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Johanna KINKEL (1810-1858)
An Imaginary Voyage Through Europe - 32 Songs
[Rhine]
Die Lorelei, op. 7,4 [02:57]
War hinaus gezogen, op. 15,6 [01:29]
Der Müllerinn Nachbar, op. 10,6 [01:36]
Vorüberfahrt, op. 7,3 [02:06]
Stürmisch Wandern, op. 18,6 [02:22]
[Spain]
Der Spanische Zitherknabe, op. 8,1 [03:19]
Schwarze Augen, op. 17,2 [01:32]
Die Mandoline, op. 19,1 [01:36]
Nachtlied, op. 7,1 [01:54]
Die Zigeuner, op. 7,6 [02:30]
[Italy]
Römische Nacht, op. 15,1 [03:53]
Gondellied, op. 8,3 [02:10]
Du nahst, op. 15,2 [02:44]
Wunsch, op. 7,2 [02:36]
Blaue Augen, op. 17,1 [03:48]
Abschied von Italien, op. 16,3 [02:29]
[Scotland]
Gilderay [01:32]
Oh, open The Door, Lord Gregory [01:16]
Auld Rob Morris [01:44]
[France, at the Theatre: The Assassins]
Provençalisches Lied, op. 21,4 [03:09]
Beduinenromanze, op. 19,4 [01:59]
Abendlied nach der Schlacht, op. 21,5 [03:22]
[Revolution]
Auf, wohl auf ihr Candidaten, op. 18,3 [01:31]
Demokratenlied [01:45]
[Children's World]
Lied von der Eisenbahn [00:29]
Lied von der Hummel [00:53]
Wiegenlied, op. 10,4 [04:13]
[World of Spirits]
Abendfeier, op. 8,4 [05:40]
Thurm und Fluth, op. 19,6 [03:27]
Die Geister haben's vernommen, op. 6,3 [02:48]
[Rhine Home]
Rheinsage, op. 8,2 [03:05]
An den Mond, op. 7,5 [02:41]
Ingrid Schmithüsen (soprano), Thomas Palm (fortepiano [Érard, c.1839])
rec. December 2004, Immanuelskirche, Wuppertal, Germany. DDD
CPO 777 140-2 [78:38]

 


"Her songs are characterized by lyrical melodies, rich harmonies, the prominence of the piano, expressive piano introductions and independent vocal lines. Her compositions and other works are deserving of wider acclaim." These are the last lines of the article on Johanna Kinkel, written by Ann Willison Lemke in New Grove. It has taken quite some time before that wish has come true with the present disc. In the booklet Ingrid Schmithüsen writes how the foundation for this production was laid in 1992, when she took part in a project around this German composer, organised by the same Ms Lemke. Together with Thomas Palm she performed some of her songs and duets and they immediately recognised their quality. Since then more music by Kinkel has been rediscovered, in particular by Monica Klaus, librarian of Bonn University. It is this city where Johanna Kinkel spent a considerable part of her life. That life was very adventurous, and characterised by social prejudice, political upheavals and personal tragedy.

In the booklet Monica Klaus has written an extensive and very informative essay about the life and works. In order to put the music into perspective a synopsis of this essay is necessary.

Johanna Mockel was born in Bonn as the daughter of a teacher at the Gymnasium, who also taught music and gave his daughter her first music lessons. Franz Anton Ries, Beethoven's first music teacher and Kapellmeister and Musikdirektor in Bonn, was so impressed by her talent that he taught her for free. He soon left to her the direction of the 'Musikalisches Kränzchen', a circle of his best students. For this circle she started to compose her first works to general acclaim. But when she expressed the wish to become a professional musician, her family was shocked. She was forced to marry, which resulted in misery and a split after just six months. She found comfort in music, and her family realised the errors of their ways and gave in. She came into contact with Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, who recognised her talent and recommended for her a musical education in Berlin. Here she entered the cultural high society and took part in the 'Morgenkonzerte' of Felix's sister Fanny.

After having learnt counterpoint and fugue she started again to compose. Most of her songs date from the Berlin period, and enjoyed a very positive reception, for example from the music critic Ludwig Rellstab. In the 'Neue Zeitschrift für Musik' Robert Schumann also praised her compositions, but he emphasized the extraordinary character of her compositions considering the fact that she was a woman, which made Johanna Kinkel very angry.

In 1839 her husband agreed to divorce, and she went back to Bonn to settle the formalities. The whole procedure took rather longer than expected, and in that time she met Gottfried Kinkel, a protestant theologian. In 1843 they married and this marriage not only brought Johanna personal happiness, but also social tragedy. Kinkel became involved with the democratic movement, and in particular its more radical wing. It led to social isolation, and as Kinkel took part in the Palatine-Baden rebellion in 1848-49 he was arrested and imprisoned. In order to keep herself and her four children alive Johanna started to give music lessons again, which she didn't enjoy very much. She planned the liberation of her husband from prison, which succeeded, and the couple fled to England. Here Gottfried found a job which allowed Johanna to follow her own interests.

