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‘Pure’ Song: ‘Du bist wie eine Blume’ and the Heine Juggernaut

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 April 2011

Susan Youens
University of Notre Dame


Anyone who ventures into the vastness of German song territory encounters a juggernaut almost immediately. Over and over again, the supplier of the words is identified as Heinrich Heine - a very great poet, to be sure, but other great poets did not leave the same mammoth imprint on the history of song as this man. Günter Metzner's catalogue, Heine in der Musik (Heine in Music), consumes twelve oversize volumes, and both Peter Shea and I have found settings that are not cited in this Herculean source. Those who peruse Ernst Challier's Grosser Lieder-Katalog (Great Song Catalogue) of 1884 discover that nineteenth-century composers frequently chose Heine for their op. 1 entrée onto the scene, as if setting Heine to music was a rite of passage, a guarantee that attention would be paid.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2006

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1 See Metzner, Günter, Heine in der Musik, 2 vols (Tutzing: Hans Schneider, 19891994).Google Scholar Peter Shea of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst has created a website in which he lists Heine songs, including those not in Metzner, by composer and by poem-title; see∼shea/query.html or

2 Challier, Ernst, Grosser Lieder-Katalog: Ein alphabetisch geordnetes Verzeichniss sämmtlicher Einstimmiger Lieder (Berlin: privately printed by the author, 1885),Google Scholar in which an incomplete listing of settings of ‘Du bist wie eine Blume’ appears on 178–9. Examples of Heine songs serving as a composer’s op. 1 include Robert Hermann, ‘Am leuchtenden Sommermorgen’, op. 1, no. 1; Emil Kreuz, ‘Am fernen Horizonte’, op.1, no. 1; Edmond Snell, ‘Die du bist so schön und rein’, op.1, no. 1; Garnet Wolseley Cox, ‘Butterfly is in love with the rose’, op.1, no. 3; Franz Mohaupt, ‘Aus meinen großen Schmerzen’, op.1, no. 2, and so on and on.

3 See Kalbeck, Max, Johannes Brahms I 1833–1856 (Berlin: Deutsche Brahms Gesellschaft, 1912):Google Scholar 132–3. In a letter to Kalbeck written in 1885, Brahms remarked that it was sad to see youthful composers rush their immature compositions into print. Asked if he had any of his own early works, Brahms replied that he had burned them and poked fun at himself for papering the walls and floors of his first abodes with sonatas, quartets and songs. ‘There were quite pretty little songs among them’, he said dismissively.

4 Wolf’s first three songs to texts by Heine were composed within five days in December 1876: ‘Mädchen mit dem roten Mündchen’ (Maiden with your rosy lips), ‘Du bist wie eine Blume’ (Thou art like a flower) and ‘Wenn ich in deine Augen seh’ (When I look into your eyes), all three influenced heavily by Schumann. In 1878, Wolf planned to assemble a Liederstrauß on poems from the Buch der Lieder and composed eight songs for it, plus a fragment of a ninth; in October of that same year, he wrote four more Heine songs for a second Heft. Only once again did he return to a poet more Schumann’s man than his own: on 24 January 1888, he set ‘Wo wird einst der Wandermüden’ (Where shall the weary traveller) before turning to Mörike’s poetry, far more to his own taste.

5 See Killmayer, Wilhelm, Heine-Lieder. Ein Liederbuch nach Gedichten von Heinrich Heine für Tenor und Klavier (Mainz: Schott, 1998).Google Scholar These 35 songs, composed in 1994 and 1995, have been recorded on CD by CPO (CPO 999 838-2, 2002) with Christoph Prégardien, tenor, and Siegfried Mauser, piano.

6 See Valade, Léon, Nocturnes; poëmes imités de Henri Heine (Paris: Patay, 1880): 33–6.Google Scholar Debussy’s lost ‘Tragédie’, perhaps for voice and orchestra, was composed around 1881 or 1882; some have speculated that it is identical with the ‘Intermezzo’ composed in 1882 and arranged for piano four-hands. Given the fact that Valade also translated the Lyrisches Intermezzo (Lyrical Intermezzo) into French in a little volume entitled simply Intermezzo, it seems more likely that they are two separate compositions.

