Johanna Kinkel (1810 - 1858) composer, pianist, writer, revolutionary

Johanna Kinkel (1810 - 1858) composer, pianist, writer, revolutionary

Posted by ©Roz Trübger 2010 on 15th Sep 2019

Johanna Kinkel [1810 - 1858] was an intelligent and gifted woman who made her mark in the worlds of both music and literature. Born in Bonn (maiden name Johanna Mockel), her first music teacher was F. A. Ries (also Beethoven's teacher) who encouraged her to conduct and compose. Both Mendelssohn and Schumann encouraged her musical efforts and she might have had a great career if she had not been living in an era when women of any social standing were discouraged from taking part in professional music. Her parents regarded it as better for her to work in a domestic role at a local hotel, than to be a professional pianist! Joanna thought that marriage would give her some freedom, so she married a Cologne bookseller and became Johanna Mathieux. But he abused her and prevented her from playing the piano so, after just six months, she left him - a courageous and desperate act for a Catholic woman and an action that left her deeply depressed for many months. But she came through it, and with the help of Felix Mendelssohn, moved away to Berlin, where she was free, happy and involved in music making with, amongst others, Fanny Mendelssohn and the Schumanns. Following a comment from Robert Schumann, about 'female composers', she wrote the rumbustious Trinklied to prove what women could do! But this happy period did not last. She had to move back to Bonn, to finalise her divorce and revolution was brewing in Germany. There she gave singing lessons, as well as piano lessons, composing the Drei Duette (op.12) for 2 of her pupils. During her time in Berlin, she had met Gottfried Kinkel, a poet who later became her second husband. This second marriage gave her artistic freedom, but it also gave her four children to look after and a husband who was frequently away, leaving her to be the bread-winner as well as full-time parent.   Joanna herself got caught up in the events of the German revolution, as editor of a newspaper and later rescuing her husband from Spandau prison, where he was a political prisoner. Johanna and her family emigrated to London, England. There she composed, wrote books, including one about music teaching that proves that nothing changes, as it would be just as relevant today  and gave lectures on Chopin, Beethoven and others. In her writings, she advocates the use of quarter-tones, although she did not employ them in her own compositions. Her personal life became increasingly unhappy and ended tragically before she was fifty years old when she fell from her bedroom window in Eastbourne Terrace, London. Her output consists largely of Lieder(songs).
In 2008 Trübcher Publishing embarked on an extensive and long-term project to publish her music beginning with the Vogelkantate which received a standing ovation at its first performance. Full of humour, it depicts five birds trying to organise a music rehearsal. Further performances of the work have been held including one on the splendid Rhine island, Nonnenwerth. An excellent biography by Monica Klaus (in german) was published in October 2008 and further information can be found on Monica's website. A few years ago, I created a Medley of Kinkel melodies for flute and piano, which I named 'Johanna" and performed as a birthday gift for Monica.
Personal recollection: Johanna's grave is in a cemetery near my home in England and I decided to try to find it. I arrived in the huge graveyard with no idea of where to begin looking. The graveyard was empty, there was nobody around. Eventually, after 25 minutes of fruitless hunting, I lifted my head to the sky and called out 'where are you, Johanna?'. As if by magic, immediately a car pulled up beside me and the driver enquired whether I needed assistance. After I had told him my quest, he said 'easy' and drove me in his car straight to her grave on the opposite side of the cemetery .....

(photo: tidying the gave with Colin, and Wulf and Monica Klaus)