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Songs

Verlust (1927) Op. 9 no.10

Verlust

Und wüssten’s die Blumen, die kleinen,
Wie tief verwundet mein Herz,
Sie würden mit mir weinen,
Zu heilen meinen Schmerz.
Und wüssten’s die Nachtigallen,
Wie ich so traurig und krank,
Sie liessen fröhlich erschallen
Erquickenden Gesang.
Und wüssten sie mein Wehe,
Die goldenen Sternelein,
Sie kämen aus ihrer Höhe,
Und sprächen Trost mir ein.
Sie alle können’s nicht wissen,
Nur eine kennt meinen Schmerz:
Sie hat ja selbst zerrissen,
Zerrissen mir das Herz.

Loss

If the little flowers knew
How deeply my heart is hurt,
They would weep with me
To heal my pain.
If the nightingales knew
How sad I am and sick,
They would joyfully make the air
Ring with refreshing song.
And if they knew of my grief,
Those little golden stars,
They would come down from the sky
And console me with their words.
But none of them can know;
My pain is known to one alone;
For she it was who broke,
Broke my heart in two.
Translations by Richard Stokes, author of The Book of Lieder (Faber, 2005)

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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

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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