Posted by Richard on  UTC 2019-08-26 09:07

We looked recently at Schubert's setting of the six poems from Heinrich Heine's collection Die Heimkehr which were brought together in the posthumous publication Schwanengesang. We came to the conclusion that Schubert's settings of these six poems were unconvincing at best and generally bore little relationship to the underlying texts.

We presumed that the cause of Schubert's grievous misreadings of Heine's poems was a bout of depression and hypochondria that seems to have lasted from at least 1827 until his death on 19 November 1828. This period corresponds with Schubert's work on his song cycle Winterreise, the last proofs of which he was still correcting on his deathbed. In short: Schubert went looking for gloom – and found it.

The Heine poems which Schubert selected are indeed superficially gloomy but have ironic and even satirically humorous highpoints, all of which are completely neglected in Schubert's settings.

Thus the answer to the question of why, of the nearly one hundred poems in Die Heimkehr, Schubert chose these six, we took to be the composer's then current depressed predilection for gloomy themes.

The poems Schubert didn't set

The corollary question, of course, is why didn't he set any of the other Heine poems? Heine was a skilful poet – much more skilful than the third-raters who supplied most of the Schubert texts – and one would assume that something in his polished work might have appealed to Schubert, gloom or no gloom. Of the other poems in Die Heimkehr there are certainly a number which are not only striking and interesting poems in themselves but which would seemingly present no great challenge to an inventive composer.

Let's undertake a brief review of a few of the poems in Die Heimkehr that Schubert did not set. Readers will give thanks to whatever deities watch over them that we are not going to go through all of the ninety-odd poems Schubert left alone.

Instead, we picked a sample of just fourteen of Heine's poems from Die Heimkehr. The selected poems all have a simple lyrical structure, are all relatively free of complexity, are all typical for Heine (that is, you couldn't imagine any of them being written by one of his contemporaries) and are all interesting in some way.

Furthermore, if you are unfamiliar with Heine's poetry, the poems here will give you a better insight into his work than the six complex poems which Schubert chose.

Fourteen lyrical poems from Die Heimkehr

LV — Ich wollte bei dir weilen

Ich wollte bei dir weilen
Und an deiner Seite ruhn;
Du mußtest von mir eilen;
Du hattest viel zu tun.
I wanted to stay with you and rest at your side; you had to hurry off; you had a lot to do.
Ich sagte, daß meine Seele
Dir gänzlich ergeben sei;
Du lachtest aus voller Kehle,
Und machtest 'nen Knicks dabei.
I said that my soul was entirely surrendered to you; you laughed loudly and curtsied.
Du hast noch mehr gesteigert
Mir meinen Liebesverdruß,
Und hast mir sogar verweigert
Am Ende den Abschiedskuß.
You made the frustration of my love worse and at the end even refused me a farewell kiss.
Glaub nicht, daß ich mich erschieße,
Wie schlimm auch die Sachen stehn!
Das alles, meine Süße,
Ist mir schon einmal geschehn.
Don't imagine that I am going to shoot myself, no matter how bad things are! All this stuff, sweety, has happened to me before.

No text that Schubert ever set from any author approaches the urbane, understated tone of this poem. There is no doubt that Schubert would have had to invent a new music to correspond to this new tone in the description of interpersonal relationships.

The precursors for this urbane tone we find in Latin poets such as Propertius and Catullus, but not in Heine's Germanic antecedents – politeness, propriety and piety had been bred into them over a long period. True, Goethe learned from Ovid and Propertius for his Römische Elegien, but drew from them only metrical lessons and a dose of eroticism – their worldly tone he left untouched. Goethe was not one to bare his soul, however urbanely.

After Heine it would take another century of German literature before the Neue Sachlichkeit movement found a similar (albeit neurotic) voice.

We have to wonder whether the introverted, inhibited little Viennese composer could even comprehend the situation Heine is describing in this poem. The question of whether it is a real, biographical situation or not is irrelevant.

In our previous piece on Schubert and Heine we wondered whether Schubert even had a mental category for the 'surge and thunder' of the North Sea – or even 'sea' in general – a locus that had great importance for Heine.