7 See Ritz, German, 150 Jahre russische Heine-Übersetzung (Bern: Peter Lang, 1981), andGoogle ScholarKluge, Rolf-Dieter, Heinrich Heine in Russland (Tübingen: Slavisches Seminar der Universität Tübingen, 1998).Google Scholar The repertory of Heine songs by Russian composers includes César Cui’s op. 37, no.1, ‘Es fällt ein Stern herunter/Le ciel entr’ouvre ses voiles’ (A star falls down) and op. 86, nos. 4 and 6, also twelve songs without opus numbers; Mussorgsky’s ‘Aus meinen Tränen sprießen’ (From my tears spring up) and ‘Ich wollt’, meine Schmerzen ergossen sich’ (I want to declare my sorrows to you); Tschaikowsky’s ‘Warum?’ (Why are the roses so pale?) from his Sechs Romanzen, op. 6, no. 5, also ‘Die blauen Frühlingsaugen’ (The blue eyes of spring); and Rimsky-Korsakov’s ‘Le sapin et le palmier/Fichtenbaum und Palme’ (Fir tree and palm) from the Quatre mélodies, op. 3, no.1, as well as five other Heine songs without opus numbers.

8 ‘Ein Fichtenbaum steht einsam’ tells the tale of the post-Romantic poet’s dilemma, the avatars of Romanticism dreaming lovely but useless dreams of the exotic-erotic Other far, far away in a fantasy-Orient. One of the best settings of this poem is the second of Karl Vilhelm Stenhammar’s op. 17 Drei Lieder von Heinrich Heine, which ends by returning to the frozen grief of the first two lines. See Werrenrath, Reinald, ed., Modern Scandinavian Songs, vol. 2: Lange-Müller to Winge (Boston: Oliver Ditson, 1926): 132–3Google Scholar.

9 See Dallapiccola, Luigi, An Mathilde: Eine Kantate für Frauenstimme und Orchester (Milan: Suvini Zerboni, 1957),Google Scholar settings of three of Heine’s last poems (‘Den Strauss, den mir Mathilde band’, ‘Gedächtnisfeier’ and ‘An die Engel’). Before Dallapiccola, there were other songs to poems by Heine, including) Angelo Bettinelli’s lovely ‘Io sognai’, a setting of Die Heimkehr no. 26, ‘Mir träumte: traurig schaute der Mond’ (Milan: Ricordi, 1911); 2) Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s, MarioTre poesie di Heine/Drei Heine-Lieder (Vienna: Universal, 1929),Google Scholar with settings of ‘Zu Halle auf dem Markt’, ‘Dämmernd liegt der Sommerabend’ and the ‘impertinent waltz’ ‘Sie saßen und tranken am Teetisch’; and 3) the romanze of Benedetto Junck, such as ‘Tu sei bella, o mia dolcezza (Du bist wie eine Blume), ‘Flebil traversa l’anima mia’ (Leise zieht durch mein Gemüt’) and ‘Quando ti guardo fiso’ (Wenn ich in deine Augen seh) (Milan: Lucca, 1880). Junck and others used the translations by Bernardino Zendrini; see that author’s ‘Enrico Heine e i suoi interpreti’ in Heine, Enrico, Il Canzoniere, trans. Bernardino Zendrini, vol. 2 (Milan: G. Brigola, 1884), 181437Google Scholar.

10 Reichardt, Alexander, ‘This Heart of Mine (Das arme Herz)’ (London: Chappell & Co., n.d.). See alsoGoogle ScholarPrawer, Siegbert Salomon, Frankenstein’s Island: England and the English in the Writings of Heinrich Heine (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

11 Ives set ‘Die Lotosblume’ and ‘Ich grolle nicht’. See Ives, Charles, 129 Songs, ed. Hitchcock, H. Wiley (Middleton, WI: A-R Editions, 2004)Google Scholar.