In London she started to study the history of music and got acquainted with Scottish and Irish folk songs and wrote treatises on Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Chopin. The latter was still largely unknown in England, and she performed his compositions in public to great acclaim. At the same time her health deteriorated, and the suspicions of her husband's infidelity didn't make things any better. In 1858 Johanna died under somewhat mysterious circumstances, feeding the rumour that she had committed suicide. A friend described her thus: "A shining example that a woman too can be an intrepid fighter for truth and justice and tirelessly active in the highest areas of intellectual creativity while at the same time not only fulfilling every duty in the domestic life of a wife and mother in the noblest fashion but also contributing to the material support of her family."

The view that Johanna Kinkel's songs deserve wider attention than they have been given so far is well supported by this disc, presenting a good and representative choice from her catalogue. The character and quality of this kind of song very much depends on the texts, and it has to be said that Kinkel had a good sense of quality. The disc opens with a song on a poem by Heinrich Heine, Die Lorelei, which begins with the line "Ich weiß nicht, was soll es bedeuten" and set by several composers before. It directly makes clear that Kinkel does not imitate, but finds her own way to express the words. All songs show that she was a highly skilled pianist, as the piano parts are well-developed and very effectively illustrate the text. A good example is the humorous song 'Der Müllerinn Nachbar' where the piano part illustrates the first two lines, saying: "The mill, it turns its vanes, the wind, it blows in them". The sharp descending figure at the last line of every second stanza of 'Vorüberfahrt' strongly expresses the words "brought forth … my torment", "snatches me horribly away" and "though my heart may break".

Kinkel also manages to find a specific sound palette in the 'Spanish' and 'French' songs. They have all-German texts, but the subjects can be related to Spain and France respectively. Especially in the 'Spanish' songs she makes use of characteristic rhythms. Interesting is 'Schwarze Augen' which contains some echoes of Schubert. No less than four of the songs related to 'Italy' are written on poems by Gottfried Kinkel. When she met her future husband he just had returned from a long stay in Italy. He was also the author of the two 'revolutionary songs' – and they illustrate how the quality of the text influences the quality of the music. The poems are pretty dreadful, and the music – with clear military features – is not of the same quality as the other songs. They remind me of the music written in revolutionary France at the end of the 18th century – historically interesting, but musically worthless. It is nevertheless absolutely right to include these two songs in the programme, as they reflect a crucial phase in Kinkel's life.

In the aftermath of the failed revolution of 1848-49 she and her husband went to England, where Johanna became acquainted with Irish and Scottish folksongs, three of which are included here. On the basis of the information in the booklet I can’t tell whether these songs are original melodies to which she wrote a piano accompaniment or whether she also wrote the melodies. I assume the former is the case, and it has to be said that she wrote very appropriate accompaniments, which reflect the spirit of these songs very well.

Lastly Kinkel also set her own poems to music. All three songs in the segment 'children's world' are to her own texts. The first two are quite humorous, in text, vocal line and piano accompaniment – the first the 'Song of the Railroad', with imitations of the noise of a train, and then the 'Song of the Bumble Bee', again with imitations, this time of the noises this insect produces. The last of the three is not a children's song, but a lullaby, in which a mother expresses her love for her child. It is easily to assume this came from her own heart, as by all accounts she was a very devoted mother to her four children.

I have greatly enjoyed this recording. The music is of excellent quality and fully deserves to be taken seriously and appear on the programmes with German romantic songs. Ingrid Schmithüsen sings these songs with great enthusiasm and sensitivity. The humorous character of some songs comes off rather well, and the realisation of the children's songs is brilliant. I needed a while to get used to Ms Schmithüsen's voice, though, and her diction is sometimes less than ideal. In the first song, for instance, the 'w' often sounds like a 'v'. I would also have liked her to sing some top notes a little more softly. But these remarks take little away from my admiration for the way she has carried through this project. Thomas Palm performs the piano parts very well, but is not perhaps taking full advantage of the historical piano he has at his disposal. In any event Kinkel was given an Érard piano by her husband only in 1850 when they were in London. Most of her songs were written before that and were very likely performed on another piano, probably a German type with Viennese action.

I strongly recommend this disc to any music-lover with a special interest in the romantic song repertoire. The music is well worth exploring, and I hope more of Johanna Kinkel's compositions will be performed and recorded. The booklet gives an excellent biography and Ingrid Schmithüsen gives an account of how this project happened. All the lyrics are printed with an English translation. Congratulations to everyone involved in this important project.

Johan van Veen

 


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