Now, similarly puzzled, we wonder whether Schubert had a mental category for what we are choosing to call 'urbane love' – passion, yes, but confined to a sandbox of ironic, self-preserving detachment that allows the poet at any point to say: 'See if I care'. Can we expect such psychological robustness from that fragile genius Schubert?

We also have to wonder whether Schubert would ever have had the financial security to risk composing such revolutionary texts. Schubert lived from selling music manuscripts to music publishers, who in turn lived from selling scores to a largely female customer base. The Austrian censor would not look kindly on this cool, amoral text, with its mockery of a Werther-like suicide for love. Perhaps Schubert had learned from Bauernfeld's hopeless struggle with their joint project for the opera Der Graf von Gleichen, a tale of bigamy which was never going to get past the censors, however often they tweaked it.

This poem is followed by two others, both of which would have their problems with the tender minds of the Austrian censors.

LVI — Saphire sind die Augen dein

Saphire sind die Augen dein,
Die lieblichen, die süßen.
Oh, dreimal glücklich ist der Mann,
Den sie mit Liebe grüßen.
Your eyes are sapphire, loving and sweet. Oh, thrice happy is the man, whom they greet with love.
Dein Herz, es ist ein Diamant,
Der edle Lichter sprühet.
Oh, dreimal glücklich ist der Mann,
Für den es liebend glühet.
Your heart, it is a diamond, spraying noble lights. Oh, thrice happy is the man, for whom it lovingly glows.
Rubinen sind die Lippen dein,
Man kann nicht schönre sehen.
Oh, dreimal glücklich ist der Mann,
Dem sie die Liebe gestehen.
Rubies are your lips, one cannot see any more beautiful ones. Oh, thrice happy is the man, to whom they confess their love.
Oh, kennt ich nur den glücklichen Mann,
Oh, daß ich ihn nur fände,
So recht allein im grünen Wald,
Sein Glück hätt bald ein Ende.
Oh, if only I knew that happy man, Oh, if only I could find him all on his own in some green wood, his happiness would soon be over.  

After three vignettes of how fortunate the 'three-times lucky' man is, comes a characteristic Heine sting in the tail that makes us burst out laughing.

Could Schubert, who spent his youth discussing among his friends the attainment of the 'sublime' in art, ever set words like these to music? Would the censor's feeling for Catholic propriety ever let such a song be published?

LVII — Habe mich mit Liebesreden

Habe mich mit Liebesreden
Festgelogen an dein Herz,
Und, verstrickt in eignen Fäden,
Wird zum Ernste mir mein Scherz.
I have lied my way into your heart with loving speech and tangled in my own threads my jest has become serious to me.
Wenn du dich mit vollem Rechte
Scherzend nun von mir entfernst,
Nahn sich mir die Höllenmächte,
Und ich schieß mich tot im Ernst.
If you, with complete justification, now jestingly leave me, the powers of Hell will draw up to me and I will shoot myself dead in reality.  

This poem is ostensibly the bitter confession of a man who had cynically talked and tricked his way into the affections of the girl and who now has to bear the pain of her rejection of him.

The last line, yet another example of the final Heine twist, implies that part of the seduction tactic mentioned in the first stanza was the vow of shooting himself should he be rejected – this was the Scherz, the 'jest'. Following his final rejection, that jest has now become zum Ernste, 'serious'. Now he has been rejected, the powers of Hell are requiring his fulfilment of his vow im Ernst, 'seriously'.

We marvel at the oblique cleverness of the poem, its dry humour and appreciate the deftness of such structures as the interwoven threads of Ernst and Scherz: 'zum Ernste' – 'mein Scherz' – 'scherzend' – 'im Ernst', or of the loved one who 'sich entfernst', 'recedes' while the powers of Hell 'sich nah[e]n' 'approach'. All that in two four-line stanzas. The man's a poet and a top rank one at that.

That marvel still echoing in our heads, we realise, once more, just how groundbreaking Heine's tone is. It has no equal in the 19th century, being decades ahead of the literature of the Romantic and the Biedermeier ages.

