Born: April 1, 1779 in Berlin, Germany
Died: November 17, 1826 in Hamburg, Germany
Louise Reichardt wrote more than 100 lieder during her composing career, most of which were published and performed during her lifetime in Hamburg, where she lived. Despite having two composers for parents, Reichardt learned how to write music largely on her own. Her mother, Juliane Benda, was an avid composer and performer even after the birth of her three children but died when Reichardt was only 4-years-old. Reichardt’s father, esteemed composer Johann Friedrich Reichardt, was too consumed with his own work, including writing about pedagogy, to have the time or desire to educate his daughter. Despite her lack of formal education, Reichardt had the privilege of living in a home that attracted many of the leading poets of her day including Goethe, Tieck, Novalis, the Schlegels, Eichendorff, Clemens and Bettina Brentano, von Arnim, and others, who became her friends and inspiration. Goethe called her family’s home “die Herberge der Romantik” (the sheltering place of Romanticism) and Eichendorff was inspired to write his poem, “Da steht eine Burg überm Tale” because of his time at the Reichardt home. When composing, Reichardt set texts by the most talented contemporary writers, many of which were also set by other famous composers of that time.
Reichardt’s affinity for the arts and poetry extended to her romantic life. She was engaged to a poet who died before their wedding; her second engagement, to a painter, also ended in the death of her betrothed before they could marry. Following these tragedies, Reichardt avoided romantic ties altogether and chose to devote her full emotional energy to her students and compositions, most likely as a way to protect herself from further heartbreak. Wilhelm Grimm, a family friend of the Reichardt’s, said that “[Louise’s] happy compositions are by far the best ones.” Despite her tragic circumstances, Reichardt was known to be extremely jovial, sincere and intelligent. Many described her as pious with a very refined and humble demeanor, as was expected from females at that time. This behavior, however, contradicted the reality of Reichardt’s situation; she left her family and moved to Hamburg, despite her father’s dismay, completely supporting herself financially for the rest of her life. She never returned home after she moved to Hamburg and rarely left the city, even to travel.
In Hamburg, Reichardt quickly acquired a sizable studio of voice students which provided most of her income in her early days there. She began studying with Johann Friedrich Clasing to further her musical education and became extremely interested in the choral works of Handel. She worked several jobs including organizing and conducting women’s choruses, teaching singers music, vocal technique, and German diction, coaching them on the style of Handel, and translating several Latin texts to German for performances. Despite her tremendous influence on these musical groups, she did not conduct them in performance; this work was delegated to her male colleagues, as there was no precedent for a woman to conduct a chorus in public at that time and also because Reichardt did not enjoy being the center of attention. Reichardt’s influence on the musical life of Hamburg was undeniable and her efforts as a teacher, conductor, and composer were very strong to those who knew her.
Reichardt did not have a celebrated singing career before becoming a composer; she gained attention from her compositions because of her activity in the choral life of Hamburg and her notable skill for writing lyrical melodies. All of her works were songs written for piano and voice or for a cappella voice and most were written while she was living in Hamburg, suggesting that her independence and freedom there helped boost her creativity. Reichardt composed in both German and Italian, often setting texts of the most prominent poets of her day. Her music followed the typical themes of German romanticism highlighting nature, romantic love, and death, and always remained extremely faithful to the text. Her music was not harmonically complicated or adventurous and was characterized by its folk-like qualities. This gave her the freedom to write beautiful melodies set to high quality texts, one of her defining compositional accomplishments. Because her music was so accessible and pleasant to listen to, it was widely appreciated by the public, dominated by bourgeois society. As a result, she did not have to rely on royal patronage, as many of her predecessors did, for support.