Precious little is known about the German composer Marie von Kehler. We have more music by her than documentary information about her. She was born in Nysa, which at the time was part of the historical German state of Prussia and is now a city in southwestern Poland. She died in Lemgo, a small town in northwestern Germany.
Kehler served as a personal assistant to Princess Friederike of Lippe (another of the historical German states). There she met Johannes Brahms, who worked as a court pianist, chamber musician, and conductor of the court choir; between 1857 and 1859, he spent several months each year at the castle. A letter from Brahms to Kehler survives, in which he asks Kehler to convey his thanks to the princess for sending him a work by Bach. (“You know how much I love this divine man,” he writes, “and can well imagine his melodies, so feared by you, will often resound around me.”) Brahms also gives Kehler advice about teaching the princess the piano part of his op. 8 piano trio. From this we know that one of Kehler’s duties as the princess’s assistant was to provide her with piano lessons.
Kehler’s output contains about eighty songs, and they are of extraordinarily high quality: harmonically rich, melodically flexible, and full of warmth and expressive nuance. Sixteen opuses of her songs were published—though not during her lifetime; the online database Hoffmeister XIX, the most extensive list of music published between 1829 and 1900, includes a record of nine of those opuses, all of which were published between 1890 and 1900 (Kehler died in 1882). Like so much about this composer, it remains a mystery when she composed her songs, who arranged to have them published after her death, and why they weren’t published in her lifetime. Kehler’s song scores are available via special order from the Berlin State Library; to find them, you need to scroll through images of cards from the library’s old card catalogue. I have provided access to her opp. 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 10, and 11 below.
The four videos on this site—created by Stephan Loges and Jocelyn Freeman especially for Art Song Augmented—are world premiere recordings. One hopes other performers will take up these pieces, so that her long-forgotten songs can finally be heard.
Alas, almost nothing has been written about Marie von Kehler and her music, and aside from the songs featured below, none of her music has been recorded. More research is needed to learn more about who she was and in what contexts she composed.