LXII — Du hast Diamanten und Perlen,

Du hast Diamanten und Perlen,
Hast alles, was Menschenbegehr,
Und hast die schönsten Augen –
Mein Liebchen, was willst du mehr?
You have diamonds and pearls, you have everything that a human can desire, and you have the most beautiful eyes – my darling, what more do you want?
Auf deine schönen Augen
Hab ich ein ganzes Heer
Von ewigen Liedern gedichtet –
Mein Liebchen, was willst du mehr?
I have composed a host of immortal poems to your beautiful eyes – my darling, what more do you want?
Mit deinen schönen Augen
Hast du mich gequält so sehr,
Und hast mich zugrunde gerichtet –
Mein Liebchen, was willst du mehr?
With your beautiful eyes you have tortured me so much and ruined me – my darling, what more do you want?  

The cool and urbane tone that is a characteristic of Heine is there, the sting in the tail, too, when we realise that the destruction of the man is just another accomplishment for the woman.

It is conceivable that Schubert could have coped musically with the forlorn poet and the heartless beauty of this poem, although the feeling in the poem is still far outside his usual scope.

Musicologists like to refer to Christian Friedrich Daniel Schubart's influential work Ideen zu einer Ästhetik der Tonkunst (1806) when discussing the emotional colours of different musical keys. The distanced, ironic feelings in Heine's poetry never found their musical correspondence there – that work being from another age.

LXIV — Gaben mir Rat und gute Lehren

Gaben mir Rat und gute Lehren,
Überschütteten mich mit Ehren,
Sagten, daß ich nur warten sollt,
Haben mich protegieren gewollt.
You gave me advice and good examples, buried me in honours, said that I need only wait, wanted to promote me.
Aber bei all ihrem Protegieren,
Hätte ich können vor Hunger krepieren,
Wär nicht gekommen ein braver Mann,
Wacker nahm er sich meiner an.
But after all that promoting I could have died from hunger, had not a good man come along who bravely took on my cause.
Braver Mann! Er schafft mir zu essen!
Will es ihm nie und nimmer vergessen!
Schade, daß ich ihn nicht küssen kann!
Denn ich bin selbst dieser brave Mann.
A good man! He put food on the table for me! I will never ever forget him! A pity that I cannot kiss him! Since I myself am this good man.  

There is no simple one-word equivalent in modern English for the German word protegieren. 'Patronise' comes closest, as in 'that which patrons do', its minor sense of 'support', 'promote', 'further' or 'foster', but would be seriously misunderstood by English speakers were it to be used here without further context. We chose 'promote' as the least misunderstandable option.

Franz Schubert, just like Heine, was a freebooter trying to make his artistic way in the world. He would have had great sympathy for the message of this poem – assuming, of course, that he ever read it. In the Austrian feudal system, much more so than for Heine in Germany, one's entire world and the worlds of one's family and friends were organized around feudal patronage.

We wonder how Schubert's friends, the members of – those 'circles' that were supposed to have buoyed him up (and yet really only exploited him) – would have reacted to the Heine/Schubert statement that everything he had achieved, he had achieved by his own devices. This is certainly not a poem that would fit anywhere into the Schubert canon.

Once more, Heine saves the punchline of the poem for the surprise twist in the last line.

LXVII — Ich hab euch im besten Juli verlassen

Ich hab euch im besten Juli verlassen,
Und find euch wieder im Januar;
Ihr saßet damals so recht in der Hitze,
Jetzt seid ihr gekühlt und kalt sogar.
I left you in finest July, and find you again in January. You sat so comfortably in the heat, now you have been cooled and are even cold.
Bald scheid ich nochmals, und komm ich
einst wieder,
Dann seid ihr weder warm noch kalt,
Und über eure Gräber schreit ich,
Und das eigne Herz ist arm und alt.
Soon I shall leave and sometime I shall return once more, then you will be neither warm nor cold and I shall walk over your graves and my own heart will be poor and old.  

The translator, still complaining at the load he has to bear, now grumbles that for the German ihr, the plural of the familiar form of 'you', he has no English equivalent but the meagre 'you', which gives no indication of singular or plural. Sharp-eyed readers of the English translation will only realise that the 'you' is a plural when they reach the plural 'your graves' in the penultimate line.

Who are these who are the 'you'? No idea. There is nothing in Die Heimkehr either nearby or at a distance which gives us any hint. Your author has never seen any interpretation of this poem on his travels in the Heine world – sensible commentators keep their heads below the parapet with mysterious poems like this.

