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ClassicsOnline Home » KRAUS, J.M.: German Songs (Complete) (Steinberger, Hummel)
An almost exact contemporary of Mozart, Kraus spent his career in Sweden, where he composed prolifically in all forms, with a focus on Swedish opera. Kraus’s German songs reflect his interest both in the Lied and German poetry of the Enlightenment, particularly the popular work of Matthias Claudius.
Joseph Martin Kraus (1756–1792)
Complete German Songs
A contemporary of Mozart, born in the same year and dying in 1792, a year after Mozart's death, Joseph Martin Kraus was born in Miltenberg am Main, had his first musical training at Buchen im Odenwald, where he was a pupil at the Latin School, and from 1768 to 1773 continued his education as a scholar at the Jesuit High School in Mannheim, seat of the Elector Palatine until 1778. Mannheim had a distinguished place in the musical world of the time, its orchestra once described by Charles Burney as an 'army of generals', until 1778, when the Elector and most of his musicians moved to Munich. Kraus, however, benefited from instruction by leading members of the court musical establishment, then at the height of its fame, and from singing in the church and the theatre. From 1773 to 1775 he studied at the universities of Mainz, then of Erfurt, after which his education was interrupted by a libel case brought against his father, who had served as town clerk in Mainz. Kraus returned for a year or so to Buchen, using the period to develop his musical interests, in particular in a series of church compositions. In November 1777 he renewed his studies, now at Göttingen. It was this last that brought another strong literary influence to his work. In 1773 he had published in Mainz his Versuch von Schäfersgedichte (Pastoral Poems), and his oratorio Der Tod Jesu (The Death of Jesus) of 1776 had been composed to his own text. In Göttingen he met members of the Göttinger Hainbund, a group of students and their friends under the literary influence of Klopstock and who were opposed to the formal conventions epitomized by Wieland. The group had come into being in September 1772 during the course of a moonlit walk through the woods, when those present, who included Hölty and Johann Heinrich Voss, who gave the group its name, joined hands to dance round an oak-tree. The name the league assumed derived from this event, which took place in a woodland grove (Hain) and from Klopstock's poem 'Der Hügel und der Hain'(The Hill and the Grove). Kraus became involved with this literary circle, dedicated to the poetic celebration of Nature, friendship and love, as it was nearing its end, although the influence of some of its members, notably Voss and Hölty, continued. In 1778 Kraus wrote his treatise Etwas von und über Musik fürs Jahr 1777 (Something of and about Music for the Year 1777), which remains of interest for its critical assessment of Anton Schweitzer's opera Alceste (Naxos 8.555925-26), a collaboration between Schweitzer and Wieland.
In 1778 Kraus was persuaded by a Swedish fellow-student to go with him to Stockholm to see what opportunities might lie there. By 1781 he had begun to make a name for himself with appointment as assistant Kapellmästare in the court musical establishment and opera. King Gustavus III sent him abroad to learn what he could from various countries, and during the course of four years that took him to Berlin, Dresden, Leipzig, Mannheim, Regensburg, Vienna, Esterháza, the principal musical centres of Italy, Marseilles, Paris and London, he was able to meet leading musicians, including Gluck and Salieri in Vienna, where he had an audience with the Emperor, and Haydn at Esterháza, leaving records of some of the events that he witnessed. By 1786 he was in Stockholm once more, with appointments that led, in 1787, to the position of court Kapellmästare. Here he found a ready audience for his compositions for the stage and for concert performance, while continuing to interest himself in literary matters. In March 1792, however, the King was assassinated at a masked ball. Kraus wrote funeral music for the royal obsequies, but by December he too was dead, the victim of tuberculosis, from which he had long suffered.
