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Songs

Songs

Ich wandle unter Blumen (1910)


Part of a series or song cycle:

Fünf Lieder (Mahler, Alma)


Ich wandle unter Blumen

Ich wandle unter Blumen
Und blühe selber mit;
Ich wandle wie im Traume
Und schwanke bei jedem Schritt.
O, halt mich fest, Geliebte!
Vor Liebestrunkenheit
Fall' ich dir sonst zu Füßen,
Und der Garten ist voller Leut’.

I wander among flowers

I wander among flowers
And blossom with them;
I wander as in a dream
And sway with every step.
O, hold me fast, beloved!
Or drunk with love
I’ll fall at your feet –
And the garden is full of folk.
Translation © Richard Stokes, author of The Book of Lieder (Faber, 2005)

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Composer

Alma Schindler (1879-1964) was born in Vienna into an artistic inclined family. As a child, her musical gifts were encouraged to some extent with piano and composition lessons, including with Alexander Zemlinsky, although in 1898 her father vetoed more advanced piano lessons. Schindler-Mahler’s musical legacy is heavily overshadowed by her relationships with famous, creative men such as Mahler, the architect Walter Gropius and the artist Franz Werfel, alongside relationships with her composition teacher Alexander von Zemlinsky and the artist Oskar Kokoschka.

As a composer, she is most readily identified under the name ‘Alma Schindler-Mahler’. This reflects the fact that she wrote nearly all her songs before her first marriage, to Gustav Mahler, but these were only published after her marriage, from 1910 onwards. Nevertheless, Schindler-Mahler was serious about composition as a young woman; her diaries evaluate potential suitors according to whether they would allow her to compose. Her choice of Mahler, nearly twenty years older, therefore provokes many questions, since he famously insisted that she either renounce composition or break their engagement. During their marriage, she not only protected him from mundane demands, but also acted as his assistant by preparing piano scores for many of his works.

For most of the twentieth century, Schindler-Mahler was regarded as a ‘muse’, a role she herself willingly played. Equally significant, however, is her support for the careers of contemporaries such as Alban Berg and Arnold Schoenberg (reflected, for example, in Berg’s dedication of Wozzeck to her in recognition of her financial support). Schindler-Mahler’s life was personally and politically turbulent. By 1938, she and her husband Franz Werfel had to flee Vienna for the USA, where they settled along with many other émigrés, in Los Angeles. Following Werfel’s death, she eventually settled in New York.

Schindler-Mahler published various memoirs and correspondence which shed light on her personality and milieu, including two autobiographies: And the Bridge is Love and Mein Leben. Many written traces of her are also found in the letters and memoirs of Berg, Schoenberg, Zemlinsky, Bruno Walter, and others like Elias Canetti, Nina Kandinsky, the Mann family, Arthur Schnitzler, Franz Werfel, and Berta Zuckerkandl.

Like many of her contemporaries including Brahms and Berg, Schindler-Mahler began her compositional life with songs, and there is evidence that she would have attempted other, larger genres had she been in more supportive circumstances. Indeed, it took a marital crisis for Gustav finally to pay attention to her as a creative person in her own right, and facilitate the publications with the prestigious Universal Edition.

The style of her songs is lyrical and late Romantic, with a fondness for the lower range of the keyboard, atmospheric textures and a rhapsodic, through-composed approach to form. Songs like ‘Bei dir ist es Traut’ achieve a mesmerising, transparent stillness, combining a persuasive form with harmonic adventurousness. ‘Ansturm’ from Vier Lieder shows her ability to craft exquisite piano textures.

During her lifetime, three sets of songs appeared: Fünf Lieder (1910), Vier Lieder (1915) and Fünf Gesänge (1924). Fourteen other songs have been published in different collections since then. According to her diary, at least forty unpublished songs remain, dating mainly from 1898-1901, including settings of Goethe, Rilke, Heine and Falke and cycles. She had a strong preference for contemporary poets such as Dehmel, Bierbaum and Falke, alongside established figures like Goethe and Heine. She set no poetry by women, to our knowledge.

Useful modern collections include Frauen komponieren - 25 Lieder für Singstimme und Klavier, edited by Eva Rieger und Käte Walter (Schott). David and Colin Matthews have also orchestrated seven of her songs for medium voice; see Alma Mahler: Sieben Lieder für mittlere Stimme und Orchester (Vienna 1995). The best account of her as composer is Susanne Rode-Breymann’s Die Komponistin Alma Mahler-Werfel (1999).

