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Der wunde Ritter (1875) Op. 4 no.5

Der wunde Ritter

Ich weiß eine alte Kunde,
Die hallet dumpf und trüb:
Ein Ritter liegt liebeswunde,
Doch treulos ist sein Lieb.
Als treulos muß er verachten
Die eigne Herzliebste sein,
Als schimpflich muß er betrachten
Die eigne Liebespein.
Er möcht in die Schranken reiten
Und rufen die Ritter zum Streit:
„Der mag sich zum Kampfe bereiten,
Wer mein Lieb eines Makels zeiht!“
Da würden wohl alle schweigen,
Nur nicht sein eigener Schmerz;
Da müßt er die Lanze neigen
Wider ’s eigne klagende Herz.

The wounded knight

I know an ancient story –
Muffled and sad it sounds –
The knight lies smitten with love,
But his loved-one’s unfaithful.
He must despise his own beloved
For being unfaithful to him,
He must regard it as shameful,
The love that tortures him.
He would like to enter the lists
And challenge the knights to a duel:
He who declares that my love-one’s sullied,
Must prepare himself to fight.
All would then be silent, perhaps,
But not his own great pain,
He would then have to point his spear
At his own lamenting heart.
Translations by Richard Stokes, author of The Book of Lieder (Faber, 2005)

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The composer, pianist and teacher Agathe Backer Grøndahl (1847-1907) was born in Holmestrand, Norway and died in Kristiania (today Oslo) in 1907. After initial resistance, her parents recognised her considerable talent and supported her musical ambitions. Backer Grøndahl eventually studied at the Neue Akademie der Tonkunst in Berlin, a private institution led by Theodor Kullak which specialised in training pianists. She also studied with Hans von Bülow in Florence and Franz Liszt in Weimar.

Although based in Kristiania, she undertook many concert tours throughout Europe, with partners including the violinist Ole Bull, the singer Nina Grieg and Edvard Grieg (as conductor). Triumphs included her 1868 debut in Kristiania with Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 with Grieg conducting. Indeed, Backer Grøndahl and Grieg were colleagues and friends; she gave the premiere of several of his works, including the song cycle Haugtussa Op. 67.

Backer Grøndahl initially persisted with both composition and performance tours after her marriage to the choral director Olaus Andreas Grøndahl in 1875. They had four children, of which three survived. However, from the age of thirty her hearing deteriorated, resulting eventually in complete deafness. Despite encouragement from Grieg and a brave attempt to return to concert life, from 1903 she turned her energies to composition and teaching; the latter was an important source of household income. Her output includes numerous songs and piano works, some choral works, a cantata and two orchestral works. Pianists may be interested in her exceptionally fine concert studies. Her Scherzo for orchestra is the first work by a woman to be publicly performed in Norway.

Backer Grøndahl composed approximately 180 songs, including numerous folksong arrangements. She favoured clear, symmetrical forms enriched with adventurous harmonies. Exceptionally, nearly all her music was published during her lifetime. Many of her songs are part of the standard Norwegian song repertoire, including Barnets vårdag (‘The Child's Spring Day’). Her songs are enormously appealing, with a tendency towards varied strophic settings, highly singable melodies and well-crafted, characterful accompaniments that do not overwhelm the voice. Although her music is often dismissed as ‘conservative’ (a charge that is regularly applied to women’s compositions), it stands well beside that of contemporaries such as Grieg.

© Natasha Loges, 2022

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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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