Saturday, October 2, 2010

''Death's Delight''

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Joseph Freiherr von Eichendorff

Before the swan in waters blue has sunken
He dreams and sings to death, with longing drunken.
The summer-wearied earth, her blossoms going,
Fills full the grapes with her last fiery glowing.
The sun still scatters sparks the while he's sinking,
And gives once more to earth his fire for drinking,
Till, to bring passion's prey her calm wing under,
Star upon star, comes night in all her wonder.


-German title: Todeslust.

(Illustration is Caspar David Friedrich, Swans in the Rushes, 1820.)

Thursday, September 30, 2010


The following video shows two exciting midpoints and the conclusion of Act I of Wagner's grand opera Lohengrin (1850). Elsa von Brabant has been falsely accused of a grave sin by Friedrich von Telramund. She denies the perfidious charge, and the call goes out for a knight to champion Elsa in combat. The first call goes unheeded. Elsa implores the king for a second call, which goes out, and this too appears to be ignored.

At the very moment when all hope appears to be lost for Elsa, she falls to her knees in prayer, and a commotion begins among the crowd. A knight in a boat drawn by a swan approaches along the river. He disembarks and vows to defend Elsa's honour. The duel begins, and while Friedrich von Telramund is aided by the black arts of the pagan sorceress Ortrund, the knight Lohengrin has God on his side.

These excerpts are from the best currently available video rendition of the opera, with Peter Hofmann as an uncommonly credible Lohengrin (a rare example of a singer who actually looks the part of a Teutonic knight) and Eve Marton as a somewhat too old but nevertheless convincing Elsa.

The definitive complete audio recording of this opera is the 1982 EMI 3CD set featuring the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Herbert von Karajan.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Manfred on the Jungfrau

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Lord Byron

Act I Scene II

The Mountain of the Jungfrau. — Time, Morning.—
MANFRED alone upon the Cliffs.

MANFRED: The spirits I have raised abandon me,
The spells which I have studied baffled me,
The remedy I reck'd of tortured me;
I lean no more on super-human aid,
It hath no power upon the past, and for
The future, till the past be gulf'd in darkness,
It is not of my search. — My mother Earth!
And thou fresh breaking Day, and you, ye Mountains,
Why are ye beautiful? I cannot love ye.
And thou, the bright eye of the universe
That openest over all, and unto all
Art a delight — thou shin'st not on my heart.
And you, ye crags, upon whose extreme edge
I stand, and on the torrent's brink beneath
Behold the tall pines dwindled as to shrubs
In dizziness of distance; when a leap,
A stir, a motion, even a breath, would bring
My breast upon its rocky bosom's bed
To rest forever — wherefore do I pause?
I feel the impulse—yet I do not plunge;
I see the peril — yet do not recede;
And my brain reels — and yet my foot is firm.
There is a power upon me which withholds,
And makes it my fatality to live;
If it be life to wear within myself
This barrenness of spirit, and to be
My own soul's sepulchre, for I have ceased
To justify my deeds unto myself—
The last infirmity of evil.

[An eagle passes.]
Thou winged and cloud-cleaving minister,
Whose happy flight is highest into heaven,
Well may'st thou swoop so near me — I should be
Thy prey, and gorge thine eaglets; thou art gone
Where the eye cannot follow thee; but thine
Yet pierces downward, onward, or above,
With a pervading vision. — Beautiful!
How beautiful is all this visible world!
How glorious in its action and itself!
But we, who name ourselves its sovereigns, we,
Half dust, half deity, alike unfit
To sink or soar, with our mix'd essence make
A conflict of its elements, and breathe
The breath of degradation and of pride,
Contending with low wants and lofty will,
Till our mortality predominates,
And men are what they name not to themselves,
And trust not to each other.


(Illustration is John Martin, Manfred on the Jungfrau, 1837.)

Sunday, September 26, 2010

''Moonlit Night''

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Joseph Freiherr von Eichendorff

The sky had kissed the earth to sleep
So silently, 'twould seem,
That in her flowering glory she
Of him alone would dream.

Across the fields the playful breeze
The corn ears softly swayed,
A gentle whisper stirred the trees,
The night for stars was made.

My soul stretched out its yearning wings,
As far and wide to roam,
Flew through the quiet countryside,
As though 'twere flying home.


-German title: Mondnacht.

(Illustration is Thomas Cole, Landscape (Moonlight), c.1833-34.)