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Max Reger

Max Reger composed his 60 Schlichte Weisen (Simple Melodies), Op. 76 (1904-1912), largely in response to the accusation that his music was intentionally and needlessly complex. Most of these songs failed to impress and were soon forgotten, but one of them -- the Maria Wiegenlied, Op. 76/52 -- remains Reger's biggest commercial hit: more copies and arrangements of it were sold during the twentieth century than all of his other pieces combined.

The Maria Wiegenlied (Maria being Mary and a Wiegenlied being a lullaby) is a setting of a short text by Martin Boelitz. Reger's F major music sways gently in 6/8 time as Mary rocks Jesus' cradle. The birds sing; treetops sway in the warm breeze; the infant partakes of "holy slumber" -- all set to a simple melody that moves only from piano down to triple piano (p to ppp). But this is still Reger, and simple for Reger might not mean simple for someone else. There are harmonic twists as the song moves along, and when the rocking opening melody returns after a short digression, Reger brilliantly casts it in imitation between piano and voice -- sometimes on the beat, and sometimes at the half-bar in stretto. The Maria Wiegenlied is dedicated, appropriately enough, to Princess Marie Elisabeth of Sachsen-Meiningen.