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Schubert collection

Home | 2016 | September

Rustling inspiration

Posted by Richard on UTC 2016-09-22 13:56.

How young and full of hope we on this blog still were then, when we first discussed Die schöne Müllerin, Schubert's setting of Wilhelm Müller's 'monodrama'. Shortly after, in connection with (Die) Winterreise, we looked at the spectacle of Wilhelm Müller and Clemens Brentano vying to win Luise Hensel's pious hand and resolute heart. Luckily for them both it was not to be.

In Die schöne Müllerin, one of the most charming and well-executed poems is undoubtably Wohin?, its charm enhanced and immortalised by Schubert's genius. It is not only charming, it has a key role in the narrative: it is the first appearance of the stream that will lead the wandering miller to his mill and to his girl and – always the good listener – will accompany him to the bitter end.

The idea for the poem did not spring into Wilhelm Müller's mind like the source of the stream from the rocky cliff. Müller's text was greatly inspired by a poem that Clemens Brentano 'assembled' for the famous anthology Des Knaben Wunderhorn (1808). The three books of Wunderhorn were brought out by Brentano and his friend Achim von Arnim.

Des Knaben Wunderhorn

The appearance of the collection is generally regarded as the starting shot for the literary movement we now call German Romanticism, a movement that reflected the growing feeling of a German national identity. Identities are rooted in shared history and shared culture, thus Achim von Arnim and Clemens Brentano went looking for the strong, simple, untainted, Germanic culture of the common people. Where they didn't find it, they reconstructed it in accordance with their vision. Those who seek, will indeed find.

Wunderhorn is a strange product, one that we would find difficult to categorize nowadays. It contains some lyrics 'recovered' from earlier sources, most of which were rewritten by von Arnim and Brentano in some way, some poems that appear to be almost complete inventions, others knitted together from fragments liberally extracted from older sources. The main task of the two 'anthologists' was to achieve a rustic style – today we might write 'ethno' style, a German 'roots'. The style is deliberately rough-edged: the two poets competed with each other at writing in a clunky, 'authentic' style. Characteristic for such a style is the use of diminutive endings such as -lein or -chen – so excessive in the piece below that the habit really becomes cloying.

Wunderhorn is not a work of scholarship. In creating the work the two poets walked along the seashore and picked up whatever caught their eye, cleaned and worked on it, then arranged it in their collection, wherever they thought it might fit. They were shameless about it: the gratuitous remark 'oral' at the head of the poem we give here is a simple lie. The work of disentangling all these fragments has put bread on the tables of generations of German literary scholars.

Clemens Brentano

Here is poem 'II-50a' from Volume 2 of Wunderhorn. [1] It will make the fans of Die schöne Müllerin say to themselves: where have I heard that before? You can sing it to Schubert's music if you like.


Laß rauschen[,] Lieb, laß rauschen Just whisper, Love, just whisper
Mündlich. Oral.
 
Ich hört ein Sichlein rauschen,
Wohl rauschen durch das Korn,
Ich hört ein Mägdlein klagen,
Sie hätt ihr Lieb verlorn.
[Narrator]
I heard a sickle swishing,
Just swishing through the corn,
I heard a girl lamenting,
that she had lost her love.
 
Laß rauschen , Lieb, laß rauschen,
Ich acht nicht, wie es geht,
Ich thät mein Lieb vertauschen
In Veilchen und im Klee.
[The boy]
Just whisper, Love, just whisper,
I don't care what happens,
I deceived my love
Among the violets and the clover.
 
Du hast ein Mägdlein worben
In Veilchen und im Klee,
So steh ich hier alleine,
Thut meinem Herzen weh.
[The girl]
You wooed a maid
Among the violets and the clover,
Now I'm standing here alone,
My heart is aching.
 
Ich hör ein Hirschlein rauschen
Wohl rauschen durch den Wald,
Ich hör mein Lieb sich klagen,
Die Lieb verrauscht so bald.
[The boy]
I hear a deer rushing and rustling
Just rushing through the woods,
I hear my love lamenting,
Love fades so quickly.
 
