29 July, 2021
Johanna Kinkel’s Scottish songs
Posted: 18 September, 2018
Anja Bunzel gained a PhD in Musicology from Maynooth University in 2017. She is co-editor of Musical Salon Culture in the Long Nineteenth Century (Boydell & Brewer, 2019), and she is currently preparing a monograph on Johanna Kinkel’s art songs (also with Boydell & Brewer).
During my latest research trip to Stadtarchiv Bonn I found a notebook containing musical manuscripts by the German female composer, pianist and music pedagogue Johanna Kinkel (1810–1858). Kinkel was born in Bonn and moved to Berlin in 1836, following an unhappy marriage. She completed her divorce in 1840 and, in 1843, married her second husband, Gottfried Kinkel (1815–1882). The Kinkels immigrated to London in 1851. During her lifetime, Kinkel published almost eighty songs. As part of my Irish Research Council-funded postdoctoral fellowship, I hope to give Kinkel a voice within the current musical performance and research canons. While my PhD addressed Kinkel’s published songs, I want to devote some thoughts to her unpublished songs here. The Bonn manuscript book includes twelve Scottish songs, among others. What do these songs tell us about Kinkel, and why should they matter to us?
It is likely that Kinkel’s Scottish songs were performed during private social gatherings in Kinkel’s own and/or her acquaintances’ homes. Such settings, called ‘salons’, fostered a wide range of artistic activities including musical and dramatic performances, poetry recitals, card and board games, painting, and crafts. Music took a key role as a means of entertainment and/or artistic innovation. Salons encouraged a vivid cross-artistic exchange, and they enabled well-established composers to test out their new compositions privately before public performance.
Folksong arrangements of Irish, Scottish, and Welsh tunes were popular in nineteenth-century Europe, because the notion of beautiful, remote landscapes appealed to many artists of the Romantic period. For instance, Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827), with whom Johanna Kinkel shared her birthplace, Bonn, and her first music tutor, Franz Ries (1755–1846) published his Twenty-Five Scottish Songs in 1818. While the Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek Bonn digitised Kinkel’s published songs, her Scottish songs remain unrecognised. Eleven of them exist in perfectly performable versions; I have already typeset them according to modern standards using the music typesetting programme Sibelius. The remaining song, Logan Water, is not unambiguously performable at the moment, as the ending is unclear. Kinkel writes at the bottom of the page that ‘the bass notes are wrong; the song needs to conclude with the more simple chords as indicated on page 55’. Page 55 shows a harmonic sketch, but it does not reveal full details. I hope to reconstruct and complete this remaining song soon. But why all the effort?
Music-aesthetically, Kinkel’s Scottish songs are interesting and, by adding a female composer to the canon, they shed a new light on folksong arrangements. A modern, easily accessible edition of these songs would enable their professional performance. But I hope for my research to make a broader impact on the understanding of cultural history. Providing a sountrack to nineteenth-century culture has the potential to revive cultural heritage authentically. We may see a painting in a new light knowing that it was produced during a musical performance; a visit to a country house may be experienced differently if we realise that engaging social gatherings took place there two hundred years ago. The awareness that a German female composer arranged Scottish tunes for performance in private social settings changes perspectives on both German domestic music-making and Scottish traditional song. It is my hope that my project will bring to life the musical works of Johanna Kinkel. More importantly, however, by exploring music in context I hope to uncover crossroads of European cultures both within and beyond the nineteenth century.
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You can hear more from Anja about Kinkel, and listen to some of her songs on Culture Night (21 September) at the Irish Research Council’s event at Boston College Ireland.
In the meantime, listen to a selection of Kinkel’s songs in the video below.
Portrait of Johanna Kinkel © Stadtmuseum Bonn, with special thanks to Dr Ingrid Bodsch
Drawing of a salon gathering at the Berlin home of Henriette Herz (1764–1847) by Johann Gottfried Schadow (1764–1850) © WikiCommons
Excerpt of Johanna Kinkel’s Logan Water, manuscript
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