Saturday, April 2, 2016

Finding Josephine Lang's Grave

Above is a short video taken at Josephine Lang's Grave with Josephine Lang's Lied "Scheideblick" (Parting Glance) heard in the background, sung by mezzo-soprano Milagro Vargas

Joesephine Lang's grave, surprisingly, was difficult to find. I had assumed it must be in Tübingen,where she lived with her husband, who was a professor at the University of Tübingen.

After several years of searching, I located Josephine’s gravesite. It is maintained financially by her offspring. The grave itself shows the only known image of Josephine with her husband, joining them as an emblem of her family and musical life. Lang’s undeserved obscurity is once again shown in the lack of any signs or directions to her grave at the cemetery, while other figures from Tübingen are singled out with signs and directions, among them the Schwäbish poet Uhland.

Interestingly though, there is a well traveled path to her grave showing that many have visited the grave drawn by perhaps the growing realization about her and/or the rather prominent and beautiful grave marker at the grave.

Most people of Tübingen and Stuttgart have never heard of Josephine with the exception of a handful of feminist musicologists who have tracked her down.

As I walked through the cemetery looking for Josephine Lang’s grave, I was reminded of a haunting text from Brahms’ Auf dem Kirchhofe to text by Liliencron.   This Lied, which I had sung so many times before, now had such a vibrant context.   

The lines from the first verse,  "The day was heavy with rain and disturbed by storms; I was walking among many forgotten graves with weathered stones and crosses, the wreaths old, the names washed away, hardly to be read.”   seemed written for this moment.

Looking for Josephine’s grave was made more difficult because it was raining so heavily.  We had taken a few wrong turns and still couldn’t quite find the cemetery. 

The search to find where she was buried had lasted over several years.  Why was it so difficult to find?  Years before when I had tried to find it, there were no plaques or signs or literature that pointed me in the right direction.

My husband was tenacious and together with him, we were able to make some headway until finally he found it without me.  But I needed to see it for myself. 

When I finally did, I was happy to see her name had now been added to the list of luminaries buried at this cemetery.  Seven years ago, it had not been the case.

A woman composer in Biedermaier Germany was a rare occurrence.  Joesphine Lang grew up in a time when women didn’t attend universities, and as a result didn’t have professional careers.  The only exception was teaching,  and a woman could only teach if she were unmarried.  Women and men were unequal. 

Whatever the reasons, her grave seemed quite  “forgotten.”

Josephine Lang (1815-1880)

Scheideblick- Parting Glance   (Niembsch Lenau)  Op. 10 #5 
Als ein unergründlich Wonnemeer strahlte mir dein seelenvoller Blick!
Scheiden musst ich ohne Wiederkehr, und ich habe scheidend all mein Glück still versenkt in dieses tiefe Meer, still versenkt in dieses tiefe Meer.

As an unexplainably blissful sea showed me your soulful gaze!
I had to take leave and not return.  And parting, I quietly sank all my happiness into this deep sea.
(Translation: Milagro Vargas) 

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