Laß rauschen , Lieb, laß rauschen,
Ich weiß nicht, wie mir wird,
Die Bächlein immer rauschen,
Und keines sich verirrt.
[Narrator]
Just whisper, Love, just whisper,
I don't know what will become of me,
The streams are always racing,
And none of them loses its way.

Translator's note, in extremis .

There is no single English word that will do justice to the German word rauschen and all its derivatives – most of the single-word contenders in English sound very odd, sometimes hilarious. The German word means a sound that geeks might call 'white noise': the noise of a rushing stream, the wind in the trees, the waves across the pebbles and here the whoosh of the sickle cutting through corn. It is always used as a sound of motion, usually continuing. Indolent English streams, when they can be bothered, 'babble'; energetic German streams 'rauschen'. By association rauschen can describe rapid motion; by even further association it can describe a state of intoxication or hallucination. All of these meanings occur in these poems, sometimes all in the same instance.

Wilhelm Müller

Let's compare Brentano's effort with Wilhelm Müller's poem Wohin? from Die schöne Müllerin. [2]


Wohin? Whither?
Ich hört' ein Bächlein rauschen
Wohl aus dem Felsenquell,
Hinab zum Thale rauschen
So frisch und wunderhell.
I heard a stream rushing
Out of the rocky spring,
Rushing down to the valley
So fresh and wonderfully clear.
Ich weiß nicht, wie mir wurde,
Nicht, wer den Rath mir gab,
Ich mußte gleich hinunter
Mit meinem Wanderstab.
I don't know what happened to me,
Nor who gave me the idea,
I just had to go downwards
With my staff.
Hinunter und immer weiter,
Und immer dem Bache nach,
Und immer frischer rauschte,
Und immer heller der Bach.
Downwards and always onwards,
And always following the stream,
And always fresher rushed,
And always clearer, the stream.
Ist das denn meine Straße?
O Bächlein, sprich, wohin?
Du hast mit deinem Rauschen
Mir ganz berauscht den Sinn.
Is this then my way?
O stream, tell me, where do I go?
Your rushing has
intoxicated my mind.
Was sag' ich denn von Rauschen?
Das kann kein Rauschen sein:
Es singen wohl die Nixen
Dort unten ihren Reihn.
Why am I talking of rushing?
That cannot be rushing:
It must be the sprites singing
as they dance below.
Laß singen, Gesell, laß rauschen,
Und wandre fröhlich nach!
Es gehn ja Mühlenräder
In jedem klaren Bach.
Let them sing, let them rush/intoxicate
And follow happily!
There are mill-wheels turning
in every clear stream.

It seems clear that Müller was 'inspired' by Brentano's confection – or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that he extracted some features from it. No one can call this plagiarism in any sense of the word, since Müller has created a completely independent work. We cannot even assume that Müller had Wunderhorn open in front of him when he was writing Wohin? Like many of the writers of his time he may have just had a good memory.

The conclusion has to be, that whatever parts 'inspired' Müller, the result was much better than the original – and sensational when Franz Schubert had finished with it.

References

  1. ^ A slightly imperfect text of Laß rauschen, Lieb, laß rauschen is available online at zeno.org.
    For those who worry about such things: Verse 1 comes from a source from 1535; verses 2 and 3 from a different source from 1544; verse 4 from a currently unknown manuscript; verse 5 was written by Brentano, who also adapted lines 7 and 9 to create the boy-girl opposition. [Summary based on notes by Heinz Rölleke in Arnim, Achim von, Clemens Brentano, and Heinz Rölleke, eds. Des Knaben Wunderhorn: alte deutsche Lieder. Bd. 2: kritische Ausg. [der Ausg. 1808]. Stuttgart: Reclam, 2006, p. 442.
  2. ^ Wohin? is available online at zeno.org.