Sunday, August 7, 2011


We are so used to associating Des Knaben Wunderhorn, the massive anthology of folk poetry collected and edited by Achim von Arnim and Clemens Brentano, with Gustav Mahler that we tend to overlook just how many composers drew upon it as a resource.  Its Wikipedia entry tried to account for many of these composers in a rough chronological ordering that runs from Carl Maria von Weber through Alexander von Zemlinsky.  Even more interesting may be the listing in The Lied, Art Song, and Choral Texts Archive, which tries to account for just how many of these songs have been set by at least one composer but begins with the disclaimer that the list is incomplete.  Even so, it runs to 168 entries, ordered alphabetically by poem title but beginning with ten listed as “Unknown Title.”

There are any number of games one may play with this list.  Today I decided to use Firefox Find to peruse the list for poems set by Johannes Brahms.  There were several interesting discoveries.  Some of the poems were set multiple times, which was not particularly surprising.  More interesting, however, may be that there was only one poem that had been set by both Brahms and Gustav Mahler.  Given the size of the anthology, this may have been mere coincidence;  or it may be that this particular poem, “Zu Straßburg auf der Schanz,” was set by a total of seven composers.  Curiously, there is only one entry for Carl Loewe (listed as “J. Loewe” for his full name, Johann Carl Gottfried Loewe), given that Mahler was so interested in Loewe.  However, that poem is certainly an important one for Mahler lovers, even if Mahler used a slightly different version of the text.  Loewe’s version is entitled “Der Kukuk;”  but Mahler used a longer version of the text under the title “Lob des hohen Verstands.”

The real surprise for me, however, was that Brahms’ best known song actually comes from the Wunderhorn collection.  This is the “Wiegenlied,” the fourth song in the Opus 40 collection of five.  These days we know it best as “Brahms’ Lullaby.”  Few probably know that it has words at all, and even fewer know what those words are!

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