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Songs

Songs

Italien (1825)

Italien

Schöner und schöner
Schmückt sich der Plan,
Schmeichelnde Winde
Wehen mich an;
Fort aus der Prosa
Lasten und Müh,
Flieg ich zum Lande
Der Poesie;
Goldner die Sonne,
Blauer die Luft,
Grüner die Grüne,
Würzger der Duft.
Dort an dem Maishalm,
Schwellend von Saft,
Sträubt sich der Aloe
Störrische Kraft.
Ölbaum, Cypresse,
Blond du, du braun,
Nickt ihr wie zierliche,
Grüßende Fraun?
Was glänzt im Laube,
Funkelnd wie Gold?
Ha, Pomeranze,
Birgst du dich hold!
Trotzger Poseidon,
Warest du dies,
Der unten scherzt und
Murmelt so süß?
Und dies halb Wiese, halb
Äther zu schaun,
Es war des Meeres
Furchtbares Graun?
Hier will ich wohnen!
Göttliche du,
Bringst du, Parthenope,
Wogen zur Ruh?
Nun dann versuch es,
Eden der Lust,
Ebne die Wogen
Auch dieser Brust!

Italy

The plain grows
Fairer and fairer,
Flattering breezes
Blow in my face;
Away from the burden
And effort of prose,
I fly to the land
Of poetry;
The sun is more golden,
The air is more blue,
Green is more green,
Fragrance more fragrant!
There by the cornfields,
Swelling with sap,
The aloe rises up
With stubborn strength!
Olive tree, cypress,
White and brown,
Do you not greet us
Like gracious women?
What gleams in the foliage,
Sparkling like gold?
Is it you, orange-tree,
So charmingly concealed!
Defiant Neptune,
Was it you
Joking and murmuring
So sweetly below?
What seemed half-meadow
And half-heaven above,
Was really the ocean’s
Awesome horror?
Here, divine one,
Is where I would live!
Can you, Parthenope,
Quieten waves?
Then try,
O Eden of delight,
To quieten the panting
Of this breast!

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Composer

Fanny Hensel, née Mendelssohn (1805-47), was an exceptionally gifted musician whose potential was stifled by the gendered social conventions of her upper-middle-class background in mid-19th-century Berlin. She came from a wealthy and cultivated family, distinguished especially by its women. Alongside her brother Felix, she enjoyed an excellent general and musical education throughout her childhood, but while he was encouraged to pursue music professionally, she was prevented from doing so by her father. Nevertheless, music remained centrally important to her within private spaces such as the salon.

In 1825, the Mendelssohns moved to Leipziger Straße 3, a large property which allowed the family to establish one of the most impressive musical salons of the century. In 1829, Fanny Mendelssohn married the painter Wilhelm Hensel, whose active support of her gifts meant that – exceptionally –marriage and motherhood did not spell the end of her compositional life. She collaborated closely with her husband in a purpose-built studio, Hensel responding to her music with drawings, and she composing songs to his poetry.

From 1831, Mendelssohn organised the Sonntagsmusiken, informal private concerts in the garden room of the family home which involved attendees as impressive as Liszt, Paganini, Clara Schumann, Bettina von Arnim and Heine. The programmes mixed chamber music and songs, alongside some choral works and the occasional orchestra. In this ostensibly private milieu, she could flourish as a composer, conductor, performer and organiser. Maintaining the series was no small task, especially in the face of family bereavements and illnesses, and her own numerous but rarely mentioned miscarriages and still-births.

A long-desired trip to Italy from 1839 to 1840 with her family signalled the start of her liberation from her brother’s influence. Most importantly, her music was highly praised by the professional musicians she encountered in Rome. Fanny Mendelssohn was forty when she finally decided she would publish her music, in defiance of her brother.

Towards the end of her life, her self-confidence was boosted by the interest and encouragement of a young, musically inclined lawyer Robert von Keudell. By spring 1847, six opus numbers had appeared. Tragically, she suffered a stroke in May 1847 and died the following night. Felix Mendelssohn arranged the posthumous publication of two groups of songs and her Piano Trio Op. 11.

Fanny Mendelssohn wrote well over two hundred songs. As noted in Stephen Rodgers’s recent book songs, ‘Hensel’s music is tonally adventuresome, … free and flexible, often with a feeling of having been improvised on the spot; it can be at times wildly virtuosic…and at other times stripped to the barest essentials, so that every note, every moment of dissonance, speaks volumes; and it shows little obeisance to orthodox formal models,…pursuing unexpected musical narratives tailored to the needs of each expressive context.’

Hensel knew not only German but also French and English, and her output contains several French and English settings. Her taste in German poetry was discerning and high-quality, including Heine, Goethe, Eichendorff, Rückert, Lenau and her husband’s work.

Scores of all her songs are available on this site: https://henselsongsonline.org/, edited by Tim Parker-Langston, and many are easily available in print editions and recordings.

© Natasha Loges, 2022


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Poet

Franz Grillparzer was one of Schubert's most famous and celebrated contemporaries. His plays still hold the stage, particularly in his native Austria. Like Schubert, he was born in Vienna, but unlike the composer he moved in a milieu of well-connected aristocratic privilege. Despite his work in the Court Library Service he was never a great favourite with the Establishment, and was capable of enraging the powers-that-were with his writings. His relationships with women were turbulent and manifold, but the most important of them was his lifelong friendship (never quite extended to marriage) with Kathi Fröhlich, sister of Anna and 'Pepi' who feature strongly in Schubert's story. Grillparzer was quite a close friend of Beethoven (the reason that Fischer-Dieskau puts forward for Schubert's wariness in his relationship with the poet) and provided him with Melusina as a libretto. Although primarily known as a man of the theatre, Grillparzer wrote a number of Novellen, as well as a good deal of poetry. He had a long and distinguished life; he was in contact with almost every important German man of letters, and he was widely travelled and much honoured. He wrote the somewhat controversial epigram on Schubert's tombstone 'The art of music here entombed a rich possession, but even fairer hopes'. Although well-meant, this facile phrase suggests a lack of inside knowledge of the composer's output, but it was, after all, a viewpoint shared even by those who knew Schubert better. He also wrote the oration read at Beethoven's funeral on 29 March 1827.

Three of Grillparzer's poems were set by Schubert: Bertas Lied in der Nacht (D653), Mirjams Siegesgesang (D942) and Ständchen (D920).

Taken from Hyperion, from notes by Graham Johnson. To view the full article, please click here.


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