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Kinkel [Mathieux; née Mockel], Johanna

(b Bonn, 8 July 1810; d London, 15 Nov 1858). German composer, writer, pianist, music teacher, and conductor.

Johanna Kinkel stands out among women in 19th-century Germany for her varied and productive career in music. At a time when few women published their works, she published about 70 songs for voice and piano, as well as six duets, two pedagogical works, a sacred choral work, and the popular ‘musical joke’ Die Vogelkantate. Her larger works, including a comic operetta, two Liederspiele, a Singspiel, and a comic cantata for children, were never published; some scores have been lost. Johanna Kinkel’s writings display her sharp wit, humour, irony, and skill as a storyteller, and offer valuable insight into the musical life of her day.

1. Early Years in Bonn.

Born into a conservative Catholic family in Bonn, Johanna possessed a tremendous drive to make music her profession. Her parents declined an offer for her to receive musical training in England, and instead Johanna was taught sewing and cooking. She records her observations about the plight of women’s opportunities and music education in her time in letters, her ‘Memoiren’, and ‘Hausfrau und Künstlerin’. The elderly Franz Anton Ries, who had been Beethoven’s first teacher, taught her piano and nurtured her interest in singing and conducting through her participation in the Gesangverein (‘choral society’) comprised of his pupils. At the age of 19 she became the director of this group, which also gave her a forum to perform her own compositions. In 1832, motivated in part by the desire to achieve more personal and artistic freedom, she married the book and music dealer Johann Paul Matthieux of Cologne. The marriage turned out to be abusive, and after only six months, she returned to her parents in Bonn and began the long process of divorce, which was not finalized until 1840. A lifelong admirer of Felix Mendelssohn, Johanna travelled to Frankfurt to meet and play for him in July 1836. He praised her musical sensitivity and encouraged her further studies, writing letters recommending her to the musical elite in Berlin.

2. Music Studies and Early Career in Berlin.

Her move to Berlin in the fall of 1836 was the beginning of her most productive and happiest period as a musician. She was a frequent guest at the Mendelssohn home and forged friendships with Felix’s sisters Fanny Hensel (whom she admired as the greatest female musician she had met) and Rebecka Dirichlet. Having been introduced to Berlin society through her performances at Fanny’s distinguished, private Sonntagsmusik concerts, Johanna gained enough private piano students to earn her living. For a few months, Johanna lived as a guest of Bettina von Arnim, helped the respected writer with her composition and translation projects, and taught music to her daughters. She possessed a talent for easily writing rhyming verses set to familiar melodies, and created numerous lighthearted occasional pieces for family gatherings. Driven by her strong desire to produce works of more lasting value, Johanna moved to a garden house where she could focus on her music studies: composition with Carl Böhmer and the piano with Wilhelm Taubert.

With the publication of her first collection of six songs (Op.7, dedicated to her mentor Bettina von Arnim), Johanna reached an important personal milestone. For this publication and other early collections, she used the name ‘J. Mathieux’, presumably to avoid the prejudice common in her society against compositions by women. The songs are characterized by lyrical melodies, rich harmonies, expressive piano introductions, and independent vocal lines. The critic Ludwig Rellstab compared her work to Spohr and Weber, predicting that she would soon become respected and well known (Iris vol.9/2, 12 January 1838, 5–7). Robert Schumann, then editor of the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, was also interested in her work. When he solicited a piece of hers to publish, Johanna used the opportunity to try to dispel any stereotypes he and other critics may have had about women’s composition being feminine, delicate, and tender. With her ironic reply, she sent her wildest drinking song for men’s chorus from her comic operetta Die Landpartie, for which she wrote both words and music. The Trinklied, published in NZfM (September 1838, third supplement, p.8–9), remains the only number from the operetta to have been published. During these fruitful years, Johanna published three more collections of songs for solo voice and piano (Opp.6, 8, and 10); in addition to settings of single poems by Heinrich Heine; and Das Schloß Boncourt, to a poem by Adalbert von Chamisso. She also published two collections of duets for soprano and alto with texts by Heine, Goethe, and C.W. Müller (Opp.11 and 12). Her humorous Vogelkantate, originally written for the Gesangverein in Bonn, was published as Op.1 for five voices and piano. This work was especially well received, Johanna wryly observed to a friend in the Rhineland, because no one in Berlin could compose comical music.