For his songs Kraus made use of texts in six different languages; Danish, Dutch, German, Italian, French and Swedish. He generally used strophic form and often there is a distinctly dramatic element in his settings. The choice of verses for his 26 German songs shows the influence of the poets of the Göttinger Hainbund and those associated with or admired by members of the league. Half the German settings are of poems by Matthias Claudius, whose 'Der Tod und das Mädchen'(Death and the Maiden), with its representation of Death, known elsewhere in his work as 'Freund Hein', was set by Schubert. Claudius was the editor from 1771 until 1776 of Der Wandsbecker Bote (The Wandsbeck Messenger), a title with which he became personally identified, Claudius as a poet took particular pleasure in the simpler things of life, celebrating a new tooth, a potato, and sometimes matters of greater moment, but all in a readily approachable style of apparent ingenuousness. [Track 2] 'Die Henne', VB 77 (The Hen) seemingly a farmyard tale, has a punch-line which reveals it to be a satire on writers who publish reviews of their own works.  'Anselmuccio', VB 86is a father's fantasy about his yet-to-be-born son. The poet's little Anselmo did eventually arrive, but died young, leading to the poem 'To Anselmo', movingly set by Schubert.  It is followed by a setting of 'Die Mutter bei der Wiege', VB 92(The Mother by the Cradle), both verse and music of similar directness and charm. This setting was later misattributed to Mozart in the 19th century.  'Der Mann im Lehnstuhl', VB 91(The Man in the Easy-Chair) is one of a number of poems set by Kraus relating to the political situation of the day: revolutionary sentiment was brewing among intellectuals, and the Enlightenment was astir. This is an allegory of a conservative university professor and rebellious students, both made to look equally foolish.  'An - als ihm die - starb', VB 74(To - on death of) follows, the poem mourning the death of Claudius's sister Dorothea Christine, who died at the age of 26 in 1766. Claudius himself was the son of a pastor and had studied theology and law at Jena University. The verses were at one time wrongly attributed to Klopstock and are given a setting of appropriate solemnity, with an element of recitative fitting sentiments of biblical origin and elegiac intensity.
 'Ein Lied um Regen', VB 90(A Song for Rain) begs rain to fall on the parched crops and withering flowers, and to save the creatures of the fields. Kraus reflects something of the simplicity of Claudius's poem, the desired falling of rain echoed by the piano.  'Ein Wiegenlied', VB 93(A Cradle-Song), in strophic form, tells a moral tale. The vision of a cold night, when a thief steals cabbage but is sent to the moon in punishment, is underlined through simple if unusual leading tone harmonies.  It is followed here by a setting of Claudius's dubious expression of contentment in 'Ich bin vergnügt', VB 82(I am content), expressed in forthright and bumptious tones. This is probably a satire on bourgeois self-satisfaction, with harmony between the classes – a very sensitive subject at the time – being strenuously preached. The mood becomes more serious at the end. The poem was among those set also by Schubert.
 'An eine Quelle', VB 75(To a Spring), a love song, is succeeded by  'Phidile', VB 22, a mock-pastoral poem also chosen by Schubert. Claudius called his wife Rebekka his 'peasant maiden' and in the name Phidile refers to Horace's 'rustica Phidyle' (Carmina III, 23).  In 'Ich bin ein deutscher Jüngling', VB 81(I am a German lad), Claudius's highly satirical response to Klopstock's violently nationalistic 'Ich bin ein deutsches Mädchen', Kraus proclaims youthful pride in forthright terms, musical and verbal.  'Ein Wiegenlied: So schlafe nun, du Kleine', VB 96(A Cradle-Song: Sleep now, little one) offers a gentle lullaby, and  the strophic 'Rheinweinlied', VB 73(Rhenish Song) brings regional pride in an important commodity to this final Claudius setting. The reference to Cretan 'slow-bellies' comes from St Paul's epistle to Titus. The Brocken is the windy highest point in Germany's Harz mountains, traditionally the setting of the Walpurgisnacht.