We rationalists assume that the shadowy poet standing behind his creation paring his fingernails wants to communicate with his reader: well, perhaps he does, perhaps, sometimes, he doesn't. This poem may, in fact, be intended to remain a puzzle.

The use of the familiar form of 'you', ihr, and the uncertainty of the quantity of entities it comprises, leads your author to assume that it refers not to people but rather to a group or a bed of flowers. Such an assumption would help us explain the 'sat so comfortably in the heat', which sounds rather odd when applied to humans or animals.

The poem is then a riddling calendar poem, contrasting the flowers of July covered by the snow of January (hence the otherwise puzzling gekühlt und kalt, 'cooled and cold'). When the author returns in the future he will 'walk over' their 'graves'. It is difficult to conceive of humans fitting into this seasonal cycle and returning to the ground in such a short time. If the narrator-Ich is human, then the timescale of flourish, fade and die has to fit easily within a human timescale, which would suggest a plant year.

In jest: perhaps this poem may be a response to Wordsworth's awful doggerel I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud (1807) – in which case it would be a great improvement.

Heine shows on many occasions that he likes to give the reader's brain something to do. However, in this poem he may have gone a little too far. Heaven knows what Schubert would have done with it. The censor, baffled as we are, might have let it through, but probably not – best be on the safe side when censoring.

LVIX — Wir fuhren allein im dunkeln

Wir fuhren allein im dunkeln
Postwagen die ganze Nacht;
Wir ruhten einander am Herzen,
Wir haben gescherzt und gelacht.
We rode alone in the dark post-coach through the whole night; we rested our hearts on each other, we joked and laughed.
Doch als es morgens tagte,
Mein Kind, wie staunten wir!
Denn zwischen uns saß Amor,
Der blinde Passagier.
But as the dawn broke, my child, how astonished we were! For between us sat Cupid, the stowaway.  

A charming and skilful love anecdote told with extreme economy of style. The clunky translation 'we rested our hearts on each other' does not do justice to the genius of Wir ruhten einander am Herzen: just imagine the man and woman resting against each other in the swaying and bouncing coach as it rattled through the night. Yet again, the last line works as the punchline for the rest of the poem.

We might imagine that Schubert could have provided an interesting setting for this satire-free poem – he was, after all, a master of the rolling rhythms of carriages, horses, water and waves. It might even have got past the censor. But he didn't.

Now for something completely different:

LXX — Das weiß Gott, wo sich die tolle

Das weiß Gott, wo sich die tolle
Dirne einquartieret hat;
Fluchend, in dem Regenwetter,
Lauf ich durch die ganze Stadt.
God knows where the crazy girl has booked in; Cursing in the pouring rain I run through the whole town.
Bin ich doch von einem Gasthof
Nach dem andern hingerannt,
Und an jeden groben Kellner
Hab ich mich umsonst gewandt.
I run from one hotel to the next and interrogate fruitlessly each oafish waiter.
Da erblick ich sie am Fenster,
Und sie winkt und kichert hell.
Konnt ich wissen, du bewohntest,
Mädchen, solches Prachthotel!
Then I saw her there at a window, she waved and giggled lightly. Why didn't I know, girl, that you stayed in such a splendid hotel!  

Another tale of modern love and seduction told with urbanity and a light touch. The distressed lover endures a trial by downpour in a desperate hunt for the girl; her superiority in the relationship is underlined as she looks down giggling on him as he steams in the street. Once again, top class love poetry from the master.

The Austrian censor would have blanched from shock then gone lobster in embarrassment – an assignation with a young women in a hotel!

After all the lovelorn, soppy cases in his other Lieder, wouldn't it have been wonderful if Schubert had tackled this poem for the new age? An essentially similar situation is to be found in that late work Alinde. Strip away the bucolic decorations, strip away the conversations with rustics, replace the rural cantering with a bustling metropolitan rhythm, add a cool, ironic tone appropriate to a young man trying to get the assignation right. Franz! You can do this, I know you can!

The following two poems we shall treat as a pair.

