Lehn' deine Wang' an meine Wang', by Adolf Jensen (1837-1879)

A few years ago, while working with a student on an all-Heine recital program, our search for interesting material turned up this delicate and charming song written by a relatively minor, now almost forgotten composer of the German Romantic period. We programmed it primarily for the sake of variety and novelty, but Jensen's unaffected and charming Biedermeier  style grew on us and his song ultimately became one of our favorite moments in the recital.

Those who know Schumann's rather heated setting of this poem (Opus 142, #2, written in 1852), will find Jensen's approach surprisingly different. Though such comparisons are pointless, this may well be a case where the lesser composer has produced the better result.

Jensen's approach to Heine's mood is supremely lyric, his tempo slow, and the effect one of gentle wistfulness. I would not hesitate to recommend this song to any singer as a superb study in legato style, phrasing and subtle dynamic control. The original key is E-flat, the dynamic range very limited, and the vocal line encompasses only a tenth, from middle C up to treble E-flat.

This song is the composer's opus 1, number 1, written in 1856, coincidentally the year both Schumann and Heine died. Jensen was only nineteen when he penned it, yet his writing gives no evidence of uncertainty or immaturity. Nor can any influence of Wagner be detected, a feature which became increasingly noticeable in Jensen's later writing. In an album of Jensen songs published by Oliver Ditson in 1902, one Louis Elson provided this English singing version of the text:

Lehn' deine Wang' an meine Wang',
Dann fließen die Tränen zusammen;
Und an mein Herz drück' fest dein Herz,
Dann schlagen zusammen die Flammen!

Und wenn in die große Flamme fließt
Der Strom von unsern Tränen,
Und wenn dich mein Arm gewaltig umschließt-
Sterb' ich vor Liebessehnen!

Oh, press thy cheek against mine own;
Together our tears shall be flowing,
And press thy heart close to my heart,
Together the flames shall be glowing;

And when in the glowing flames at last,
The streams of tears are thronging,
And, when my arm shall encircle thee fast,
Then I shall die of longing.

Alternate translations may be found in Louis Untermeyer's masterful Poems of Heinrich Heine  or The Fischer-Dieskau Book of Lieder.

The poem is neither very good nor even typical Heine, but was obviously good enough to draw a musical response from several composers. It comes from the poet's Lyrisches Intermezzo  (the poetic source of Schumann's Dichterliebe), where Heine--who was purposive about such things--placed it immediately before one of his most ecstatic poems, the startlingly anthropomorphic Ich will meine Seele tauchen. The youthful Jensen took the liberty of shaping Heine's poem to serve his musical form by adding a reflective repetition of the poet's opening line.

In addition to fitting well into a program section devoted to Heine songs, Jensen's song would be most congenial partner in any grouping of Biedermeier  songs--that introspective and charming branch of the tree of German creativity that eschewed the monumental and grandiose and concentrated instead on less inflated, gentler values. Jensen and Robert Franz (1815-1892) are recognized as this school's masters in the realm of song composition, and a surprisingly copious supply of worthwhile Lieder  awaits anyone who chooses to explore their output. Jensen's Opus 1 could also be fitted to a program section devoted to 'First Songs', an idea that could involve an intriguing variety of composers .

Perhaps the only barrier to making use of this charming piece is trying to locate a copy of it. It has not been in print for many years, so you will probably have to find your copy on a library shelf. If your library doesn't have any Jensen material, you may have to seek it out through the Interlibrary Loan system. Should you locate a source with the seven volume [sic] edition of Jensen's songs published, in 1884, by G. Schirmer, this song will be found in Volume I.


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Copyright 1999, John Koopman. All rights reserved. No part of these websites, designated A BRIEF HISTORY OF SINGING and UNSUNG SONGS, or their contents may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means--electronic, photocopying or otherwise--without the written permission of the copyright holder. For information about the use of this material please contact the author through the Conservatory of Music, Lawrence University, Appleton, WI , (U.S.A) 54912-0599. Fax 920 832 6633