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Joseph Martin KRAUS (1756-1792) Complete German Songs
An das Klavier, VB 94 [2:17] 1
Die Henne, VB 77 [2:19] 2
Schweizer Rundgesang, VB 72 [2:02] 1, 2
Anselmuccio, VB 86 [1:08] 2   
Die Mutter bei der Wiege, VB 92 [1:44] 1
Der Mann im Lehnstuhl, VB 91 [1:44] 2
An – als ihm die – starb, VB 74 [3:25] 1
Das Rosenband, VB 85 [1:52] 2
Der Abschied, VB 95 [7:14] 1
Die Welt nach Rousseau, VB 76 [0:58] 2
Daphne am Bach, VB 83 [3:30] 1
An mein Mädchen, VB 87 [1:22] 2
Ein Lied um Regen, VB 90 [4:01] 1,2
An den Wind I, VB 79 [1:34] 1
An den Wind II, VB 80 [2:05] 2
Das schwarze Lieschen as Kastillien, VB 88 [3:53] 1
Der nordische Witwe, VB 89 [3:29] 2
Ein Wiegenlied: Seht doch das kalte Nachtgesicht, VB 93 [3:32] 1
Ich bin vergnügt, VB 82 [2:12] 2
Hans und Hanne, VB 78 [2:06] 1,2
An eine Quelle, VB 75 [1:41] 2
Phidile, VB 84 [2:13] 1
Ich bin ein deutscher Jüngling, VB 81 [1:45] 2
Ein Wiegenlied: So schlafe nun, du Kleine, VB 96 [1:45] 1
Rheinweinlied, VB 73 [2:39] 2
Gesundheit, VB 97 [0:22] 2
Birgit Steinberger (soprano)1, Martin Hummel (baritone)2, Glen Wilson (piano)
rec. 2-4 August 2004, Reitstadel Neumarkt, Oberpfaltz, Germany
NAXOS 8.557452 [62:55]

Naxos have already done sterling service to Joseph Martin Kraus with their recordings of his symphonies (see review of Volume 4) and his piano music (see review). Now we have a recording of all of his song settings of German texts.
Kraus – whose life was almost coterminous with that of Mozart – was himself a man of letters as well as of music. After false starts as a student at the universities of Mainz and Erfurt, he attended the university in Göttingen. Though ostensibly studying law, the young Kraus became more and more involved in poetry and music. Before he was twenty he had published a verse tragedy (Tolon) and a collection of poems (Versuch von Schäfersgedichte), as well as writing a number of pieces of sacred music, including a Requiem. While at Göttingen he became a member of the literary group known as the Göttinger Hainbund (the ‘Göttingen Grove’), made up of a number of young poets including J.H. Voss, Ludwig Hölty and the Stolberg brothers, which was apparently formed during a moonlit walk one night in 1772! As a group they were amongst what one might regard as the anticipators of romanticism, keen on German folk traditions and the poetry of nature and sentiment. Kraus committed himself more fully to music, and soon wrote a book, Etwas von und über Musik furs Jahr 1777, in which his sympathies for the Sturm und Drang and the growing energies of the movement that was to become German Romanticism were clear.
Both his early-Romantic sensibility and the educated responsiveness of his knowledge of poetry are evident in this collection of Kraus’s songs. There is one song (‘Das Rosenband’) setting words by Friedrich Klopstock, one of the major influences on the Göttinger Hainbund; there are no less than thirteen settings of poems by Matthias Claudius, whose simplicity of manner (and often of subject) was much admired by the young poets with whom Kraus mixed. Claudius was to remain popular with composers; indeed four of the poems by Claudius which were set by Kraus – ‘Die Henne’, ‘Ich bin vergnügt’, ‘An eine Quelle’ and ‘Phidile’ – were later set by Schubert. There are three settings of poems by Alois Blumauer, the poet set by Mozart in his ‘Lied der Freiheit’. There are also two settings of Kraus’s own words.
Compare one of Kraus’s settings with Schubert’s of the same text and – not surprisingly – one becomes aware of the limitations. But one is also made aware of the ways in which Kraus’s work genuinely anticipates that of the later master, more so, for example, than is the case with Mozart’s songs. Kraus’s melodies are rarely particularly memorable, but they are always very sympathetic to their texts; he has that skill at the rapid creation of a convincing protagonist that is one of the hallmarks of the best composers of songs. ‘Der Abschied’  (one of the songs which sets words by Kraus himself) easily sustains interest over its seven minutes, a grand, quasi-operatic exploration of Norse mythology; very different is the comedy and pseudo-folksiness of the setting of ‘Die Henne’. There is homely charm in ‘Die Mutter bei der Wiege’ and a moving dignity in ‘An – als ihm die – starb’. Kraus’s range is, in other words, pretty wide, and all of these songs are accomplished and engaging.
Birgid Steinberger characterises her songs very well and sings with clarity and grace; Martin Hummel sometimes over-characterises and his voice is not, for my tastes, particularly ingratiating. Glen Wilson does an admirable job as accompanist; I have followed Naxos in listing his instrument as a piano, but it is surely a fortepiano?
Keith Anderson’s well-informed and perceptive notes don’t anywhere seem to explain that the VB numbers which identify Kraus’s works are to be found in Bertil van Boer’s Joseph Martin Kraus (1756-1792): a systematic-thematic catalogue of his musical works and source study (1998).
Full texts and translations are available from the Naxos website.
This is a CD which in any one interested in the history of the German lied will surely want to hear; admirers of Schubert should find it of considerable interest.
Glyn Pursglove

see also review by Göran Forsling


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