KRAUS: Complete German Songs (Birgid Steinberger/ Glen Wilson/ Martin Hummel/ Thorsten Preuss) (Naxos: 8.557452)
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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