Goethe's cabin in Kickehahn (Karl Thomass, editor)
Could you imagine more than fifty songs from the same poem? Which poem would that be? And by which poet? The poem exists and it's by Goethe, of course; just eight short verses and it's one of his most important works. It was published in 1815 with a curious name, Ein Gleiches
, that we could translate as "Another one." It has that name because in the first edition, there were two poems on the same page, one was called Wandrers Nachtlied
(Wanderer's Nightsong) and the other was "Another one", i.e., another wanderer's nightsong. Not long ago, we listened to the Lied that Schubert wrote from the first poem, Wandrers Nachtlied I
, and today we're listening to the one he wrote from the second which is, naturally, called Wandrers Nachtlied II
. However, I’d like to tell you first the story of those famous verses, a story with two episodes fifty years apart.
On September 6th 1780, Goethe was travelling through the woods near the town of Ilmenau; it was a half business-half leasure trip because Goethe was the administrator of some mines in that area. He spent that night in a cabin in Kickelhahn, the highest mountain near Ilmenau, and he wrote to his friend Gertrude von Stein: "Apart from the smoke rising here and there from the charkoalkins, the whole scene is motionless"
. Then he sent to Frau von Stein one more letter in which there was only one poem, our poem, without adding any other message. So far so good, a poet writing a poem inspired by the landscape. What is not as usual was that the poet left his verses written on the cabin’s wall (I thought of titling this post as “Goethe, the graffity artist" but it seemed to me a bit excessive).
Goethe was thirty-one when he wrote that poem. On 27th August 1831, the day before his eighty-two birthday, he revisited the cabin accompanied by a gamekeeper and told him:
"Many years ago, I summered here for eight days with my servant and then, I wrote a little poem on the wall. I would like to see this poem once more and if the date is written below, please be so kind to note it down."
And there, on the left side of the window, the words that Goethe had written fifty years ago with a pencil were still legible. This is what the gamekeeper wrote about that moment:
"Goethe read those few verses and tears ran down his cheeks. He pulled his snow white handkerchief from his dark brown jacket very slowly, wiped his tears and said in a gentle, melancholic tone: "Yes, only wait; soon you will rest as well". He was silent for half a minute, he looked once more through the window towards the dark firs and turned to me and said: "Now we should go back".
Goethe's words while reading the poem are the last two verses of the poem, "Warte nur, balde / ruhest du auch." The 82 years old poet was probably thinking of resting in death; was the poet at his 31 thinking all the same? Franz Schubert certainly thought of death; death as rest was a recurring image throughout his work and he was attentive to highlight the last two verses of the poem in his song. The song begins with a two bars prelude; then the five first verses lasts four measures; the sixth verse lasts for two bars, as a transition to the last two verses, written by Schubert in five bars plus one more as a postlude. If you don't have the sheet, you can check the time player: the first five verses last 50'; the sixth, 20' and the last two, 55'. No doubt which verses are the most important...
Just one more thing before you listen to the song, on behalf of the names of these two Schubert's Lieder, Wandrers Nachtlied I and II. We can find recordings where the numbers are switched, that's a mistake. The one written in 1815, the D.224, is I (Der du von dem Himmel bist) and the one written sometime between December 1822 and July 1824, D.768 is II (Über alle Gipfeln ist Ruh); that's the logical way of naming them and that's how the two songs are filed at the Neue Schubert-Ausgabe. If you hesitate, use the first verse to identify them!
I love the performance I chose for that post, the one of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau accompanied by Herta Klust, in a recording from 1954. I hope you enjoy the song and forget for a few minutes about anything but the peace in Schubert's music (including heat, remember while listening that you are in the mountains at dusk).
Wandrerers Nachtlied II
Über allen Gipfeln
in allen Wipfeln
kaum einen Hauch;
die Vögelein schweigen im Walde,
warte nur, balde
ruhest du auch!
Over all the peaks
it is peaceful,
in all the treetops
hardly a breath of wind;
the little birds are silent in the forest
only wait - soon
you will rest as well.
(translation by Emily Ezust)