3. Return to Bonn.

In the spring of 1839 she returned to Bonn to finalize her divorce, intending initially to return to Berlin. As a polished performer and experienced teacher, Johanna attracted many students. She re-established the Gesangverein, whose performances of operas, operettas, and oratorios, which she directed, made an important contribution to concert life in Bonn. Together with the poet, Protestant theologian, and art historian Gottfried Kinkel, she co-founded the literary circle Der Maikäferbund. The intellectual exchange with the groups’ members inspired her to create poems, stories, essays, and anecdotes that first appeared in the manuscript pages of ‘Der Maikäfer: Zeitschrift für Nichtphilister’ (1840–46). Johanna, the only female member of the circle, was known as the ‘Directrix’. For the group’s first annual Stiftungsfest contest in 1841, Johanna wrote the libretto to Otto, der Schütz, a one-act Liederspiel which she set to music. Her deepening friendship with Gottfried Kinkel led to artistic collaboration; she composed music to his libretti Friedrich der Rothbart in Suza, oder Vasallentreue (a three-act Liederspiel) and Die Assassinen (a Singspiel which she also orchestrated). When she sent the three stage works to Felix Mendelssohn for his critique, the composer praised her beautiful music and the humorous freshness of the libretti. Johanna never published the works in their entirety, although she selected individual songs from each to publish in two collections of songs for lower voice and piano, Opp.19 and 21. Her only sacred choral work, Hymnus in Coena Domini(Op.14, 1842), dates from a time of spiritual seeking, when she converted to Protestantism before her marriage to Gottfried Kinkel in May 1843.

During the early years of their marriage, Johanna devoted herself to their growing family and formulated her ideals of music education. The couple had four children—Gottfried jr (1844–91), Johanna (1845–63), Adelheid (1846–1927), and Hermann (1848–98)—to whom Johanna taught the piano, singing, and composition. Based on her experience, she published a vocal method with guidelines for mothers to teach their young children entitled Anleitung zum Singen: Übungen und Liedchen für Kinder von drei bis sieben Jahren, (Op.20). The work is organized into 12 months and contains scales, exercises, and songs with texts that Johanna wrote especially for three- to seven-year-old children. A gifted teacher, Johanna placed great importance on the correct development of children’s voices and inspired enthusiasm for learning in her students.

Amid increasing attention to political activities during the time leading up to the 1848 revolution, the Gesangverein and the Maikäfer circle were both dissolved. Looking back, Johanna Kinkel saw the year 1847, marked by the sudden deaths of her role models Fanny Hensel and Felix Mendelssohn, as the end of an era in art and culture: ‘A life full of poetry and happiness, quiet and undisturbed by outward storms, [. . .] has now become an impossibility’ (Lecture on Felix Mendelssohn). Johanna and Gottfried Kinkel espoused democratic ideals and were members of the Demokratische Verein in Bonn. Unique among women of her day, Johanna promoted revolutionary ideals through her music. The Demokratenlied, for which she wrote both the text and music, became a rallying cry for the democratic society (see Lemke, 1999/2000, pp.191–3). She even included a revolutionary song for children in herAnleitung zum Singen Op.20. It seems incongruous, and a sign of Johanna Kinkel’s hope in the revolution, that she set the text of Lied von der Bürgerwache to an innocent-sounding melody in the key of F major in a lilting 3/4 metre (see Lemke, 1999/2000, pp.194–5). After visiting Gottfried, captured while participating in revolutionary uprisings and imprisoned, Johanna wrote the text and music to Am Gefängnisthurme von Rastatt, also known asDer gefangene Freischärler.

