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Siegmund Freiherr von Seckendorff: "Lieder"

Jan Kobow, tenor; Ludger Rémy, fortepiano [Johann David Schiedermayer, Erlangen 1790]

rec: June 8 - 10, 2001, Nuremberg, Germanisches Nationalmuseum (Karthäuserkirche)
CPO - 999 817-2 (57'51")

Alise; An die Liebe; An Laura, abends; An Laura, früh; Antwort im Traume; Darthulas Grabes-Gesang; Das Thal der Liebe; Das Veilchen (Romanze); Der Fischer; Der König von Thule; Es war ein Bu(h)le frech genug; Füllest wieder ‘s liebe Thal (An den Mond); Gretchen an Veit; Hans an Veit; Liebes-Treue; Liebeserscheinung; Nacht-Ständchen; O weh, o weh, hinab in’s Thal; Proserpina (I) & (II); Trost der Sehnsucht, an Fatimme; Wend’, o wende diesen Blick; Wilhelms Geist

I am sure very few people have ever heard of Siegmund Freiherr von Seckendorf. I certainly hadn’t. But then, he wasn’t a professional composer. Carl Friedrich Siegmund von Seckendorf-Aberdar, as his full name is, "set songs and singspiels by Goethe for the first time in connection with the dinner parties of Duchess Anna Amalia von Sachsen-Weimar. Later the former page Karl von Lyncker wrote in his journal, ‘Goethe wrote and Seckendorff composed and sang the most emotional songs for the beauties ... and when one went through the streets on summer nights, the loveliest melodies sounded from many windows’", says Siegrid Düll in the booklet.

Seckendorf studied law at Erlangen University and got in touch with music at the court of Margravine Wilhelmine at Bayreuth. At the age of 17 he started a military career, which lasted until 1774, when he retired from the military. In 1775 he went to Weimar, where he was promised the position of counsellor, which was given to Goethe instead. He had to content himself with the modest position of chamberlain. It gave him the opportunity to observe the life at the court of the Duke of Sachsen-Weimar. Soon he became part of the continuous programme of cultural and social activities. It inspired him to write an article in the magazine Das Journal von Tiefurt, with the title "Wie ist eine unoccupirte Gesellschaft vor der Langeweile zu bewahren? " (How to prevent a company which has no occupation from being bored to death?) – a typical problem of 18th century aristocrats.
It was Goethe who prevented Von Seckendorff getting a more interesting (and better paid) job. Only in 1784 he was able to leave the court, when he became ambassador of the Franconian district by order of Frederick II of Prussia. But the year after he fell ill and died.

The rivalry with Goethe didn’t hold him back from writing dramas, tragedies and poems and from composing songs – even on texts by Goethe! - and singing and accompanying them himself. His writings and compositions were exclusively meant for use at the court. That partly explains their character. Most of the songs recorded here are strophic, and there is little evidence of the influence of the Empfindsamkeit as we meet in the songs of his contemporary Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, for instance (see ‘Lieder & Oden’, with Klaus Mertens and Ludger Rémy, also on CPO). There is also a difference in the keyboard parts: in Von Seckendorff’s songs there are still strong reminiscences of the old basso continuo practice, whereas Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach gives the keyboard a much more independent role.
That doesn’t mean, though, that Von Seckendorff’s songs are old-fashioned or harmless. Some of them are ‘modern’ in the fascination for spirits (Wilhelm’s Geist), night (Nacht-Ständchen) and death (Darthulas Grabes-Gesang, one of the most dramatic songs). And sometimes the keyboard does play a prominent role, like in Antwort im Traume, where the instrumental epilogue is even longer than the song itself.

Most of the songs are of an intimate nature. They are intended to be performed in the intimate atmosphere of a salon, and this recording captures that atmosphere. Jan Kobow has a pleasant, rather light voice, which is ideally suited to this music. The keyboard part is realised with restraint - as intended by the composer - but also with enough imagination to keep it interesting. Both musicians have escaped the danger of ‘over-interpreting’ these songs – making them more interesting or more dramatic than they are.

This recording is a very worthwhile addition to the catalogue, giving an insight into the world of the aristocracy during the time of the German Enlightenment.

Johan van Veen (© 2003)

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Jan Kobow

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