There exists a growing number of recordings which usually pair Schindler-Mahler’s songs with those of women like Clara Schumann or Fanny Mendelssohn (despite their vastly different circumstances), or position her within her male musical circle. A useful resource is Alma Mahler-Werfel: Complete Songs (Ruth Ziesack, Iris Vermillion, Christian Elsner and Cord Garben, 1997).

© Natasha Loges, 2022

 


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Poet

Heine was born of Jewish parents. Much of his early life was influenced by the financial power of his uncle Salomon Heine, a millionaire Hamburg banker, with whom he remained on an awkward footing for many years. After he had been educated in the Düsseldorf Lyceum, an unsuccessful attempt was undertaken to make a businessman of him, first in banking, then in retailing. Eventually, his uncle was prevailed upon to finance a university education, and Heine attended the universities of Bonn, Göttingen, Berlin, and Göttingen again, where he finally took a degree in law with absolutely minimal achievement in 1825. In that same year, in order to open up the possibility of a civil service career, closed to Jews at that time, he converted to Protestantism with little enthusiasm and some resentment. He never practised law, however, nor held a position in government service; and his student years had been primarily devoted not to the studies for which his uncle had been paying but to poetry, literature, and history. 

When the July Revolution of 1830 occurred in France, Heine did not, like many of his liberal and radical contemporaries, race to Paris at once but continued his more or less serious efforts to find some sort of paying position in Germany. In the spring of 1831 he finally went to Paris, where he was to live for the rest of his life. 

Heine’s early years in Paris were his happiest. From an outcast in the society of his own rich uncle, he was transformed into a leading literary personality, and he became acquainted with many of the prominent people of his time.  However his critical and satirical writings brought him into grave difficulties with the German censorship, and, at the end of 1835, the Federal German Diet tried to enforce a nationwide ban on all his works. He was surrounded by police spies, and his voluntary exile became an imposed one. In 1840 Heine wrote a witty but ill-advised book on the late Ludwig Börne (1786–1837), the leader of the German radicals in Paris, in which Heine attempted to defend his own more subtle stand against what he thought of as the shallowness of political activism; but the arrogance and ruthlessness of the book alienated all camps.

Though never destitute, Heine was always out of money; and when his uncle died in 1844, all but disinheriting him, he began, under the eyes of all Europe, a violent struggle for the inheritance, which was settled with the grant of a right of censorship over his writings to his uncle’s family; in this way, apparently, the bulk of Heine’s memoirs was lost to posterity

The worst of his sufferings, however, were caused by his deteriorating health. An apparently venereal disease began to attack one part of his nervous system after another, and from the spring of 1848 he was confined to his “mattress-grave”. His third volume of poems, Romanzero (1851), is full of heartrending laments and bleak glosses on the human condition; many of these poems are now regarded as among his finest. A final collection, Gedichte 1853 und 1854 (Poems 1853 and 1854), is of the same order. After nearly eight years of torment, Heine died and was buried in the Montmartre Cemetery.

Heine's international literary reputation was established with the publication of Buch der Lieder in 1827, a collection of already published poems, several of which were set as Lieder by Schubert, Schumann, Mendelssohn and others.

Schwanengesang (Swan song), D 957, is the title of a collection of songs written by Franz Schubert at the end of his life in 1828 and published iin 1829, just a few months after his death. The collection was named by its first publisher Tobias Haslinger, presumably wishing to present it as Schubert's final musical testament to the world. Unlike the earlier Die schöne Müllerin and Winterreise, it contains settings of three poets, Ludwig Rellstab (1799–1860), Heinrich Heine(1797–1856) and Johann Gabriel Seidl (1804–1875). 

In the original manuscript in Schubert's hand, the first 13 songs were copied in a single sitting, on consecutive manuscript pages, and in the standard performance order. All the song titles are by Schubert, as the poet did not give names to the poems. The six poems by Heine, set as part of D 957, are Der Atlas , Ihr Bild, Das Fishermädchen, Die Stadt. Am Meer  and Der Doppelganger.

Taken from Encyclopedia Britannica (to view the full article, click here), and Wikipedia (to view the full article, click here.)

To read some of his poetry, click here
 


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