LXXIII — An deine schneeweiße Schulter

An deine schneeweiße Schulter
Hab ich mein Haupt gelehnt,
Und heimlich kann ich behorchen,
Wonach dein Herz sich sehnt.
I lay my head on your snow-white shoulder and I can secretly hear what your heart is longing for.
Es blasen die blauen Husaren,
Und reiten zum Tor herein,
Und morgen will mich verlassen
Die Herzallerliebste mein.
The Blue Hussars are blowing their trumpets and riding in through the gate and tomorrow my dearest beloved will leave me.
Und willst du mich morgen verlassen,
So bist du doch heute noch mein,
Und in deinen schönen Armen
Will ich doppelt selig sein.
And if you want to leave me tomorrow, today you are still mine and in your beautiful arms I want to be blessed twice over.  

LXXIV — Es blasen die blauen Husaren

Es blasen die blauen Husaren,
Und reiten zum Tor hinaus;
Da komm ich, Geliebte, und bringe
Dir einen Rosenstrauß.
The Blue Hussars are blowing their trumpets and riding out through the gate; now I come to you, loved one, and bring you a bouquet of roses.
Das war eine wilde Wirtschaft!
Kriegsvolk und Landesplag'!
Sogar in deinem Herzchen
Viel Einquartierung lag.
That was a wild affair! Soldiers and blight all around! Even in your heart a lot of soldiers were billeted.  

Learnèd commentators tell us that the term 'Blue Hussars' refers to the cavalry troops of the First Westphalian Hussar Regiment No. 8 ('Kaiser Nikolaus II. von Russland'). The biographical association is comforting but not necessary. They were stationed for a time after 1820 in Düsseldorf and may have been billeted there for a period after their formation in 1815. Heine had lived in Düsseldorf until 1814, so the biographical reference is not as simple as it may appear.

We think of the many battles of the continental wars and forget the concurrent misery of the quartering or billeting of great land armies on the population. Such upheavals ranged from the forced provision of accommodation for well-educated and chivalrous officers to the plundering, theft and vandalism of homes and farms.

The autobiographical reality doesn't matter in the least: the important factor for the presence of the Blue Hussars in this poem is their reputation as chick magnets ('Chase me, ladies, I'm in the cavalry!' ©James Joyce, APOTAAAYM, chapter 5). In the first poem of the pair the Hussars are riding into the town, in the second poem they are leaving.

These two poems are an example of Heine's satire at its most biting. As we noted when we were dealing with the complexities of the poems in Schubert's selection, in order to understand these poems we have to identify the narrator-Ich and be quite clear that this is not the author-Ich speaking to us.

The poems presents the narrator-Ich as the eternal, compliant cuckold, in thrall to the eternal female principle. He knows from the change in her heartbeat when she hears the hussars arriving in the town that she will betray him; he knows too that he can only make the best of a bad job and enjoy her closeness while he can. Despite his clear presentiment of her treachery, he still calls her his Herzallerliebste, his 'dearest beloved'.

When the chaos and the discomfitures of a billeted army finally end, the narrator-Ich returns to his beloved with a bouquet of roses, knowing full well that – to put it bluntly – she has been handed around the regiment during its stay – many soldiers having 'billeted themselves in her heart'.

It's up to the reader to decide who gets the most of Heine's opprobrium, the faithless girl or the wimpish man. Or perhaps it is another urbane shrug of the Heine shoulders: that's how it is.

Schubert would have had his work cut out setting these poems to music – the mood and tone are closer to the Brecht/Weill Die Dreigroschenoper, 'The Threepenny Opera' (1928) than anything in Schubert's back catalogue.

The Austrian censor would definitely not have been happy at this tale of licentiousness and cuckoldry.

LXXVII — Ach, die Augen sind es wieder

Ach, die Augen sind es wieder,
Die mich einst so lieblich grüßten,
Und es sind die Lippen wieder,
Die das Leben mir versüßten!
Oh, those are the eyes again that once greeted me so lovingly, and those are the lips again that sweetened my life!
Auch die Stimme ist es wieder,
Die ich einst so gern gehöret!
Nur ich selber bin's nicht wieder,
Bin verändert heimgekehret.
Even the voice is there again that I heard so happily! Only I myself am not again, I have returned home changed.
Von den weißen, schönen Armen
Fest und liebevoll umschlossen,
Lieg ich jetzt an ihrem Herzen,
Dumpfen Sinnes und verdrossen.
Wrapped lovingly round by those beautiful white arms I lie on your heart, listlessly, with blunted senses.  

