It Springs Eternal

Alto Rhapsody, Op. 53

"Marie and I were sitting in the dining-room when the bell rang, and we heard Brahms go to our mother's room. Soon afterwards, deeply stirring and solemn music reached our ears. We listened. Brahms went away, and our mother came to us in a state of great emotion. Brahms had played her his Rhapsody for an alto voice (op. 53) for the first time." -- Eugenie Schumann, daughter of Clara Schumann (from her memoirs)

The words to this composition are taken from Goethe's Harzreise im Winter. Goethe was an immensely talented poet, who suffered from a species of moral indifferentism, as Heinrich Heine observed. However, this excerpt is a remarkable exception. It should be viewed, not as the romantic musings of a spurned lover, but as an insight into the state of mind of an artist or a political organizer, who is suffering creative blockage, and has descended from the creative, agapic state of mind, into the relative Hell of personal preoccupation, egotism. What follows is our translation of the text:

Aber abseits wer ist's? But who is that apart?
Im Gebüsch verliert sich der Pfad.      In the underbrush his path loses itself.
Hinter ihm schlagen Behind him
Die Sträuche zusammen, The shrubs clap together,
Das Gras steht wieder auf, The grass stands up again,
Die Öde verschlingt ihn. The wasteland engulfs him.
Ach, wer heilet die Schmerzen Ah, who heals the pains
Des, dem Balsam zu Gift ward? Of him, for whom balsam became poison?
Der sich Menschenhaß Who drank hatred of Man
Aus der Fülle der Liebe trank? Out of the fullness of love?
Erst verachtet, nun ein Verächter, First despised, now a despiser,
Zehrt er heimlich auf He furtively consumes
Seinen eigenen Wert His own merit
In ungenugender Selbstsucht. In unsatisfying egotism.

(here the male chorus enters)

Ist auf deinem Psalter, If there is in Thy Psalter,
Vater der Liebe, ein Ton Father of love, one note
Seinem Ohre vernehmlich, To his ear audible,
So erquicke sein Herz! Then refresh his heart!
Öffne den umwölkten Blick      Open his clouded gaze
Über die tausend Quellen To the thousand springs
Neben dem Durstenden Next to the thirsting one
In der Wüste! In the desert!

There is a particular recording of this piece, widely available on CD, which must be heard: it is by the greatest singer America has produced, Marian Anderson.

For a link to an interesting web site that provides lyrics to hundreds of classical songs, Click here.

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