Written by: Julia Vide
Josephine Lang was born on March 14, 1815, in Munich Germany. She was the daughter of Munich Kapellmeister, or music director for a German court, Theobald Lang, and opera singer Regina Hitzelberger. Her mother taught her piano, and from her debut concert at age 11, it was clear Lang had great potential as a musician. Lang performed in salons and entertained her family’s guests. She began composing at a young age; her earliest composition dates back to 1828 when she was only 13 years old. In addition to studying the piano with her mother, she also learned music theory from Felix Mendelssohn. Mendelssohn encouraged Lang to study in Berlin, but her father objected due to the financial burden involved.
Because Lang never received a formal music education from a conservatory, she lacked the credentials and privileges of her male counterparts who could become faculty members at conservatories or universities. Despite these limitations, Lang was able to teach private singing and piano lessons in addition to singing in the court chapel and composing. When Lang married Reinhold Kostlin and settled in Tubingen, her musical career slowed. However, when Kostlin passed away, Lang returned to teaching both out of necessity to support her six children and because she found comfort and consolation through composing. Her output during this time consisted of revisions of songs composed during her youth as well as newly composed works.
Lang referred to her compositions as “her diary.” She almost exclusively composed Lieder, often with themes of love and nature. Her compositions also reflected her spiritual and emotional attitudes. The melodies were daring while the accompaniments functioned independently. The piano played an important role in her songs, not only supporting the voice but reinforcing the message of the song. Lang also composed works for piano and violin, including a piano sonata with obbligato violin accompaniment called “Sonata avec Violon” and another piece with an obbligato violin part. Not all of Lang’s compositions were secular, she also composed a number of sacred choral works such as Cyries and Ave Maria.
When Lang passed away in 1880, her son Heinrich Adolf Kostlin, a theologian specializing in the history of evangelical church music, wrote a biography of her. His biography of Lang’s life was largely based on her personal diary which was destroyed after her death. Writings by scholars Marcia Citron and Judith Tick and others after them have helped to spark new interest in Lang’s lieder.
- “Lang, Josephine (Caroline).” Harvard Biographical Dictionary of Music, June 1996, 482. http://search.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.elon.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=b6h&AN=36200989&site=brc-live.
- Citron, Marcia J. “Lang, Josephine.” Grove Music Online. 2001; Accessed 2 Jul. 2021. https://www-oxfordmusiconline-com.ezproxy.elon.edu/grovemusic/view/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.001.0001/omo-9781561592630-e-0000015965.
- Lott, Marie Sumner. Notes 64, no. 2 (2007): 278-81. Accessed July 2, 2021. http://www.jstor.org/stable/30163093.
- Porter, Cecelia Hopkins. “Josephine Lang: The Music of Romanticism in South German Cultural Life.” In Five Lives in Music: Women Performers, Composers, and Impresarios from the Baroque to the Present, 78-104. University of Illinois Press, 2012. Accessed July 2, 2021. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5406/j.ctt2ttds4.9.