Heine's love songs in Die Heimkehr are always subtle, recording more than mere infatuation and more than mere mindless desire. Just from our brief selection the reader will have noticed that our poet covers many aspects of the matter that other poets hardly ever reach. The present poem is a good example.

The narrator-Ich's changed state is signalled in the second stanza, but is finally resolved by one of Heine's specialities, the shock in the last line: Dumpfen Sinnes und verdrossen, with 'blunted senses' or 'apathetic' and 'listless' or 'morose'.

Could Schubert have set this? Possibly – but he would have needed to invent some musical mechanism to cope with that last line, possibly a repeat. One thing is sure though: the Austrian censor would not have approved, whatever he had done.

LXXXI — Neben mir wohnt Don Henriquez

Neben mir wohnt Don Henriquez,
Den man auch den Schönen nennet;
Nachbarlich sind unsre Zimmer,
Nur von dünner Wand getrennet.
Don Henriquez lives next to me, the man one calls the handsome; our rooms are adjacent, separated only by thin walls.
Salamankas Damen glühen,
Wenn er durch die Straßen schreitet,
Sporenklirrend, schnurrbartkräuselnd,
Und von Hunden stets begleitet.
Salamancas ladies glow when he strides down the street, spurs jingling, twisting his moustache and always accompanied by dogs.
Doch in stiller Abendstunde
Sitzt er ganz allein daheime,
In den Händen die Gitarre,
In der Seele süße Träume.
But in the quiet evening he sits completely alone, in his hands a guitar, in his soul sweet dreams.
In die Saiten greift er bebend
Und beginnt zu phantasieren –
Ach! wie Katzenjammer quält mich
Sein Geschnarr und Quinquilieren.
He plucks the strings with feeling and begins to fantasise – Oh, his croaking and his warbling tortures me like caterwauling.  

A biographical note may be helpful: 'Salamanca' was a term used by the students of the University of Göttingen to refer to the city wall, which encircled the old town and created a tree-lined promenade, popular then as now. Heine was a student in Göttingen during the winter semester 1820-21. This information adds some colour but really makes no difference to our understanding of this poem.

Taking the student name of 'Salamanca' as a launchpad, he presents us with the Spanish name of the subject of his satire as 'Don Henriquez'.

At this, alarm bells are sounding in the heads of practised Heine readers, grown paranoid over the years: Why did Heinrich Heine invent the name of this person as Henriquez, the Spanish form of Heinrich? Of all the names he could have chosen, he lights upon his own.

Let us therefore be specially careful with the narrator-Ich in this poem for he is almost certainly not the author; it may even be that Don Henriquez may turn out to be a satirical allusion to the young Heine, boastfully irresistible to the ladies (he caught syphilis in Göttingen) – and perhaps a terrible singer, as well.

Having created the figure of Don Henriquez in the Salamanca of ancient Castile, home of all that was courtly and chivalrous (©Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote), the 'handsome one', the narrator-Ich tells us of his sexual aura, which causes the promenading ladies to 'glow'. Heine readers are already laughing at the persiflage of the figure of this medieval Spanish nobleman, who 'strides' through the streets with his spurs clinking, twirling his moustache, always accompanied by 'dogs' (kind-hearted translators write 'hounds').

Whereas the gullible may have a vision here of the great wolfhounds and their like which the hunting aristocracy chose to keep alongside them, the plural suggests to cynical Heine readers that Don Henriquez is probably being accompanied by a pack of stray dogs who are following this interesting figure to relieve their boredom.

Jingling spurs, twirling moustache and hunting dogs, in the streets of the sleepily provincial Göttingen in 1820? Really? And this majestic figure is living in thin-walled student digs in Göttingen?

The gullible reader, having been carried along by Heine's image of the proud, sexually attractive figure of Don Henriquez, will be welling up to hear of his lonely evenings in his mean student squat, his only friend his guitar. The practised Heine reader will however be laughing out loud to read that the absurd figure of the second stanza is now sitting alone in his miserable digs with 'sweet dreams in his heart' and his guitar in his hand.

