Otto Lessmann (1844–1918) was better known in his day as a journalist, a theatre manager and a producer than as a composer, and he probably composed the three Tannhäuser
songs for a dramatic production of Julius Wolff’s play. The first—Der Lenz ist gekommen
(‘Spring is come’)—is a typical song of the spring, simple and strophic, which Liszt treats in his familiar way as a theme and variations, but he extends the ritornello at the end of each verse and the reflective coda is echt late Liszt. It is a pity that Lessmann’s music to the Trinklied
(‘Drinking Song’), although full of theatrical humour, is not quite as amusing as the poem, which is seriously dedicated to all that flows, red or white, calls down pestilence upon anything dry, and muses on the fortification alcohol provides equally for love and hate. Liszt makes the middle section (which contains a somewhat disconcerting premonition of Grainger’s Country Gardens
) much too awkward for the piece to have any prospect of general revival. Du schaust mich an
(‘You look at me’)—the beloved looks at the poet with unspoken questions—is a splendid love-song the original of which ought to make a good encore at a Lieder recital, and Liszt’s transcription rekindles an ardour which harks back to his most fulsome mid-life Romanticism.
from notes by Leslie Howard © 1996