12 The phrase ‘my little malicious-sentimental poems’ invokes the Lyrisches Intermezzo and comes from a letter Heine wrote to Karl Immermann on 24 December 822. See Heine, Heinrich, Säkularausgabe 20: Briefe 1815–1831, ed. Eisner, Fritz (Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, and Paris: Editions du CNRS, 1970): 61Google Scholar.

13 The poems in the Neuer Frühling section that were most often set to music include ‘Gekommen ist der Maie’ (May is come), ‘Leise zieht durch mein Gemüt’ (Softly chimes through my soul), ‘Der Schmetterling ist in die Rose verliebt’ (The butterfly is in love with the rose), ‘Wie des Mondes Abbild zittert’ (How the moon’s likeness trembles) and ‘Es war ein alter König’ (There once was an old king). See Atkins, Stuart, ‘The Evaluation of Heine’s Neue Gedichte’, in Wächter und Hüter. Festschrift für Hermann J. Weigand, ed. Faur, Curt von Faber du (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1957): 99107 andGoogle ScholarWikoff, Jerold, Heinrich Heine: A Study of Neue Gedichte (Bern: Peter Lang, 1975)Google Scholar.

14 ‘Das Meer hat seine Perlen’, the first poem from the small cycle Nachts in der Cajüte (Nights in the Cabin) from Die Nordsee (The North Sea), was translated into English by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow as ‘The sea hath its pearls’ for his anthology The Belfry of Bruges and Other Poems of 846. But one should note that Longfellow disliked Heine and advertised his displeasure in an article on the German poet written for Graham’s Magazine 20 (1842): 134–7. See Sachs, H.B., Heine in America (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1916)Google Scholar.

15 See Justis, Diana Lynn, The Feminine in Heine’s Life and Oeuvre: Self and Other (New York: Peter Lang, 1997).Google Scholar

16 Heine, Heinrich, Säkularausgabe: Gedichte 1812–1827, ed. Böhm, Hans (Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, and Paris: Editions du CNRS, 1979): 108.Google Scholar

17 The women who set ‘Sie liebten sich beide’ to music in addition to Clara Schumann are Agathe Backer-Gröndahl in her Sieben Gesänge/7 Sange, op. 4, no. 3; Rosa Bleiter, op. 34; Mary Grant Carmichael, ‘So loved and so loving’ in Three Lyrics from Heine’s Book of Songs, 2nd set (the other two settings are ‘Out in the deep woodlands’ or ‘Ich wandelte unter den Bäumen’ and ‘From the eyes of heaven above me’ or ‘Aus den Himmelsaugen droben’); Marie Shedlock from Ten Songs, with German & English Words; and Maude Valérie White, in her Album of German Songs. In a letter to his friend Rudolf Christiani on 6 December 825, Heine copied out his new poem and asked, ‘Kennst Du in der ganzen deutschen Literatur ein besseres Lied?’ (Do you know a better song in all of German literature?). See Heine, , Säkularausgabe 20: Briefe 1815–1831: 225Google Scholar.

18 See Schumann, Clara, Sämtliche Lieder für Singstimme und Klavier, vol.1, ed. Draheim, Joachim and Höft, Brigitte (Wiesbaden: Breitkopf & Härtel, 1990).Google Scholar

19 See Heine, Heinrich’s, Buch der Lieder. (Mit Ausschluß des ‘Nordsee-Cyclus’), (Leipzig: A. Titze, [1883]),Google Scholar illustrated by Paul Thumann: 94.

20 Vesque’s setting appears both as ‘Des Pfarrers Familie’ (The Pastor’s Family), op. 22, no. in his Abendbilder: Gedichte aus Heine’s ‘Reisebildern’ (Mainz: B. Schotts Söhne, [n. d.]) and inGoogle ScholarDie Heimkehr. Achtundachtzig Gedichte aus H. Heine’s Reisebildern (Vienna: Aus der kaiserlich-königlichen Hof- und Staatsdruckerei, 1851): 8691.Google Scholar The other settings are by Vladimir Kasperov] (1826–1894); S. Lustgarten (a pseudonym?); and Theodor Scheibel (1828–?), ‘Das Predigerhaus’, op. 99, no. 2 in the Drei Lieder von H. Heine (Lissa, [n.d.]).

