Monday, May 16, 2016

Alfons Kissner's German Editions of Scottish, Irish and Welsh Songs 1872-1878


Scottish and Irish songs - especially those by Burns and Moore - were quite popular in Germany during the 19th century but mostly as poetry. Editions with music happened to be somewhat rare. The 1860s had seen the publication of three small collections of Scottish songs: by Max Bruch, Edmund Friese and Hermann Kestner (see in this blog: Scottish Songs in Germany - Bruch, Friese & Kestner (1864-68)). The latter also had put together Irish and Welsh anthologies. 

Only during the 1870s a series of publications with a great number of Scottish, Irish and Welsh songs with their original tunes appeared. They were compiled and edited by young scholar Alfons Kissner in cooperation with his father, Kapellmeister Carl Kissner, and other musicians who were responsible for the arrangements, either for choirs or for voice and piano. Of course these were no scholarly collections but intended for practical use: 
  • Carl & Alfons Kissner, Schottische Volkslieder (Scotch Songs) für Sopran, Alt, Tenor u. Bass, 2 Hefte, Partitur und Stimmen, J. Rieter-Biedermann, Leipzig & Winterthur, n. d. [1872]
    (Heft 1 available at the ZB Zürich, Mus RB 1867: 1 & the Internet Archive
  • Alfons Kissner, Lieder von der grünen Insel. Ins Deutsche übersetzt und für eine Singstimme mir Clavierbegleitung herausgegeben, 4 Hefte, J. Rieter-Biedermann, Leipzig & Winterthur, 1874 (H. 1-3), 1878 (H. 4)
    (available at the ZB Zürich, Mus RB 1870 & the Internet Archive
  • Carl & Alfons Kissner, Schottische Lieder aus älterer und neuerer Zeit für eine Singstimme mit Begleitung des Pianoforte. Unter Mitwirkung von Ludwig Stark, 3 Hefte, Rieter-Biedermann, Leipzig & Winterthur, 1874
    (available at the ZB Zürich, Mus WA 979 & the Internet Archive
  • Carl Kissner, Schottische Volkslieder für 4 Männerstimmen (Soli & Chor) bearbeitet, deutsch und englisch, Partitur und Stimmen, J. Rieter-Biedermann, Leipzig & Winterthur, 1875
    (see Hofmeister, Oktober 1875, p. 222; not yet digitized, extant copies at BSB, 4 Mus.pr. 1224 & ZB Zürich Mus RB 1866
  • Alfons Kissner & Ludwig Stark, Lieder aus Wales. Ins Deutsche übersetzt und für eine Singstimme mit Pianoforte, 4 Hefte, Rieter-Biedermann, Leipzig & Winterthur, 1875/76
    (see Hofmeister, Dezember 1875, p. 311, Oktober/November 1876, p. 297; not yet digitized; extant copies at ZB Zürich, Mus RB 1872: 1-4; BSB, 4 Mus.pr. 1229-1/4, and some more) 
  • Carl Kissner, Vier Altschottische Volksmelodien. Für eine Sopran- und Baßstimme mit Begleitung des Pianoforte, J. Rieter-Biedermann, Leipzig & Winterthur, 1876
    (available at the Internet Archive
  • Carl & Alfons Kissner, Ludwig Stark, Burns-Album. Hundert Lieder und Balladen von Burns mit ihren schottischen National-Melodien für 1 Singstimme mit Pianoforte und schottischem und deutschem Text, 4 Hefte, J. Rieter-Biedermann, Leipzig & Winterthur, 1877
    (see Hofmeister, März 1877, pp. 82-3; AMZ 12, 1877, pp. 335-6; not yet digitized; complete copy at BSB, 4 Mus.pr. 1227-1/4
  • Alfons Kissner & Ludwig Stark, Balladen aus keltischen Bergen. Ins Deutsche übersetzt und für eine Singstimme mit Clavierbegleitung herausgegeben. Drei Hefte, J. Rieter-Biedermann, Leipzig & Winterthur, 1877
    (available at the Internet Archive
At that time this series was surely regarded as an ambitious and important project. The publisher regularly ran large ads in the music press (see f. ex. AMZ 7, 1872, col. 87, col. 215; AMZ 9, 1874, col. 463-4; AMZ 12, 1877, col. 431-2) and Friedrich Chrysander even wrote an extended critical review in the AMZ (Vol. 10, 1875, col. 290-4 etc.). Today Kissner's collections are more or less forgotten and are rarely mentioned in the relevant literature (but see Selle, p. 105-6, Kupper, p. 186).

Alfons Kissner (1844-1928; see Tilitzki, p. 562; Wikipedia), son of Kapellmeister Carl Kissner (1815-c.1905; see bmlo), studied in Bonn and Marburg. He wrote his dissertation about Chaucer in seinen Beziehungen zur italienischen Literatur (1867, at the Internet Archive). At first, he had to spent some years as a private scholar and as librarian and secretary for a Russian Grand Duchess. But already in 1875 he became professor for English and French at the University of Erlangen and that was the start of a long academic career. His friend Felix Dahn, novelist, historian and jurist, called him "the most amiable of all professors" and noted that he was "well-versed in the literatures (and music!) of all peoples and times" (1895, pp. 137 , Kupper, p. 186).

It is not clear why he started this project but it seems that at first it wasn't intended to be that extensive. The very first publication in 1872, the two booklets of Scotch songs arranged for choirs, was quite similar to earlier collections, for example those published a decade earlier by Kestner, Friese and Bruch. Here he included the popular standards - mostly by Burns - like "My Heart's in the Highlands" and "John Anderson, my Jo" and used older translations by Freiligrath, Bartsch, Winterfeld, Dahn and others. 