As usual with Heine, the killer punch comes at the end of the poem. Don Henriquez starts playing and singing, his 'croaking and warbling' so awful that it tortures the narrator-Ich – as bad as stray cats wailing for a mate. We realise now that the scene of the adjacent rooms and thin wall between them was already set up in the first stanza, when we were told about Don Henriquez's miserable lodgings. In this situation the guitar may have been tolerable, but his wailing was not.

Given the vicious mockery of Heine's portrayal of Don Henriquez, we understand why Heine changed the name and location, if it was not himself he was mocking. The latter is a serious possibility, though: Don Henriquez may very well be a self-satire of Heine himself – possibly even a Doppeltgänger. It doesn't matter: we are crossing the shifting sand dunes of irony here – if we expect things to make perfect sense, we are in the wrong place.

It is inconceivable that Schubert could have set this poem to music, even if he had understood it for the persiflage it was. He missed out therefore on the opportunity to get a Schubert baritone to do some caterwauling in the interest of his art. It is equally inconceivable that the Austrian censor would have let this poem through, with its glowing Spanish ladies.

LXXXV — Dämmernd liegt der Sommerabend

Dämmernd liegt der Sommerabend
Über Wald und grünen Wiesen;
Goldner Mond, im blauen Himmel,
Strahlt herunter, duftig labend.
In the twilight the summer evening lies over wood and green meadows; a golden moon in a blue sky shines down, fragrantly refreshing.
An dem Bache zirpt die Grille,
Und es regt sich in dem Wasser,
Und der Wandrer hört ein Plätschern
Und ein Atmen in der Stille.
The cricket chirps by the brook and something moves in the water and the wanderer hears a splashing and a breathing in the silence.
Dorten an dem Bach alleine,
Badet sich die schöne Elfe;
Arm und Nacken, weiß und lieblich,
Schimmern in dem Mondenscheine.
There, alone in the brook, the beautiful sprite is bathing; arm and neck, white and soft, shimmer in the moonlight.  

A beautiful poem by Heine. Its qualities require no further comment. It is what it is.

Schubert would have done a good job with most of it, but the erotic content of stanza three is quite outside his normal scope. It would also have been quite outside the scope of the Austrian censor, who would have needed no second reading to condemn it.

Heine pre-emptively removed six of his poems from Die Heimkehr on account of their erotic content. In the case of the present poem, since the water sprite is not a real but a mythological figure, he might have felt able to get the poem through in Germany.

LXXXVIII — Sag, wo ist dein schönes Liebchen

»Sag, wo ist dein schönes Liebchen,
Das du einst so schön besungen,
Als die zaubermächt'gen Flammen
Wunderbar dein Herz durchdrungen?«
'Say, where is your beautiful loved one, of whom you once sang so well, when the bewitching flames penetrated your heart so deeply?'
Jene Flammen sind erloschen,
Und mein Herz ist kalt und trübe,
Und dies Büchlein ist die Urne
Mit der Asche meiner Liebe.
Those flames are extinguished and my heart is cold and beclouded and this little book is the urn with the ashes of my love.  

Beautifully structured with tremendous economy of expression, this poem is the coda that closes the section of short poems in Die Heimkehr. The coda forms as it were the right-hand bookend to the opening poem of the section In mein gar zu dunkles Leben.

Despite its qualities, this poem is too specifically the coda to a book of poems and as such could never be set as a standalone song. We reproduce it here merely as a coda to our own subcollection of Heine's poems from Die Heimkehr.

Despite its touching content, practised readers of Heine will wonder whether this poem is sincerely meant or is just more mockery aimed at the poor lovelorn poets of the age. Since nearly all the ashes in this urn are sharp and still glowing hot, they suspect the latter. We say it again: the narrator-Ich here is almost certainly not the author-Ich.


Heine and Schubert. Their birth year, 1797, was the same, but the worlds they inhabited might as well have been on different planets.