21 Kalbeck, Max, Johannes Brahms I 1833–1856: 132–3 (the same passage cited in note no. 3)Google Scholar.

22 Lawrence, D.H., ‘Pornography and obscenity’, in A Propos of Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ and Other Essays (Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1961): 75.Google Scholar Cited in Banfield, Stephen, Sensibility and English Song: Critical Studies of the Early 20th Century, 2 vols (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 1:10Google Scholar.

23 This passage about ‘Du bist wie eine Blume’ should be understood in the context of Lawrence’s relationships to things German. His wife Frieda von Richthofen was German; he defended German writers and artists; and he admired Wagner enormously. He was even falsely rumoured to have been spying for the Germans in World War One and was expelled from Cornwall by the authorities in 1917. He despised the bourgeoisie (one of his best-known poems is entitled ‘How Beastly the Bourgeoisie Is’), including German burghers and their social mores; in this instance, he seems not to have recognized that Heine too was targeting the literary tastes of the Bildungsbürgertum (cultivated middle class) who wanted ‘pure’ poetry.

24 Heine, , Säkularausgabe: Gedichte 1812–1827: 115.Google Scholar

25 Embden-Heine, Maria, Princess della Rocca, Erinnerungen an Heinrich Heine (Hamburg: Hoffmann & Campe, 1881): 25–6.Google Scholar

26 Karpeles, Gustav, Heinrich Heine; aus seinem Leben und aus seiner Zeit (Leipzig: A. Titze, 1899): 96.Google Scholar

27 Heine, Maximilian (18051879), Erinnerungen an Heinrich Heine und seine Familie (Berlin: F. Dümmler, 1868): 134.Google Scholar

28 Other old-fashioned biographers linked ‘Du bist wie eine Blume’ to Heine’s supposed love for his cousin Therese, ‘spiritually of much finer stuff [than her elder sister Amalie]’, according to a biographer in the 1920s. ‘It was to her, in all probability, that he wrote what is today the most popular lyric in all the literature of the world, that beautiful poem, Du bist wie eine Blume.’ See Browne, Lewis, That Man Heine (New York: Macmillan, 1927): 108.Google Scholar His praise for this poem occurs in the context of great dislike for Heine the man.

29 Burns, Robert, The Poetical Works of Robert Burns, ed. Robertson, J. Logie (London, 1963): 113–14.Google Scholar The full title of the poem is ‘To a Mountain Daisy, on turning one down with the plough, in April, 786’. The poet goes on in the seventh stanza to compare the poet’s fate to that of the maid: ‘Such is the fate of simple bard,/On life’s rough ocean luckless starr’d:/Unskilful he to note the card/Of prudent lore/Till billows rage, and gales blow hard,/And whelm him o’er!’

30 Hensel, Luise, Lieder von Luise Hensel, ed. Cardauns, Hermann (Regensburg, 1923): 239.Google Scholar

31 Grossmann’s, GertrudeO maiden sweet and holy’ (Baltimore, 1908),Google Scholar a setting by Marie König, Marie Hinrichs’s op. (discussed in this essay), Caroline Ungher-Sabatier’s ‘Charmante belle et pure’, and a setting by Elise von Waldeck are among the few instances of female composers to set this poem.

32 For Julius Campe’s letters to Heine of 20 July 827 and 24 June 828, see Heine, Heinrich, Säkularausgabe 24: Briefe an Heine 1823–1836, ed. Francke, Renate (Berlin, 1974): 33 and 42. See alsoGoogle ScholarHouben, Heinrich, Verbotene Literatur von der klassischen Zeit bis zur Gegenwart; ein kritisch-historisches Lexikon über verbotene Bücher, Zeitschriften und Theaterstücke, Schriftsteller und Verleger, vol. 1 (Berlin: E. Rowohlt, 1924): 385–6Google Scholar.

