truly poetic images of the very first rank our new German poets such as D. von Liliencron, J. O. Bierbaum, R. Dehmel, E. Bodmann, Anna Ritter, O. Wiener etc. etc. have created! [...] I find that our modern lyric poetry [...] has become much more sensitive! Much finer too!” 5 A central criterion for Reger’s choice of texts was not the poetic work of art, but “the basic mood and the intensity of feeing elicited by the text” 6. The texts followed an “aspiration to an ‘inwardness’ [‘Innerlichkeit’]” ubiquitous in contemporary lyric poetry, with which “more subtly perceived emotions were given expression” 7. Reger developed his approach to this modern lyric poetry in his Weiden songs in the sense of an “art of impression and nerve” 8, in which harmonious floating states, ambivalences, and nuances are created. The desire to “formulate a ‘modern language of feelings’” 9 was accompanied by the renunciation of melodic cantabile qualities and a turning towards the modern ‘declamatory’ song.10
As Reger was still without access to artistic circles in Weiden, he satisfied his great need for texts mainly through music, literature, and interdisciplinary arts magazines. He found texts for his songs in, for example, Stimmen der Gegenwart (Monatsschrift für moderne Literatur und Kritik, edited by Max Beyer and Martin Boelitz), in Die Gesellschaft (Münchener Halbmonatsschrift für Kunst und Kultur, edited by Arthur Seidl) and in the “Texte für Liederkomponisten” column in the Neue Musik-Zeitung. Around 1900 he also made his first contact by letter with poets (Anna Ritter, Richard Braungart), who sent him texts to set.
As a performer of his songs, Reger was firstly able to interest Josef Loritz, a baritone who had studied in Munich and was the conductor of the Regensburg Liederkranz. In 1899, at the age of 35, he began a career as a singer and gave concerts with Reger several times over the following years.11 Other early performers of Reger’s songs included Susanne Dessoir (née Triepel) and Maria Hösl, the sister of his friend the violinist Josef Hösl. But to be able to promote his works actively, it was necessary to move away from tranquil Weiden: “I have to go to a center of music”,12 Reger wrote to the organist Georg Stolz. From early on he had his sights on Munich, where he was able to make his debut as a pianist in December 1900.13 On 1 September 1901 Reger and his parents left the provincial Upper Palatinate and moved to the Bavarian capital with its cultural high-life.
1.2. Early reception
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.14
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” 15 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”.16 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 sounds17 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 18, 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” 19 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 worlds20, 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)21 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)
1.3. Parallel settings with Richard Strauss
One aspect that reviewers focused on in particular was a comparison of Reger’s songs with those of Richard Strauss. Reviewing a concert in Heidelberg at the end of 1899, a reviewer compared Reger’s Traum durch die Dämmerung with a setting of the same text by Strauss; in his opinion, Reger’s “surpasses in its illustration of the words through idiosyncratic harmonisation, but in return forfeits easier comprehensibility”. (Review by H. N.) Karl Straube distinguished Reger’s song output “in the strongest possible terms from Richard Strauß.” (Article “Max Reger”, in Die Gesellschaft, p. 177) Comparing the two settings of Glückes genug he wrote: “Whereas the first [Strauss] pursues the meaning of the individual verses and gives a musically detailed portrayal of the poetic subject, the other [Reger] envelops everything in the scent and shimmer of an unvarying, floating accompanying motif, over which the voice drifts by with the peacefully written melodic line of its song.” (Ibid., p. 178)
Reger had provoked comparisons of this kind “with unmistakable calculation” 22 by setting 13 poems which Strauss had previously set to music. Six were composed in his period in Weiden, but were written with a view to performances in the musical center of Munich: Traum durch die Dämmerung op. 35 no. 3, Glückes genug op. 37 no. 3, Meinem Kinde op. 43 no. 3, Leise Lieder op. 48 no. 2, Träume, träume, du mein süßes Leben op. 51 no. 3 and Nachtgang op. 51 no. 7; a further seven followed during his time in Munich.23 In the case of Wiegenlied by Dehmel, Reger’s setting (op. 43 no. 5) preceded Strauss’s.
Reger’s study of Strauss’s song output served “to determine his own position and to find a personal song style”.24 It began with acquiring a practical familiarity through the arrangement of Ausgewählter Lieder von Richard Strauss für Klavier allein (RWV Strauss-B1). As early as March 1899 he had arranged the first six songs, commissioned by the publisher Jos. Aibl, to whom Strauss had recommended the young composer a year earlier (see Biographical context). He then used four of the texts for his own song settings: Traum durch die Dämmerung , Glückes genug and Meinem Kinde, as well as Morgen op. 66 no. 10. At the end of 1903 the publisher commissioned him to arrange a further six Strauss songs, including Nachtgang to the poem by Bierbaum, which Reger had already set as part of his op. 51.25
Reger’s parallel settings with those by Strauss show “the receptive and at the same time independent Reger” in the sense of a “homage as rivalry”.26 In contrast to the powerful “Podiumslied”27 by his famous contemporary they are “music for the small chamber music hall, not for a large auditorium” 28.
1.4. Orchestral versions
In April 1915 Reger approached Universal-Edition in Vienna29 on his own initiative with the suggestion of publishing “a very small selection” of songs in an orchestral version. (Letter dated 29 April 1915) He wanted to leave the decision about which songs should be orchestrated to the publisher. However, they seem to have left the choice to Reger, who combined his thanks for their expression of interest with his announcement that five song arrangements were complete. These were five of the songs most frequently performed by Reger himself.30 As well as Mein Traum op. 31 no. 5 and Fromm op. 62 no. 11, he chose three songs from his Weiden period: Flieder op. 35 no. 4, Glückes genug op. 37 no. 3, and Wiegenlied op. 43 no. 5. Reger explained: “[…] I have chosen such a scoring, that any orchestra, even the smallest one can perform these instrumentations; as well as this the songs are orchestrated so that they are even performable without voice. It is now extremely important to me to know that these very 5 songs are printed in my orchestrations as soon as possible.” (Brief vom 10. Mai 1915)
The manuscripts were sent to the publisher on 19 May; Reger’s plan to add two further songs of the publisher’s choice to the publication did not come to fruition. (See Brief vom 19. Mai 1915) After some disagreements regarding the author’s rights between the parties to the contract (see Reger’s postcard dated 2 June 1915), Reger received his fee on 8 June (see Reger’s postcard), but only received the proofs on 12 February 1916. (See Reger’s postcard) On 5 May, a few days before his death in Leipzig, he returned these to the publisher, to whom he also gave the manuscripts, and released the works for print. (See Reger’s postcard)31 The song orchestrations were published posthumously later that year.32
The ninth volume in the Songs and Choral Works Series contains, in chronological order, the works Max Reger composed between 1904 and 1914 for unaccompanied mixed voice choir.
- Vier Kirchengesänge WoO VI/20
- Motette »Mein Odem ist schwach« op. 110 Nr. 1
- Vater unser WoO VI/22
- Motette »Ach, Herr, strafe mich nicht!« op. 110 Nr. 2
- Responsories WoO VI/23
- Lasset uns den Herrn preisen WoO VI/24
- Motette »O Tod, wie bitter bist du« op. 110 Nr. 3
- Good Night WoO VI/25
- Zwölf Chöre aus dem Volksliederbuch WoO VI/26
- Abschiedslied WoO VI/27
- Acht geistliche Gesänge op. 138
Translation by Elizabeth Robinson.
Module II – Introductions, in: Reger-Werkausgabe, www.reger-werkausgabe.de/introductions-module-ii.html, last check: 6th July 2022.
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