Johanna Kinkel worked tirelessly to support her family and to save her husband’s life. She corresponded with Bettina von Arnim and her daughter Gisela, and through their intervention, Gottfried Kinkel’s death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. After many students cancelled their lessons, Johanna launched several publishing projects to make ends meet and to raise the profile of her husband’s plight. She published an anthology of stories that she and Gottfried originally wrote for the Maikäfer, including her Der Musikant: eine rheinische Bürgergeschichte, Aus dem Tagebuch eines Componisten, and Musikalische Orthodoxie (Erzählungen, 1849). In addition, she published a collection of songs for alto or baritone (Op.19), her vocal method Op.20, and a story for children in Rhenish dialect, Dä Hond on dat Eechhohn (1849). She also facilitated the publication of Gottfried Kinkel’s biography by his student Adolf Strodtmann, and edited Gottfried’s poems for publication. After Gottfried Kinkel’s adventurous escape from the prison at Spandau, aided by Carl Schurz, the family emigrated to England in 1851.

4. Life in Exile in London.

To support their family and help repay debts incurred by Gottfried’s escape, Johanna taught the piano and held singing classes for children, using Songs for Little Children: English Words Adapted to Madam Kinkel’s German ‘Kindergesangschule’ (London, 1852). Gottfried Kinkel left within the first year on an extended trip to the United States in hopes of raising funds for the democratic cause. During her early years in England, Johanna continued to publish works in Germany. Her Acht Briefe an eine Freundin über Clavier-Unterricht (Cotta, 1852), was intended, as she wrote in her preface, to help mothers with a musical background teach the piano to their own children. Her ‘Musikalische Zustände und deutsche Musiker in London’, published in installments with the Augsburger Allgemeine Zeitung, gave German readers insight into the musical scene in London. Her final known music publication was a collection of scales and exercises published as a German-English dual language collection for alto voice intended for advancing students (Op.22, 1852). The comic cantata for children that she composed in 1854, The Baker and the Mice, was performed repeatedly by her children and pupils, although her plans to publish it were not realized and the work has been lost.

The last years of her life in exile in London became increasingly difficult. The financial strain, demands of other German emigrees, and lack of time to devote to her own creative ideas contributed to Johanna’s suffering increasingly from depression and poor health. Despite her husband’s lengthy absences to hold lectures in Edinburgh and Manchester, and the discovery of his infidelity, Johanna still wanted to give the appearance of a happy marriage to outsiders (see Klaus, 2008, p.300). The bright spot in these dark days were the hours she spent at the British Museum Library reading room. She wrote musicological essays and gave public lecture-recitals on harmony and on her favourite composers Chopin, Mozart, Beethoven, and Mendelssohn. Johanna Kinkel fell to her death from a window of her London home and is buried at the cemetery in Woking, south of London. Amid rumours that she committed suicide, her devastated friends and family naturally desired to preserve her memory untainted. At the autopsy, her death was officially ruled an accident. The semi-autobiographical novel Hans Ibeles in London, which she completed shortly before her death, was published posthumously in 1860.

Monika Klaus, formerly a librarian at the University of Bonn, has contributed significantly to further research by publishing the voluminous correspondence between Johanna and Gottfried Kinkel, a biography of Johanna Kinkel, and a selection of her writings. Johanna Kinkel’s compositions and writings form a valuable resource for musicians, educators, and historians, and are deserving of wider acclaim.


Most MSS in D-BNsa and BNu; works published before 1848 issued under the name Mathieux. For complete publication information see Lemke (1998), pp.66–70.