Klopstock, whose fame first rested on his Miltonic epic Der Messias and then on his Odes, exercised a strong influence over the young poets of the Göttinger Hainbund, as he had over the young Goethe.  His poem 'Das Rosenband', VB 85(The Rose Garland) has a simple charm echoed in Kraus's setting.  Friedrich Leopold, Graf zu Stolberg-Stolberg, who had nine of his poems, including 'Daphne am Bach', VB 83(Daphne at the Brook), set by Schubert, entertained a particular enthusiasm for Klopstock. He and his brother Christian had been at Göttingen University and associated with the Hainbund, combining this poetic interest with an element of classical scholarship that brought a German translation of the Iliad. Kraus's setting of 'Daphne am Bach'stands comparison with Schubert's version.  Stolberg was able to help Johann Heinrich Voss, founder of the Hainbund, in his later career, although Voss subsequently turned against him. He is represented here by Kraus's cheerful setting of 'Gesundheit', VB 97(Health) a brief proverb on the joys of wine, women and song that, rather surprisingly, originated with Martin Luther.  The Swiss nobleman Johann Gaudenz von Salis-Seewis, a correspondent of the fashionable poet Friedrich von Matthisson, who had met Goethe, Schiller and Claudius's friend Herder in Germany, had thirteen of his poems set by Schubert. His 'Schweizer Rundgesang', VB 72(Swiss Round-Song) is the text for a duet by Kraus, who gives it all the feeling of a folk-song.
 Other songs include settings of 'An das Klavier', VB 94 (To the Fortepiano) by Johann Timotheus Hermes, a pastor and enthusiast for the influential novels of Samuel Richardson, which he imitated. The final line, beautifully veiled in an ambiguity of German grammar, refers to Johann Andreas Stein, inventor of the Viennese fortepiano action.  'Der Abschied', VB 95 (The Departure), with words by Kraus himself, is probably best viewed as an over-the-top parody of 'Gothic' literature and associated compositional styles. It is a masterpiece of operatic cliché, introduced by a three-part fugue in the fortepiano symbolising the threads of fate spun by three Norns. One of them, Skulda, is invoked by name, as are Klopstock's angel of death Obaddon, and the gods Thor and Braga. The song was written as a parting gift for a close friend, Viennese merchant Johann Samuel Liedemann in 1783. The last stanza is quite different in tone – this is a true parting gift.  'Die Welt nach Rousseau', VB 76(The World According to Rousseau) sets words by the successful playwright Carl Friedrich Hensler, future director of the Theater an der Wien. A note on the original jokingly states that it can also be performed by a quartet of 'Nasathörner'(kazoos). This may be the only German Lied requiring the singer to whistle loudly.  'An mein Mädchen', VB 87(To My Girl) uses lines possibly by Kraus in a straightforward setting.   For the two parallel songs 'An den Wind', VB 79 and 80(To the Wind) Kraus adapts words by the Jesuit and later bookseller Alois Blumauer, remembered chiefly for his obscene parody of the Aeneid. To avoid over-length, the performers have distributed the many stanzas over the two surviving versions. The 'Wind' in question is the wind of political change. The speaker – veiled to avoid arrest – is Friedrich Wilhelm II, the reactionary king of Prussia, whose disastrous Edicts of 1788 caused the flight of many intellectuals and publishers from censorship. The reference to his coalition-partner agaist Napoleon, the emperor Franz II, and to the Hapsburg eagle in his 'weather-vane', proves that the song was composed in 1792, the year of his ascension to the throne and of Kraus' death.  'Der nordischer Witwer', VB 89(The Nordic Widower), with its final twist, has been attributed to the same Austrian writer.  The sad narrative verses 'Das schwarze Lieschen aus Kastilien', VB 88(Dark Liza from Castille) are by the Prague professor and later Fulda college director August Gottlieb Meissner,  and the little dramatic exchange 'Hans und Hanne', VB 78another satire on the subservience of an oppressed citizenry ('I don't wish to envy our nobleman's estate'), has a text by Gottlob Wilhelm Burmann who has enjoyed posthumous notoriety as a lipogrammatist, reputedly writing works without the letter 'r'.
Most of Kraus's surviving songs in German appear to have been written between the years 1783 and 1788 (several have Kraus's own dates appended). Indeed, Kraus compiled a large autograph Liederbuch (Song Book), most likely as a compendium for performance at Stockholm salons, such as that hosted by architect Gustav Erik Palmstedt, of which Kraus was an honoured and valued member. These literary circles were dedicated to both poetry and music, providing a good venue wherein both art forms could be performed and discussed at length.
Sung texts are available as PDF files online at www.naxos.com/libretti/krauslieder.htm
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