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Die Schwalben (1841) Op. 10 no.3

Die Schwalben

Der Schnee ist dahin, ist verschwommen,
In's grosse gewaltige Meer.
Die Schwalben sind wieder gekommen,
Sie kamen, ich weiss nicht woher.
Ich weiss nur, sie fanden sich wieder,
Weil Liebe von Liebe nicht lässt,
Und lassen sich häuslich hier nieder,
Denn Liebe baut Liebe das Nest.
Oft, wenn sie von dannen geflogen,
Und nahte die Blumenzeit sich,
So kamen sie wieder gezogen,
Sie kamen, was kümmert es mich?
Am liebsten noch sah ich sie scheiden,
Weit hin in das wärmere Land,
Ich konnt' ihr Geschwätze nicht leiden,
Wovon ich noch gar nichts verstand.

The swallows

The snow is gone, merged now
With the great and mighty sea.
The swallows have returned –
From I know not where.
I only know they have found one another again,
Because love never abandons love,
And homely love settles here,
For love builds a nest for love.
Often, when they had flown,
And the season of flowers was approaching,
The swallows returned once more,
Returned – but do I care?
I was happiest when I saw them depart
To a far distant, warmer land;
I could not bear their twittering
Which I could never understand.

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Josephine Lang (1815-1880) was a much-respected song composer, inspiring early biographies by her contemporary Ferdinand Hiller and son Heinrich Köstlin. Her family included many professional musicians. Initially taught by her mother, the opera singer Regine Hitzelberger-Lang, she performed virtuosic works in public by the age of eleven. Lack of money forced her to forego an advanced musical education and give piano lessons while still a child herself.

When Felix Mendelssohn met her in 1830, he was deeply impressed by her talent. In 1831, he wrote effusively to his family of her originality and sensitivity. He galvanised his powerful network on her behalf (in stark contrast to his discouragement of his own superbly gifted sister Fanny) and even gave her composition lessons. While her family remained unwilling and unable to let her travel for study, she became established in Munich’s musical circles. She was composing songs from the age of thirteen, and the 1830s were probably her most fertile decade as a composer. After initial reservations, Robert Schumann reviewed her songs positively in the influential journal Neue Zeitschrift für Musik.

Lang married the legal professor Reinhold Köstlin in 1842. The couple faced many difficulties, including poor health on both sides, different religions (Lang was Catholic and Köstlin Protestant), and financial need, all exacerbated by the birth of six children in seven years. Köstlin’s death in 1856 resulted in years of extreme hardship for Lang. Friends rallied round, for instance in 1867, Hiller published a biographical essay on her which brought not only greater visibility, but substantial financial gifts; and Clara Schumann assisted with publication opportunities. When Lang’s daughter Maria married and moved to Vienna, she became a friend of Brahms’s and gave him copies of her mother’s songs, inspiring his own settings of Köstlin’s poetry.

Lang lacked formal training and faced countless obstacles, yet she steadily composed and published at least 150 songs during her lifetime, with many more still in manuscript. Her sketches reveal a composer who is exacting about musical detail and whose songs can be startlingly ambitious in scale. Her melodies demand a large vocal range and her accompaniments explore original and varied textures. She herself described her songs as her ‘diary’, but they transcend this function.

The poetry Lang set reflects contemporary tastes as well as documenting her circle of friends. She set poems by Goethe and Schiller when still young, alongside popular figures such as Theodor Körner, Wilhelm Müller and August von Platen. But she also set works by the Swabian poet Justinus Kerner, whom she knew, and others from her social circle. Above all, she frequently set her husband’s poetry.

A song like ‘Frühzeitiger Frühling’ Op. 6 no.3 is a wonderful entry into Lang’s style, in a setting of Goethe. Her melodies are always unexpected, as one can hear in the passionate, unrestrained setting of ‘Mignons Klage’ from Op.10 (a setting of the famous text ‘Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt’), a song which demands superb technique. ‘Herbstgefühl’ has Wagnerian expansiveness.

Many of Lang’s published songs are available on IMSLP. At the time of writing, around 25 have been recorded. Harald and Sharon Krebs published an excellent, comprehensive study of her life and works in 2006.

© Natasha Loges, 2022

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Christoph August Tiedge was a German poet.

Tiedge was the eldest son of the rector of the Gelehrten Stadtschule in Gardelegen and his wife, and studied law in Halle, Saxony-Anhalt. In 1788 he went to Halberstadt, acting for four years as secretary to the Domherr von Steder. After the Domherr died, Tiedge and his family moved to the vicinity of Quedlinburg. After the death of his wife, von Steder, in 1797, he alternated between living in Halle and Berlin and (from 1805 to 1808) accompanying his friend Elisa von der Recke through Germany, Switzerland and Italy. From 1819 Tiedge lived with Elisa in Dresden. Placed beyond material care by his friend's last will, he continued to live there after her death until his.

Some singable lyrics, of which “Schöne Minka, ich muss scheiden” is an example, first established his reputation, and Urania über Gott, Unsterblichkeit und Freiheit (1800; 18th ed., 1862), a lyric-didactic poem, inspired by the ethics of Emanuel Kant, enjoyed wide popularity in the beginning of the nineteenth century. A kind of sequel to it were the Wanderungen durch den Markt des Lebens (1833). Among his other poetical efforts, the Elegien und vermischte Gedichte (1803) met with the greatest success. After his death, the Tiedge Foundation was established in Dresden for the purpose of caring for the poet's grave and of granting subventions to poets and artists or their widows and children. Administered by the Saxon Ministry of Public Instruction, its funds amounted to more than 662,000 marks in 1901.

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