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Johanna Kinkel


Johanna Kinkel

1810 - 1858

Johanna Kinkel (1810-58), née Mockel, was born in Bonn and died in London. Her parents did not particularly encourage her musical and poetic talents, but she was encouraged through her lessons with Franz Anton Ries, who gave her the opportunity to conduct a small choir comprised of his students. Her Opus 1 Vogelkantate was composed for this group. She married a publisher, Johann Paul Mathieux when she was 22 years old but separated from him within six months and returned to her parents’ home. After some time, she resumed her musical activities.

In order to further her musical studies, Kinkel decided to travel to Berlin in 1836. On the way, in Frankfurt, she met Felix Mendelssohn, who praised her musical gifts and encouraged her to study in Berlin, where she had piano lessons with the virtuoso Wilhelm Taubert and composition with Karl Böhmer. For five months she lodged with Bettina von Arnim, at whose salon she became acquainted with Fanny Mendelssohn; she participated in the latter’s famous Sonntagsmusiken. She then moved into her own apartment, where she could dedicate more time to composition; this period saw the composition of many Lieder. Her Op. 7 songs were praised by the influential critic Ludwig Rellstab.

In 1839, she returned to Bonn to finalise her divorce from Mathieux. This protracted and complex process forced her to alter her plan to return to Berlin. She threw herself into music again, teaching, conducting, hosting musical evenings and, through her writing, gathering an impressive circle of colleagues from the literary world; literature grew increasingly important to her.

At this time she met the theologian Gottfried Kinkel, with whom she ran the society called the Maikäferbund, which was dedicated to discussion of culture; Kinkel was the only woman to compose for this group. They married in 1843 and had four children, the last of whom was born in the revolutionary year 1848.

Kinkel and her husband held firmly liberal views and were politically active. In 1849, she took over editing the Neue Bonner Zeitung, turning it into a radical mouthpiece. Her husband was arrested but she arranged his escape and the family emigrated to London in 1851, where Kinkel worked as a piano teacher. After a spell of severe financial need, the family income stabilised and Kinkel turned her energies to musicological studies at the British Museum. Sadly, her health declined and in 1858, she died after falling out of a window – whether through accident or suicide remains unclear.

Kinkel’s works appeared under the name ‘Mathieux’ (Op. 1, 6-16 and 18) as well as Kinkel. She wrote approximately 80 songs, including political works, as well as ca. 12 duets (including Op. 11 and 12), and several larger ensemble works. Her numerous stage works remain unpublished in Bonn, although they have attracted growing interest. Her style is original, with unexpected modulations and phrasing, and a strong affinity to the Mendelssohns when it comes to piano writing. She favoured the poetry of her contemporaries, such as Emanuel Geibel, Heinrich Heine and Adelbert von Chamisso, although she also set her own poetry.

Songs like ‘Vorüberfahrt’ Op. 7 no. 3 have tremendous energy, while ‘Der Müllerin Nachbar’ is a thrilling, turbulent account of sexual jealousy. Like many contemporaries, she set poetry which evoked – and romanticised – other lands, such as the stamping, strumming ‘Der spanische Zitherknabe’ Op. 8 no.1 or her ‘Beduinromanze’ Op. 19 no. 4. Her ‘Nachtlied’ Op. 7 no. 1 (the same text Clara Schumann set as ‘Der Mond kommt still gegangen’) has exquisite grace and delicacy. ‘Oh! Open the door, Lord Gregory’ is heart-rending, and shows Kinkel’s versatility in setting English. Altogether, this exceptional, imaginative and determined figure’s songs deserve to be far better known.

© Natasha Loges, 2022


Song List

This list is likely to be of songs that have been performed at Oxford International Song Festivals and Oxford Song events, and may not be comprehensive of this composer's compositions. This database is ever growing as a work in progress, with further songs regularly being added.

6 Lieder Op. 18 Johanna Kinkel
6 Lieder Op. 7 Johanna Kinkel
6 Lieder Op. 15 Johanna Kinkel
Demokratenlied (1848) Johanna Kinkel
Der Kuß (1840) Op. 10 no.3 Johanna Kinkel
Die Lorelei Op. 7 no.4 Johanna Kinkel
Du nah'st! Op. 15 no.2 Johanna Kinkel
Nachtlied (1847) Op. 7 no.1 12–27.vii.1850 Johanna Kinkel
Rheinsage (1838) Op. 8 no.2 Johanna Kinkel
Stürmisch wandern Op. 18 no.6 Johanna Kinkel
Wunsch Op. 7 no.2 Johanna Kinkel

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