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Margarete Schweikert was born in Karlsruhe, where she spent most of her life. Her parents were music lovers, the mother played the piano and the father the violin, and they sang with their only child. From the age of 14 Margarete studied at the conservatory in her hometown, piano, violin, composition and, possibly, also singing. She continued her education at the Badisches Konservatorium and later also studied privately in Stuttgart for among others, Joseph Haas, a pupil of Max Reger’s. From 1907 she performed as violinist in Karlsruhe and from 1910 she appeared all around the southern parts of Germany. She often played chamber music with colleagues, quite often music by Reger, and she also launched her own compositions, not least her songs, which she accompanied herself. It is as song composer she is best remembered. About 160 songs have been preserved, most of them composed between 1905 and 1920, and during and after WW1 20 were published. In 1923 she married and had a child and cut down on her public appearances. When the Nazis came to power she was not allowed to work at all – because she was married! After the war she resumed some of her concert activities and also taught violin and wrote music criticism, but due to illness her working capacity was limited, but she wrote some further songs before she passed away on 13 March 1957.
Her music is sparsely represented on CDs. There are a couple of piano music anthologies and a disc with chamber music and songs. The present disc adds considerably to her discography and a further disc on the same label, due for review before long, widens the scope even more. I have to admit that the name Margarete Schweikert was completely unknown to me, but from the first track of the present disc I was completely hooked by her deeply personal tonal language. Her frequent modulations is one characteristic, the close partnership between piano and voice another. The one cannot function without the other and together they can express any feelings, any moods and find the essence of the texts – whether they are tragic, happy, humoristic or simply idyllic. Occasionally one can feel a kinship with Hugo Wolf, at other times Max Reger comes to mind – not unexpectedly considering her championing his music. Margarete Schweikert was first and foremost violinist but her capacity as pianist was not half bad either, to judge from the sometimes quite demanding accompaniments.
The texts, discriminatingly chosen from mainly contemporaneous poets, were obviously close to her heart, and one gets the feeling that she identified very closely with the contents. Many of the poets are largely forgotten today, but at least Christian Morgenstern (1871 – 1914) is still very popular. But she also set older poets like Goethe, Hölderlin and Heine and the latter’s Es war ein alter König is one of the most beautiful songs on the disc. For some reason this text is not printed in the booklet.
There are two song cycles included. Lieder an ein Mädchen (Songs to a girl), Op. 15 to poems by Hans Heinrich Ehrler (1872 – 1951). He worked since 1907 in Karlsruhe and obviously knew Margarete Schweikert. The poems were published in 1912 but the song cycle was not premiered until 1922. There is a link here to Beethoven’s cycle An die ferne Geliebte, finished in 1816, thus 100 years before Schweikert’s cycle probably was composed. Both deal with unrequited love and like Beethoven wanted the songs to be performed without a break, this is also the way Lieder an ein Mädchen is sung here, with minimal pauses between the individual songs. In the other cycle, Im bitteren Menschenland (In the bitter land of humans) the theme is longing for death. The Austrian poet Ernst Goll’s (1887 – 1912) poems, around 130, were published posthumously in 1912 and Margarete Schweikert chose ten of them and formed the cycle, which was premiered in Karlsruhe in May 1915. Though death is omnipresent it is brightened by memories of love and nature. This is perhaps the most gripping section of the disc.
The remaining songs were never published but are preserved in autographs in the Badische Landesbibliothek Karlsruhe. Some of them are simple and almost folksong like. Märchenstunde (Story time) is a good example. Süssduftende Lindenblüte (Sweet-scented lime-blossom) is a rare example of happy mood without dark ingredients. Der Sturmgotts Liebe (The love of the god of the tempest) is burlesque and Wehmut im Walzertakt (Melancholy in waltz-time) is a desperate attempt to hide sorrow behind a grimace.
I would say that here are songs for all kinds of moods and feelings, and though sadness and death are recurrent themes, there is a hushed beauty about many of the songs. All-important are also the interpreters, who are congenial. Pianist Jeannette La-Deur has since 2011 devoted her attention almost exclusively to the music of Margarete Schweikert as publisher, pianist and project manager. There is total conviction about her playing here and the rapport between her and the excellent tenor Bernhard Berchtold is stunning. Berchtold is an utterly expressive singer and he often sacrifices beautiful tone for illuminating word-painting. His plaintive tone is perfectly suited to the contents of the songs.
Margarete Schweikert may have been forgotten for sixty years but judging from what I hear on the present disc it seems that a renaissance for her music is well-deserved.
Just a brief comment on the total timing. The booklet says 74:53 but my CD-player says 76:33!
1. Der Schäfer (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe) [2:00]
2. Glück (Cäsar Flaischlen) [1:58]
3. Meine Hoffnung (Ernst Zahn) [1:26]
4. Morgengebet (Hans Heinrich Ehrler) [2:23]
Lieder an ein Mädchen, Op. 15 (Hans Heinrich Ehrler):
5. Die Wolke muss zum Himmelsrand [1:01]
6. Du bist noch so von Mutter her [1:14]
7. Es rieselt etwas über dein Gesicht [1:21]
8. Wenn ich holder Liebreiz [1:31]
9. Was hat getan dir dieser eine Kuss [1:07]
10. Hab ich beladen dich mein Kind [1:54]
11. Und wenn du in die Fremde gehst [1:08]
12. Erloschen ist der Sterne schimmernd Heer [2:14]
13. Und wenn ein Sturm herunterbricht [0:58]
14. Es liegt der heiße Sommer (Heinrich Heine) [1:48]
15. Die Visitation (Adolf Holst) [2:52]
16. Märchenstunde (Albert Herzog) [2:09]
17. Zu Dritt (Börries Freiherr von Münchhausen) [1:20]
18. Des Sturmgotts Liebe (Albert Herzog) [2:00]
19. Süßduftende Lindenblüte (Otto Erich Hartleben) [2:26]
20. Kleine Tragik (Ludwig Marohl) [2:06]
21. Es war ein alter König (Heinrich Heine) [2:51]
22. Slawisches Liebeslied (Frida Schanz) [1:32]
23. Wehmut im Walzertakt (Hans Beyersdorff) [1:17]
24. An deiner Kirche (Ermina van Natangen) [3:18]
Im bitterem Menschenland, Op. 9 (Ernst Goll):
25. Opfer [1:50]
26. Ich sah ein Blümlein [1:11]
27. Jubel [1:42]
28. Verlöbnis [1:47]
29. Trotzige Liebe [1:22]
30. Bitte [1:50]
31. Ahnst Du? [1:47]
32. Ein Brief [2:10]
33. Zwei Vöglein [1:39]
34. Die Liebenden [2:34]
35. Weltende (Else Lasker-Schüler) [2:14]
36. Der Säemann (Christian Morgenstern) [1:37]
37. Totenhausen (Heinrich Vierordt) [5:36]
38. Die Entschlafenen (Friedrich Hölderlin) [3:15]