German Settings of Ossianic Texts, 1770–1815

Edited by Sarah Clemmens Waltz
Recent Researches in the Music of the Classical Era, 100
A-R Editions, Inc.
liv+156pp.
$260.00

There are thirteen songs in this volume; one by Christian Gottlieb Neefe, two by Karl Siegmund Freiherr von Seckendorff, three each by Johann Rudolf Zumsteeg and Johann Friedrich Reichardt, and one each by Friedrich Ludwig Aemilius Kunzen, Friedrich Götzloff, Friedrich Heinrich Himmel and Carl Friedrich Zelter. There is no cause for alarm if these names mean next to nothing to you; Sarah Clemmens Waltz has done a fabulous job, not only in explaining the phenomenon that was Ossianism and its popularity in Germany, but she discusses each of the composers and their contributions in considerable detail. In short, this volume has everything you could possibly need for an Ossian-themed recital – she even gives the range of the piano parts of each!

The texts inspired a rich variety of response from the composers; von Seckendorff’s setting of “Dauras Trauer” is a simple strophic song with a coda that consists of a reprise of the opening eight bars, while Zumsteeg’s “Ossians Sonnengesang” has an additional violin part and moves from the opening B flat major through E major (with some challenging looking double stops for the fiddler in bars 61–63!) and F minor before somehow managing to get back to the tonic 270 bars of arietta, recitative and a slow, surprisingly quiet conclusion. The following number, Zumsteeg’s “Ossian auf Slimora” is even more extensive – 515 bars, again ending slowly and quietly. Himmel’s “Ossian an die untergehende Sonne” also has an independent violin part and is given here with separate voice lines for the German and English version of the text.

Unlike the two other A-R Editions I have reviewed this month, this volume does have to take into consideration that fact that at least some users will want to perform these songs. Thus it strikes me as odd that, for example, the music for song 8 (Reichardt’s “Armins Klage um seine Kinder”) is not placed on facing pages to avoid page turns. The fact that a third page is used for a further five verses of text makes such a layout even more impractical; surely two verses could have been printed below the notes and the remainder in the space below the final system. Götzloff’s “Ossians Klage um Uthal und Ninathona” (the only song in the volume for a bass) is also better suited to a facing pages layout.

The edition itself is impressive, though I wonder if using “[sim.]” might obviate the need for bar after bar of bracketed editorial accents which, no matter how hard the most professional typesetter in the world might work, also strike my eye as rather ugly.

I don’t want to end this review on a negative, though – Clemmens Waltz has done an excellent job in putting together an impressive volume that I sincerely hope will be used as the basis for recitals and recordings!

Brian Clark