Stage: Die Landpartie (comic operetta, J. Mathieux), c1837; Friedrich der Rothbart in Suza, oder Vasallentreue (Liederspiel, 3, G. Kinkel), 1841; Otto, der Schütz (Liederspiel, 1, Mathieux), 1842; Die Assassinen (Spl, 3, G. Kinkel), 1843

Songs, 1v, pf: 6 Lieder, op.7 (Berlin, 1838); Gelbi’s Liebe (G. von Arnim), 1838; 6 Gedichte von Emanuel Geibel, op.8 (Berlin, 1838); Gedicht von Heine (‘Es ragt in’s Meer der Runenstein’) (Berlin, 1838); Das Schloss Boncourt (A. von Chamisso), op.9 (Berlin, 1838); 6 Lieder, op.10 (Berlin, 1839); 6 Lieder, op.6 (Leipzig, 1839); Don Ramiro, Ballade (H. Heine), A/Bar, op.13 (Cologne, c1840); 3 songs (Heine) in Rhein-Sagen und Lieder i/1, i/3 (Bonn, c1840); Der deutsche Rhein (N. Becker) (Bonn, c1840); 6 Lieder (G. Kinkel, Mathieux, J.W. von Goethe), A/Bar, op.15 (Cologne, 1841); 6 Lieder (Mathieux, G. Kinkel, Goethe, S. Longard), op.16 (Leipzig, 1842); Hymne auf den Tod des Marco Botzaris, 1v, pf/gui (Cologne, 1843); 6 Lieder (G. Kinkel, Mathieux, Geibel), op.18 (Berlin, 1843); Männerlied (G. Kinkel), c1846, lost; 6 Lieder für eine tiefe Stimme, op.17 (Berlin, 1847); 6 Lieder, A/Bar, op.19 (Cologne, 1848); Demokratenlied (J. Kinkel) (Bonn, 1848); Am Gefängnissthurme von Rastatt (Der gefangene Freischärler) (J. Kinkel), 1849, lost; Der letzte Glaubensartikel (G. Kinkel), c1850, lost; 6 Lieder für eine tiefe Stimme (G. Kinkel, J. Kinkel), op.21 (Mainz, 1851)

Duets: 6 Duetten, S, A, c1838; Drei Duetten (Heine), S, A, pf, op.11 (Berlin, 1839); Drei Duetten (Goethe, W. Müller), S, S, pf, op.12 (Berlin, 1840); Duet arrs., 1853

Choral: Hymnus in Coena Domini, op.14 (Elberfeld, 1840)

Occasional Pieces: Verrückte Komödien aus Berlin: Der Wettstreit der schottischen Minstrels (1838); Das Malzthier, oder die Stadt-bönnischen Gespenster (Spl, 1, Mathieux), 1840; Hänneschen als Wunderkind; Die Fürstin von Paphos, lost

Other: Die Vogel-Kantate (Mathieux), 5vv, pf, op.1 (Berlin, 1838); Trinklied (Mathieux), 1 solo v, 4vv, pf (1838); Anleitung zum Singen, op.20 (Mainz, 1849); Tonleitern und Solfeggien/Solfeggios A, pf, op.22 (London, 1852); The Baker and the Mice (‘Mäusekantate’, J. Kinkel, 1854), lost


(selected list)

U. Brand-Schwarze, and others, eds.: Der Maikäfer: Zeitschrift für Nichtphilister 1840–46, Veröffentlichungen des Stadtarchivs Bonn, vols.30–33 (Bonn, 1982–85)

‘Felix Mendelssohn’, Augsburger Allgemeinen Zietung (13 Nov 1847), suppl., 2529–30

numerous articles in the Neue Bonner Zeitung (1848–50)

Dä Hond on dat Eechhohn: Ä Verzellsche für Blahge (Bonn, 1849)

with G. Kinkel: Erzählungen (Stuttgart, 1849, 2/1851, 3/1883)

Acht Briefe an eine Freundin über Clavier-Unterricht (Stuttgart, 1852/R; Eng. trans., 1943)

‘Musikalische Zustände und deutsche Musiker in London’, Londoner Morgenblatt für gebildete Leser (13 March 1853), 261–3; (3 April 1853) 309–12; (10 April 1853) 359–60

‘Friedrich Chopin als Komponist’ [written 1856], Deutsche Revue, vol.27/1 (1902), 93–106, 209–23, 338–60

‘Hausfrau und Künstlerin’ [written 1856], Frankfurter Zeitung (30 Nov 1885), suppl.