Schubert died thirty-one years and nine months old in 1828; Heine fifty-eight years and two months old in 1856. In their lives there was only one brief overlap: some time in the first half of 1828 when Schubert set six poems from Heine's Die Heimkehr. Shortly after, Schubert died and mouldered in obscurity for another thirty years until his reputation was rescued in the 1860s, after Heine's death.

Heine was told that someone he thought was called 'Schubart' had set some of his poems to music, but knew nothing more of the Austrian composer. Had he wanted to find out some more about Schubert he would have been out of luck. Heine was not alone in his ignorance: for whatever reason, Goethe, the Weimar Olympian, ignored every setting Schubert made of his poems; that was the Goethe who dandled the 12 year old Felix Mendelssohn on his knee in 1821. Mendelssohn's family had money and connections.

Heine and Schubert both spurned their intended careers for the life of the jobbing artist. A major difference, however, was that Heine had money behind him: he could pursue his education as long as it suited him and – most importantly – could travel. Heine visited many places and met many people, some of whom were the cultural icons of his day.

Schubert, in contrast, was in almost continual near poverty. This meant that he was locked into Vienna, with occasional trips to other parts of Austria, trips on which he was usually expected to sing for his supper. He had his friends – those legendary 'circles' – but we find it difficult to draw the line between support and exploitation. He, too, met people, but mainly low-level civil servants in search of entertainment. As far as we know, Emperor Franz, who had his musical entertainments in the evenings, knew nothing about Franz Schubert (except as a short-lived member of his boys' choir) and had not heard any of his music.

A life in which each day was passed in a condition that was only a step or two away from destitution concentrates the mind and reduces the options. Schubert had no margin for error: neither he nor his publishers had the pockets or the stomach for long battles with refractory censors. The censors always won, as Grillparzer, Bauernfeld and all the other scribblers of Schubert's acquaintance found out to their cost.

For almost every poem in our mini-selection from Die Heimkehr we have been able to note that, had Schubert set that poem, the Austrian censor would not have permitted it to be printed. Nearly all of the Heine poems in our selection would have immediately hit the buffers with the Viennese censor. Schubert's initial plan to get his selection of six of Heine's poems published in Leipzig was probably wise, even though the poems he chose contained no obviously unacceptable material.

Schubert, the penniless assistant schoolteacher, was up against the rigid prejudices of a feudal order; the Jew Heine was up against the plague of antisemitism all his life.

Heine was much more politically active than Schubert – but that is only to be expected: the pen is mightier than the sword; a song about rural bumpkins is a threat to no established order. Heine and Schubert both lived under the post-Napoleonic restoration of feudal authority in Europe, which was worse for Schubert since its oppressive censorship was more homogeneously applied in Austria, the home nation of Franz II/I. In contrast, there was more variety in the German patchwork that was then striving vainly to become a nation – although the authorities attempted to impose a widespread control, there were usually havens of at least temporary refuge.

There was still independent cultural life in the many small provinces of Germany, which is not something that could be said for Austria. It has been pointed out that music was so esteemed in Austria because it was no political threat; we think of Beethoven's remark that the censors could not see into his head. Literature, drama and the visual arts, in contrast, withered on the vine in that cultural drought.

In our remarks on the individual poems here we frequently noted that Heine's extended emotional literary range lay far outside Schubert's musical range. No criticism or blame can be attached to Schubert for that deficit, he achieved remarkable things with what was allowed to him. But a man who was not even allowed to marry and had a social status somewhat lower than a carriage driver is not the man to set urbane and ironic love poetry to music.

The six poems of Heine's that Schubert did set and the hundreds that he didn't therefore constitute a marker of the limits of the decrepit Austrian feudal system.

It was a society that was intellectually bankrupt and culturally dead and had been so since the Counter-Reformation established it as the last bulwark of Catholic conformity. The brain of any artist who lived more than a few years under this despotic belljar was rotted by the need for self-censorship, the need to say only that which can be said, the need to speak in riddles and metaphors and to 'write between the lines'. Someone who is constantly worried about saying the wrong thing is always going to come to a standstill at the foothills of Parnassus.

Thus, in sum, 1828 was the year that Old Austria in the figure of Franz Schubert briefly encountered New Germany in the figure of Heinrich Heine – an encounter that demonstrated only the Austrian failure.

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