According to Wikipedia, the term "midlife crisis" was coined in 1965 and refers to "a time where adults come to realize their own mortality and how much time is left in their life". Almost fifty years later, I don't think this round figure, 40 years, has the same connotations; if "an 35-year-old” can still benefit from young people’s discounts, it’s hardly plausible that five years later he’ll be facing an existential crisis. Or perhaps he will, who knows.
The point is that I know a few people who are just or about to be forty and, with or without a crisis, the tens digit's change could tickle a bit; I've never heard the expression "a 42-year-old young person". Anyway, to my dearest newly forty-year-old, to all of you, here a Lied about midlife crisis.
In 1884, when Johannes Brahms was fifty, he published Mit vierzig Jahren (At forty years). It's his second Lieder upon a poem by Friedrich Rückert, written shortly after the first, Gestillte Sehnsucht. The poem belongs to the Lyrische Gedichte's fourth book; I haven’t been able to find out the year it was exactly written, but I do know the book was written between 1832 and 1838, when Rückert was in his late forties. In the first stanza the poet tells us that at forty we've climbed a mountain and we stop to look back at our childhood and our youth. But, contrary to what may appear after this beginning, the second stanza tells us that we still have a large mountain ridge ahead and we must continue walking once we’ve recovered our breath. There will be time later to descend.
We find once more the figure of the wanderer, so present in the German romantic poetry and, hence, in Lied. Brahms accompanies him with serenity at a calm pace; Mit vierzig Jahren is a somber song, a composer’s distinctive, that illuminates at the end with one of those phrases that are also so characteristic of Brahms. In my opinion, it's one of those songs that get better when listening twice…
Mit vierzig Jahren is the first of the five Lieder that constitute the Opus 94, a collection written for lower voice. We are listening to it performed by Thomas Quasthoff and Justus Zeyen.
Mit vierzig Jahren ist der Berg erstiegen,
Wir stehen still und schaun zurück;
Dort sehen wir der Kindheit stilles liegen
Und dort der Jugend lautes Glück.
Noch einmal schau', und dann gekräftigt weiter
Erhebe deinen Wanderstab!
Hindehnt ein Bergesrücken sich ein breiter
Und hier nicht, drüben gehts hinab.
Nicht athmend aufwärts brauchst du mehr zu steigen,
Die Ebene zieht von selbst dich fort;
Dann wird sie sich mit dir unmerklich neigen,
Und eh du's denkst, bist du im Port.
At forty years, the mountain has been climbed,
we stand still and look back;
there we see our childhood lying quietly,
and there the noisy happiness of youth.
Look once more, and then, strengthened again,
Heft your walking-stick!
Stretching before you is a mountain ridge - a broad one -
and not here, but farther along, it begins to go downward.
Without breathing, you need to climb farther upwards,
for the plain will pull you forward itself;
then it will slope downward imperceptibly with you,
And before you think about it, you will be in port.
(translation by Emily Ezust)