The Introduction is not particularly profound but at least he showed familiarity with the most important collections like Ramsay's Tea-Table Miscellany, Johnson's Scots Musical Museum and George Thomson's publications. Nonetheless later Chrysander in his review (1875, col. 290-2) correctly criticized a certain superficiality as well as the old-fashioned romantic attitude.

Kissner spent some time in London during the years 1873 and 1874 (see Tilitzki, p. 562) and apparently he did some research. The introductions of the further volumes didn't get much better - in fact they are all somewhat disappointing for a future professor of English literature - but from then on he had access to a much greater selection of songs, not only those that had already been published in Germany.

The year 1874 saw the publication of the first three booklets of Irish songs, Lieder von der grünen Insel. The second and third of these were completely dedicated to Thomas Moore's Irish Melodies - a fourth volume would follow in 1878 - and this was in fact the very first German - partial, of course - edition of this famous collection including the music.


Moore was very popular in Germany since the early 1820s, but mostly as a poet, not as a songwriter. Most of his works had been translated into German language but the tunes of his songs were only rarely included in German publications. Silcher had used some in his Ausländische Volksmelodien (1835-41, at the Internet Archive) and Hermann Kestner's Irische Volkslieder (1866-9) - a part of his series Ausländische Volkslieder - offered a small amount of Moore's songs (see Hofmeister 1866, p. 127; 1867, p. 47; 1869, p. 109). From the Irish Melodies only "'Tis the Last Rose of Summer" - first introduced by Silcher (1835) and then a great hit after its inclusion in Flotow's opera Martha (1848; see in this blog: "Des Sommers letzte Rose" - Thomas Moore's "'Tis The Last Rose Of Summer" in Germany) and "Minstrel Boy" had become part of the German singing tradition. 

The 36 songs in booklets 2, 3 and 4 were of course only a small part of Moore's complete Irish output but a considerable number of them hadn't been available in Germany until that time. The translations were by Kissner himself. In fact he translated the words of the complete Irish Melodies into German and published them in an extra book: 
  • Thomas Moore's Irische Melodien in den Versmaaßen übertrsgen von Alfons Kissner, mit Beiträgen von Friedrich Bodenstedt, Hoffmann & Campe, Hamburg, 1875, at the Internet Archive
Original Welsh songs were also quite rare in Germany. Again only Hermann Kestner had published three small booklets in the previous decade. Otherwise not much was available. Here Kissner offered four booklets with altogether 40 songs, the biggest anthology of music from Wales that appeared during the 19th century. 

But most important was his collection of Robert Burns' songs. Burns' texts had been translated several times (see Selle and Kupper) and many of these German translations were then set to new music (see for example in this blog: "Mein Herz ist im Hochland" - New Musical Settings By German Composers 1836-1842). Here Kissner put together a selection of 100 songs in four booklets together with their original tunes. Most of them hadn't been published in Germany before. Some of the translations were by Kissner himself and the rest he borrowed from the available collections. In fact this was the most comprehensive anthology of songs by Robert Burns so far. 


Schottische Lieder aus älterer und neuerer Zeit includes Scottish songs not written by Burns. Here we can find old classics like Robert Crawford's "Tweedside" and "The Bush Aboon Traquair" as well as others first published in Ramsay's Tea-Table Miscellany. But he also added some songs from the later 18th and early 19th century like Niel Gow's "Roy's Wife of Aldivalloch" and Miss Jordan's well-known great hit "The Blue Bells of Scotland". The latter, by the way, was already popular in Germany and easily available in different translations. The last of the series was a volume with the title Balladen aus keltischen Bergen, a mixture of Welsh, Irish - including some more from Moore's Irish Melodies - and Scottish songs, some older, some more recent. It is difficult to see some organizing principle but nonetheless this was another welcome addition. 


All in all these songbooks can be seen as an impressive achievement, both by the publisher and the editors. Never before so many original Scottish, Irish and Welsh tunes had been available in Germany. Other reviewers were full of praise (see Grenzboten 37, 1878, pp. 381-91). But I don't get the impression that these collections were particularly successful and by all account they didn't have much influence. Only very rarely these songs were used by other arrangers. All these songbooks have only survived in a few copies and this this suggests that they most likely weren't sold as well as the publisher may have hoped for. Alfons Kissner himself never returned to this field. In 1877 he was appointed professor in Königsberg. Later he made himself a name as the translator of Ludovico Ariovist's works while his efforts as an editor of British songs fell into oblivion. 

Literature
  • Altenglische Volkslieder am Klavier, in: Die Grenzboten. Zeitschrift für Politik, Literatur und Kunst 37 II.1, 1878, pp. 381-91 
  • Friedrich Chrysander, A. Kissner's schottische und irländische Volkslieder, in AMZ 10, 1875, col. 290-4, 323-8, 337-344, 354-60, at the Internet Archive 
  • Felix Dahn, Erinnerungen. Viertes Buch, Breitkopf & Härtel, Leipzig, 1895 (at the Internet Archive
  • Hans Jürg Kupper, Robert Burns im deutschen Sprachraum unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der schweizerischen Übersetzungen von August Corrodi, Bern 1979 (Basler Studien zur deutschen sprache und Literatur 56) 
  • Christian Tilitzki, Die Albertus-Universität Königsberg. Ihre Geschichte von der Reichsgründung bis zum Untergang der Provinz Ostpreußen (1871-1945). Band 1: 1871-1918, Berlin, 2012 
  • Rosemary Anne Selle, The Parritch and the Partridge: The Reception of Robert Burns in Germany. A History, 2 Vols, Phil. Diss., Heidelberg 1981 (now available as: 2nd Revised and Augmented Edition, Frankfurt/M. 2013)

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