One of my friends says that Romanticism was really damaging, and we still suffer the consequences. I agree on some aspects; for example, now, already in the 21st century, we still carry certain habits that are nothing but distortions of the original, as it happens with the adjective "romantic"; Its current meaning has little to do with what it used to mean. We emptied its significance up to the point that we forgot that Romanticism was a revolutionary movement, a reaction to the Enlightenment. For my friend, and me, Enlightenment is a fascinating period: to break away with absolutism and lay the foundations for modernity, scientific and social advances, reason as the light that will end darkness, knowledge as the path to happiness ... What could go wrong? Maybe their faith in reason was excessive and Kantian severity could become quite annoying; sooner or later, Romanticism had to break out. While this moment arrived, for a few decades (approximately between 1740 and 1780) a literary current was developed in Germany that participated in the prevailing rationalism while also vindicated the importance of the feelings; without objecting to the Enlightenment, it complemented it: it was Empfindsamkeit.
That’s my point with this small-time historical-philosophical introduction, because Empfindsamkeit is one of the axes of the recital that Franziska Heinzen and Benjamin Mead will offer this afternoon in Barcelona, the last one of the first season of the Schubert Lied project. This German word derives from empfindsam, the neologism created to translate the English term “Sentimental” found in "A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy", the title of the novel written by Laurence Sterne in 1768. The Catalan word for Empfindsamkeit, “sentimentalisme”, has a negative connotation, we easily understand “mushy” instead; I'm not sure that the same happens in English with “Sentimentalism” (and, if I'm not wrong, Empfindsamkeit is also translated as “Sensibility”). Just in case, let me add that a German dictionary published in 1776 defines Empfindsamkeit as "the tendency to be lightly affected by mild feelings." As you can see, everything has to be moderate and under control; rationalism with a very thin layer of emotion.
One of the main figures of Sentimentalism is Friedrich Klopstock. We've listened so far to two Lieder written by Schubert from his poems (Furcht der Geliebten and Edone), and he's the poet who inspired the Göttinger Hainbund, that group of poets formed at the University of Göttingen, so, indirectly, we’ve already spoken about the poets of Sentimentalism and listened to some of their Schubert's songs; for instance, An den Mond, D.193 and Die Mainacht, both by Hölty. Today, we'll listening to another song from one of the poets of Sentimentalism, one programmed in today's recital: An die Nachtigall, D. 497, with a poem by Mattias Claudius (we also listened to his Der Tod und das Mädchen), written in 1771. Schubert composed it in November 1816, along with six more Lieder from poems of the same poet. An die Nachtigall is a lied written in a language closer to Classicism than to Romanticism, clear and transparent, charming; But for Schubert, as usual, the formal beauty wasn't enough: the innocence of the girl asking the nightingale not to awake the love that sleeps in her heart is credible and her emotion, clearly noticeable. This song is a little pearl, one more among the many of Schubert; we'll listen to it performed by Janet Baker and Gerald Moore.
The other axis in today’s recital is Goethe, who, at some moment of his long career, also coincide with Sentimentalism; Nähe des Geliebten, one of the songs we're listening today, could probably be considered an example. But this evening, the programme will cover those twelve years that Schubert wrote Lieder with poems by Goethe; from the first one, Gretchen am Spinnrade, from 1814, to the last ones, the three lieder of Mignon written in 1826, of which we heard in Liederabend Heiss mich nicht reden and Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt. I assume that if you're reading this English post we're not meeting this evening at the concert but, still, you could feel like listening to these three songs also programmed: Ganymed, Geheimes and Erster Verlust. It’s always so worth it!
Mein guter Schutzgeist sang ihn ein;
Und ich kann fröhlich sein und scherzen,
Kann jeder Blum’ und jedes Blatts mich freun.
Nachtigall, ach! Nachtigall, ach!
Sing mir den Amor nicht wach!
My good protective spirit sang to him;
And I can be joyous and jocular,
I can delight in every flower and leaf.
Nightingale, oh! Nightingale, oh!
Do not sing my love awake!
(translation by Emily Ezust)