‘ Aus Johanna Kinkel’s Memoiren’ [written 1856], ed. G. Kinkel [jun.], Zeitgeist [suppl. to the Berliner Tage’blatt], vols.39–47 (27 Sept to 22 Nov 1886); repr. in Internationales Jb der Bettina-von-Arnim-Gesellschaft, vols.8/9 (1996/7), 239–71

Hans Ibeles in London (Stuttgart, 1860/R) [semi-autobiographical novel]

M. Klaus and I. Bodsch, eds.: Johanna Kinkel: eine Auswahl aus ihrem literarischen Werk (Bonn, 2010)


A. von Asten-Kinkel, ed.: ‘Johanna Kinkel über Mendelssohn’, Deutsche Revue, vol.27/1 (1903), 89–100

E. Thalheimer: Johanna Kinkel als Musikerin (diss., U. of Bonn, 1922)

P. Kaufmann: ‘Johanna Kinkel: neue Beiträge zu ihrem Lebensbild’, Preussische Jahrbücher, vol.221 (1930), 290–308; vol.222 (1930), 48–67

M. Bröcker: ‘Johanna Kinkels schriftstellerische und musikpädagogische Tätigkeit’, Bonner Geschichtsblätter, vol.29 (1977), 37–48

E. Weissweiler: Komponistinnen aus 500 Jahren: eine Kultur- und Wirkungsgeschichte in Biographien und Werkbeispielen (Frankfurt, 1981)

A.W. Lemke: ‘ “Alles Schaffen ist wohl eine Wechselwirkung von Inspiration und Willen”: Johanna Kinkel als Komponistin’, Annäherungen an sieben Komponistinnen, vol.9, ed. C. Mayer (Kassel, 1998), 53–70

A.W. Lemke: ‘Briefe einer Bettina-Verehrerin: ein Beitrag zur frühen Rezeption von Goethe’s Briefwechsel mit einem Kinde’, Internationales Jb der Bettina-von-Arnim-Gesellschaft, vol.10 (1998), 23–46

A.W. Lemke: Robert Schumann und Johanna Kinkel: Musikalische Stimmen der Revolution von 1848/49’, Internationales Jb der Bettina-von-Arnim-Gesellschaft, vols.11/12 (1999/2000) 179–96.

L. Siegel: ‘Johanna Kinkel’s “Chopin als Komponist” and Other Musical Writings: Untapped Source Readings in the History of Romantic Music’, College Music Symposium, vol.43 (2003) 106–25.

M. Klaus: ‘“…die Nachtigall hat etwas detoniert!” Johanna Kinkels ‘Vogelkantate’: eine Komposition und ihre Geschichte’, Bonner Geschichtsblätter, vols.53/54 (2004) 289–300.

M. Klaus: Johanna Kinkel: Romantik und Revolution (Cologne, 2008)

M. Klaus, ed.: Liebe treue Johanna! Liebster Gottit!: Der Briefwechsel zwischen Gottfried und Johanna Kinkel 1840–1858, Veröffentlichungen des Stadtarchivs Bonn, vols.67–9 (Bonn, 2008)

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6 Lieder, Op. 7 (excerpts), Op. 48: “Im Rhein, im heiligen Strome.” Johanna Kinkel, composer. Verena Rein, soprano; Axel Bauni, piano. … wie ein Cherub aus den Wolken: Hommage an Bettine von Arnim (Dreyer Gaido: 2003). Audio.


Ann Willison Lemke

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