Sacred songs op. 110
Motet »Mein Odem ist schwach« op. 110 No.1
for seven-part mixed voice unaccompanied choir
|Reger-Werkausgabe||Bd. II/9: Werke für gemischten Chor a cappella II, S. 8–26.|
Unter Mitarbeit von Nikolaos Beer, Stefan König und Dennis Ried.
|Verlag||Carus-Verlag, Stuttgart; Verlags- und Plattennummer: CV 52.816.|
|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.
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As early as 1906 Reger toyed with the idea of a motet composition modelled on Johann Sebastian Bach, and on 30 June reminded his close friend Karl Straube: “With regards to the motet texts, I would be much obliged to you for these and for the score of the Bach motets, which I do not own!” (Postcard)1
However, Reger only made a possible reference to such a work three years later in a letter dated 16 May 1909 to the publisher Bote & Bock, to whom he promised “another smaller choral work” for the current year.2 On 5 July he announced “a surprise” to Straube for their meeting the following day.3 After he had presented the friend with the work, which was supposed to be dedicated to the Thomanerchor Leipzig and their conductor Gustav Schreck,4 on 7 July he informed him: “The motet will be finished tomorrow (Thursday) evening, and sent off on Friday evening!” 5 The dating added on the last page of the engraver’s copy by Elsa Reger at an unknown point later (“Leipzig. Juni 1909.”) is therefore inaccurate, especially since Reger claimed to have “written the motet in 2 days” (Letter dated 13 July 1909 to Fritz Stein).
On 9 July 1909 Reger submitted the engraver’s copy to the publisher with the request to have the motet “engraved as soon as possible, so that the work can be published by mid-August at the latest!” At the same time he recommended a “collective titlepage […], so that we can bring together all of my compositions of this kind ‘under one heading’! I entertain namely the laudable intention of gradually writing more such pieces” (see op. 110 no. 2 and no. 3). (Letter) Three days later he returned the signed copyright agreement and royalty receipt statement.6 After a first unsuccessful enquiry about the proofs on 26 July, Reger informed the publisher on 30 July about an alteration required in the dedication;7 as the engraver’s copy was corrected by the publisher to incorporate this, it was presumably not yet with the engraver at this point in time.
On 8 September the set of proofs finally reached Reger on his summer holiday in Kolberg,8 from where he returned them, corrected, on 14 September9. He received his author’s copies on 24 September 1909.10
Translation by Elizabeth Robinson.
The work was first performed in Leipzig as part of a ‘Motette’ service on 13 November 1909, when it was simply noted that St Thomas’s Choir was “responsible for the musical element of Totensonntag”,1 but in a review of the publication Eugen Segnitz acknowledged that the piece was “of more intimate character, of a clearly arranged structure, and noble musical and melodic substance. […] It is a beautiful, richly expressive and immaculately worked-out piece, which makes full use of the content of the biblical poetry in music, and celebrates the certainty of the Christian faith musically. Reger is the born modern contrapuntalist, but reveals himself once more in this motet as a true tone poet.” (Review)2
The two performances of the motet at the Dortmund Reger Festival on 5 and 7 May 1910 by the Musikalische Gesellschaft Dortmund under Carl Holtschneider were also largely positively received in the Feuilleton. For Paul Schwers “the fantastically difficult, but surprisingly full-bodied a cappella motet [was] of awe-inspiring depth of expression especially in its opening section and in the chorale, and in the fugal movements of an almost stupendous boldness and – recklessness in the treatment of the choral writing”.3 Later Schwers ventured that “the entry of the tritone in the second section4 will probably hardly ever be correctly accomplished”, but he stressed: “As earlier in Dortmund, the motet made a strong impression on me, it is without doubt one of Reger’s most successful creations of all.” 5 In Tremonia, Arnold Spanke explained: “In it, the composer depicts the mental state of the patient Job, who is abandoned by everyone, is mocked by everyone, and yet never loses his trust in his redeemer. The setting to music of such moods could give occasion for tone-painting popular with the modernists, but at the cost of the deeper meaning. Reger rises above everything which is programmatic, his path lies differently before him! […] The work is full of difficulties which are not only found in the excessively over-used chromaticism, but also in the immensely lively counterpoint, which requires the most unpleasant entries which are barely achievable […]. Of eleven choirs which originally thought themselves capable of mastering the motet, nine abandoned the venture and returned the music as unperformable, including choirs of recognized quality.” (Review)Note: Spanke wrote of “the duration of almost half an hour”, which is surprising in view of more recent recordings lasting between c. 14 and 17 minutes (cf. Op. 110 No. 2 – Early reception). It is not known where he obtained his information about the cancelled performance plans. The music was probably sent by the publisher Bote & Bock. The anonymous critic of the Kölnische Zeitung put it succinctly: “A hard nut!” and recommended “bringing in the organ and harmonium in the particularly exposed movements”.6 On the other hand Martin Friedland felt the motet was “a gloomy, melancholy atmospheric picture” and noted: “Despite the most careful execution, this piece also left no deeper impressions.” 7
A performance in Bielefeld on 10 February 1911 led the reviewer of the Neue Westfälische Zeitung “to reproach some of the anti-Reger camp for their assertion that the composer lacked heart and soul. […] Admittedly it cannot be denied that Reger himself […] often puts obstacles in the path of such good intentions.” 8 His colleague from the Neue Westfälische Volkszeitung remarked: “It is another question whether the spiritual, tangible impression of the motet was or will become very deep and general. We felt that the musical-philosophically conceived hypertechnique of the composition prevented the work of art from gripping the emotions. One is very much afraid of Reger’s intellectual activity.” 9 And the critic of the Bielefelder General-Anzeiger ultimately attested: “What Reger has piled up here in the complicated structuring of the score, in egregious combinations, in uncompromising part-writing, in astounding modulations, that is probably unique. And yet everything sounds well, the mighty double fugue of the ending carries us away with its victorious power. Admittedly Reger presented his audience with some puzzles too […]. We often have to submissively abandon the composer’s complicated counterpoint, and stand baffled before an unceasing, streaming tangle of notes, the key to which we have lost.” 10
Translation by Elizabeth Robinson.
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Max Reger: Motet »Mein Odem ist schwach« op. 110 No.1, in: Reger-Werkausgabe, www.reger-werkausgabe.de/mri_work_00130.html, last check: 20th August 2022.
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