33 Willibald Alexis’s comment applies to the entire Heimkehr cycle of poems. See his review of Heine’s Reisebilder in the Blätter für literarische Unterhaltung 10 (11 January 1827), reproduced in Heinrich Heines Werk im Urteil seiner Zeitgenossen 1: Rezensionen und Notizen zu Heines Werken von 1821 bis 1831, ed. Galley, Eberhard and Estermann, Alfred (Hamburg: Hoffmann & Campe, 1981): 238–42.Google Scholar In an earlier review of the Tragödien, nebst einem lyrischen Intermezzo in Vienna’s Jahrbücher der Literatur 31 (July–September 1825), 179, this same reviewer observed, ‘As far as we can tell, Mr. Heine does not belong to the Christian faith’. See Galley, and Estermann, , Heinrich Heines Werk im Urteil seiner Zeitgenossen 1, 177202Google Scholar.

34 Heine, , Säkularausgabe 1: Gedichte 1812–1827: 219.Google Scholar

35 ‘Der Schweinskopf wirkt auf mich wie auf das übrige deutsche Publicum – ich muß einen Willibald Alexis-Salat darauf essen, der reinigt’, Heine wrote in Ideen. Das Buch Le Grand; see Heine, Heinrich, Säkularausgabe. 5: Reisebilder I 1824–1828, ed. Becker, Karl Wolfgang (Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, and Paris: Editions du CNRS, 1970): 127.Google Scholar But whatever his subsequent wit on the subject, Heine was deeply offended. In a letter to Moses Moser on 9 December 1825, he said of the long essay in the Jahrbücher that ‘there is more about me than there is about my tragedies’. When people attacked his poetry, he continued, it did not affect him, but when they attacked his private life in underhanded ways, he was hurt by it. See Heine, , Säkularausgabe 20: Briefe 1815–1831: 229.Google Scholar He was still brooding about the matter one year later; in a letter to Friedrich Merckel of 16 November 1826, he states his supposition that the reviewer was Friedrich Schlegel; see ibid., 275.

36 See the anonymous review of Heine’s 1821/22 Gedichte in the Halle Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung 2/139 (June 1823), 246, reproduced in Galley, and Estermann, , Heinrich Heines Werk im Urteil seiner Zeitgenossen 1: 100104. See alsoGoogle ScholarMayser, Erich, H. Heines ‘Buch der Lieder’ im 19. Jahrhundert (Stuttgart: Akademischer Verlag H.-D. Heinz, 1978): 121–3Google Scholar.

37 Heine, Heinrich, Säkularausgabe 1: Gedichte 1812–1827: 217. In the poem, Heine bids the beloved embrace him with her arms, legs, and entire body; she will become the most beautiful of snakes to his Laocoon.Google Scholar

38 Müllner, Adolph, ‘Notiz zu Liedern in: Westdeutscher Musenalmanach auf das Jahr 1823’ in the Morgenblatt für gebildete Stände 270 (11 November 1823), 360, reproduced in Galley and Esterman, Heinrich Heines Werk im Urteil seiner Zeitgenossen 1: 150–51.Google Scholar

39 Anonymous, ‘Briefe einer Dame über die Almanachsliteratur des Jahres 1825. 3. Brief’ in the Leipzig Literarisches Conversations-Blatt 280 (6 December 1824), 1, 118–19, reproduced in Galley, and Esterman, , Heinrich Heines Werk im Urteil seiner Zeitgenossen 1: 172Google Scholar.

40 Adolf Peters, ‘Rezension zu Gedichte und Tragödien, nebst einem lyrischen Intermezzo’ in Der Gesellschafter 11 (19 January 1825), 53–4, reproduced in Galley, and Esterman, , Heinrich Heines Werk im Urteil seiner Zeitgenossen 1:173Google Scholar.

