Madonna della tenerezza - Andrea Mantegna
Our Lady of Tenderness - A. Mantegna

Last spring, we listened to Trost, a song by Max Reger. I told you then that the composer was a rara avis who was not interested in affiliating himself to any aesthetic current. Furthermore, he admitted without any problem that among his closest references were Hugo Wolf and Johannes Brahms, a shocking affirmation at the time. Regers music confused critics, and this confusion affected the reception of his Lieder: they were said to be difficult for singers, accompanists, and listeners. Reger understood the criticisms, but he was not interested in making songs that would please everyone.

The point was that if the songs were too difficult, they wouldn't sell, and maybe Reger didn't care, but his publishers did. In part to please them, in part to prove that he could compose easy songs, he began a collection in 1904, Schlichte Weisen [Simple melodies]. Sixty songs were distributed in six volumes, with the last volume published in 1912. Reger wanted the listeners to feel like thew were listening to a traditional song, with a simple accompaniment and an easy but, at the same time, aristocratic melody (this is the word he used).

The last volume of the collection was subtitled "An Christas und Lottis Kindererleben", and the composer had been inspired by his children, Christa and Lotti. The first song in the volume, the 52nd in the collection, was Mariä Wiegenlied [Maria's Lullaby], upon a poem by Martin Boetlitz; it was first performed in December 1912 and became Regers biggest success as a composer of songs. A few years later, in 1915, he released three arrangements, one for voice and orchestra in August, and the other two for solo piano and for voice, organ, and violin ad libitum in December. Bote & Bock, the publishers, boasted of selling more than 100,000 copies of this song.

I think Im right when I say that Mariä Wiegenlied is the only work by Marx Reger that is well-known nowadays; it is very common in Christmas concerts, either in galas with orchestra or arranged for choir. I am sharing the original version for voice and piano as it is the most faithful to Regers concept of Schlichte Lieder and, honestly, I find that the most usual orchestral version contains too much sugar. Elisabeth Grümmer, soprano, and pianist Kurt Keimier, are the performers; I find this version is charming; I hope it will convey to you the peace and light that should accompany us these days.

Merry Christmas!


Mariä Wiegenlied

Maria sitzt im Rosenhag
Und wiegt ihr Jesuskind,
Durch die Blätter leise
Weht der warme Sommerwind.

Zu ihren Füßen singt
Ein buntes Vögelein:
Schlaf, Kindlein, süße,
Schlaf nun ein!

Hold ist dein Lächeln,
Holder deines Schlummers Lust,
Leg dein müdes Köpfchen
Fest an deiner Mutter Brust!
Schlaf, Kindlein, süße,
Schlaf nun ein!

Mary sits in the rosegrove
and rocks her child Jesus,
softly through the leaves
blows a warm summer wind.

At her feet sings
a colorful little bird:
Sleep, child, my sweet,
just go to sleep!

Lovely is your smile,
lovely is your joy in slumber,
lay your tired little head
against your mother's breast!
Sleep, child, my sweet,
just go to sleep!

(translation by Emily Ezust)


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