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Belsatzar (1840) Op. 57

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Die Mitternacht zog näher schon;
In stummer Ruh’ lag Babylon.
Nur oben in des Königs Schloß,
Da flackert’s, da lärmt des Königs Troß.
Dort oben in dem Königssaal
Belsatzar hielt sein Königsmahl.
Die Knechte saßen in schimmernden Reihn,
Und leerten die Becher mit funkelndem Wein.
Es klirrten die Becher, es jauchzten die Knecht’;
So klang es dem störrigen Könige recht.
Des Königs Wangen leuchten Glut;
Im Wein erwuchs ihm kecker Mut.
Und blindlings reißt der Mut ihn fort;
Und er lästert die Gottheit mit sündigem Wort.
Und er brüstet sich frech, und lästert wild;
Die Knechtenschar ihm Beifall brüllt.
Der König rief mit stolzem Blick;
Der Diener eilt und kehrt zurück.
Er trug viel gülden Gerät auf dem Haupt;
Das war aus dem Tempel Jehovas geraubt.
Und der König ergriff mit frevler Hand
Einen heiligen Becher, gefüllt bis am Rand.
Und er leert’ ihn hastig bis auf den Grund
Und rufet laut mit schäumendem Mund:
Jehova! Dir künd’ ich auf ewig Hohn,—
Ich bin der König von Babylon!
Doch kaum das grause Wort verklang,
Dem König ward’s heimlich im Busen bang.
Das gellende Lachen verstummte zumal;
Es wurde leichenstill im Saal.
Und sieh! und sieh! an weißer Wand
Da kam’s hervor wie Menschenhand;
Und schrieb und schrieb an weißer Wand
Buchstaben von Feuer, und schrieb und schwand.
Der König stieren Blicks da saß,
Mit schlotternden Knien und totenblaß.
Die Knechtenschar saß kalt durchgraut,
Und saß gar still, gab keinen Laut.
Die Magier kamen, doch keiner verstand
Zu deuten die Flammenschrift an der Wand.
Belsatzar ward aber in selbiger Nacht
Von seinen Knechten umgebracht.


The midnight hour was drawing on;
In hushed repose lay Babylon.
But high in the castle of the king
Torches flare, the king’s men clamour.
Up there in the royal hall,
Belshazzar was holding his royal feast.
The vassals sat in shimmering rows,
And emptied the beakers of glistening wine.
The vassals made merry, the goblets rang;
Noise pleasing to that obdurate king.
The king’s cheeks glow like coals;
His impudence grew as he quaffed the wine.
And arrogance carries him blindly away;
And he blasphemes God with sinful words.
And he brags insolently, blasphemes wildly;
The crowd of vassals roar him on.
The king called out with pride in his eyes;
The servant hurries out and then returns.
He bore many vessels of gold on his head;
Plundered from Jehovah’s temple.
With impious hand the king
Grabs a sacred beaker filled to the brim.
And he drains it hastily down to the dregs,
And shouts aloud through foaming lips:
Jehovah! I offer you eternal scorn—
I am the king of Babylon!
Those terrible words had hardly faded,
Than the king was filled with secret fear.
The shrill laughter was suddenly silent;
It became deathly still in the hall.
And see! And see! On the white wall
A shape appeared like a human hand;
And wrote and wrote on the white wall
Letters of fire, and wrote and went.
The king sat there with staring eyes,
With trembling knees and pale as death.
The host of vassals sat stricken with horror,
And sat quite still, and made no sound.
The soothsayers came, not one of them all
Could interpret the letters of fire on the wall.
Belshazzar however in that same night
Was done to death by his own vassals.
Translations by Richard Stokes, author of The Book of Lieder (Faber, 2005)

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Robert Schumann was a German composer and influential music critic. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest composers of the Romantic era. Schumann left the study of law, intending to pursue a career as a virtuoso pianist. He had been assured by his teacher Friedrich Wieck that he could become the finest pianist in Europe, but a hand injury ended this dream. Schumann then focused his musical energies on composing.

Schumann's published compositions were written exclusively for the piano until 1840; he later composed works for piano and orchestra; many Lieder (songs for voice and piano); four symphonies; an opera; and other orchestral, choral, and chamber works. Works such as KinderszenenAlbum für die JugendBlumenstück, the Sonatas and Albumblätter are among his most famous. His writings about music appeared mostly in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik (New Journal for Music), a Leipzig-based publication which he jointly founded.

In 1840, Schumann married Friedrich Wieck's daughter Clara, against the wishes of her father, following a long and acrimonious legal battle, which found in favor of Clara and Robert. Clara also composed music and had a considerable concert career as a pianist, the earnings from which formed a substantial part of her father's fortune.

Schumann suffered from a lifelong mental disorder, first manifesting itself in 1833 as a severe melancholic depressive episode, which recurred several times alternating with phases of ‘exaltation’ and increasingly also delusional ideas of being poisoned or threatened with metallic items. After a suicide attempt in 1854, Schumann was admitted to amental asylum, at his own request, in Endenich near Bonn. Diagnosed with "psychotic melancholia", Schumann died two years later in 1856 without having recovered from his mental illness.

Taken from wikipedia. To read the rest of the article, please click here.

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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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