41 See ‘Sch’ review of Heine’s, Gedichte in the Kunst- und Wissenschaftsblatt. Eine Beilage zum Rheinisch-Westfälischen Anzeiger 24 (7 June 1822), 369–76, reproduced inGoogle ScholarGalley, and Esterman, , Heinrich Heines Werk im Urteil seiner Zeitgenossen 1: 3743.Google Scholar Heine once remarked that ‘Blätterlob’ (periodical praise) seldom incited more than passing amusement on his part and certainly did not encourage or revitalize him, and yet it was of utmost importance. No wonder: it made him known. See Heine’s letter to Moses Moser on 18 June 1823 in Heine, , Säkularausgabe 20:Google ScholarBriefe 1815–1831: 98.

42 This is the beginning of Novalis’s 1799 prose-fragment ‘Die Christenheit oder Europa’; see Hardenberg, Friedrich von, Novalis: Werke in einem Band, ed. Mähl, Hans-Joachim and Samuel, Richard (Munich: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 1995): 526Google Scholar.

43 Schumann, Robert, Gesammelte Schriften über Musik und Musiker 2, ed. Kreisig, Martin (Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel, 1914): 246.Google Scholar

44 In his marvellous mini-book to go along with The Songs of Robert Schumann 7 (Hyperion CDJ33 07), Graham Johnson declares that ‘Du bist wie eine Blume’ arrives just in time to prevent Myrthen from deteriorating ‘into a succession of folkish fragments of diminishing musical import’, that it is ‘the equivalent of heavy artillery in lieder terms’ (91) – how right he is. But it is Schumann’s music, I would speculate, that inspired this great pianist’s assessment of the poetry as ‘shy and epigrammatic’ (92); that is its public face, not its inner core.

45 This is not the only such instance in Schumann’s song oeuvre. The most notorious example of Schumann failing to turn an enjambment into musical prose is when he separates the two parts of a reflexive verb in ‘Die Lotosblume’, the seventh song in Myrthen. ‘Die Lotosblume ängstigt’, the singer declares, followed by three crotchet-note beats of rest before supplying the remainder of the verb as the downbeat of the next phrase, ‘sich vor der Sonne Pracht’. That the vocal line sinks downward to a lower tessitura for the second phrase only exacerbates the split between the components of the verb.

46 McCollin, Frances, ‘Thou Art Like Unto a Flower’ (Philadelphia: Theodore Presser, 1911).Google Scholar

47 Spencer, Vernon, ‘Thou Art So Like a Flower’ (Cincinnati: John Church, 1913).Google Scholar Translations are always revelatory of interpretation, and Spencer’s own rendering is no exception: ‘Thou art so like a flower/So chaste and pure and fair,/That looking at thee,/Sadness steals o’er me unaware./I long and pray God to keep thee/A flower sweet and rare;/Pray Him to keep thee forever/So chaste, so pure and fair.’

48 Rogers, James H., ‘Thou Art Like Unto a Flower’, words after Heinrich Heine (Boston: The Boston Music Company, 1896).Google Scholar This ‘Blume’ is specific: the title page is adorned with a large rose.

49 Bartels, Adolf, Heinrich Heine. Auch ein Denkmal (Dresden: C.A. Koch, 1906): 135–6.Google ScholarBartels, would later write Der Nationalsozialismus Deutschlands Rettung (Leipzig: T. Weicher, 1924)Google Scholar.

50 Hehn, Victor, Gedanken über Goethe (Berlin, 1887): 157; my translation.Google Scholar

51 Mann, Thomas, Frühe Erzählungen (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer, 1981): 43.Google Scholar The story was first published in the Munich periodical Simplicissimus in 1896 and then in Mann, Thomas, Der kleine Herr Friedemann. Novellen (Berlin: Fischer, 1898)Google Scholar.

52 Eisler, Hanns, Gesammelte Werke, ed. Eisler, Stephanie and Grabs, Manfred, 1/6: Lieder für eine Singstimme und Klavier, ed. Grabs, Manfred (Leipzig: Deutsche Verlag für Musik, 1988): 161.Google Scholar

53 See Tyrwhitt-Wilson, Gerald, The Collected Vocal Music, ed. Dickinson, Peter (London: Chester Music, 1980): 23.Google Scholar One notes the date of composition – during World War One.

54 Killmayer, Wilhelm, Heine-Lieder: 54.Google Scholar

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