Sunday, March 22, 2020

On the Anniversary of Goethe’s Death

From The Imaginative Conservative:
Goethe would meet several different scholars and classicists who would have a lasting effect on the understanding of his role in the history of Germany, its culture and literature, and the world at large. He began acquiring a deeper philosophical foundation for his work upon meeting the cleric and historian Johann Gottfried Herder in 1770. Herder was committed to creating and promoting a national German literature. Goethe would take this up as a life-long mission along with his fellow poet Friedrich Schiller. Thus, Goethe began to find one of the most crucial elements of inspiration for any form of sustained creative life: a sense of higher purpose for his work, and an intimation of the Good such work produces.

Goethe’s fame would quickly bring him to the attention of Duke Karl-August von Saxe-Weimar-Eisenbach. After initially meeting the duke, he would accept Karl-August’s invitation and move to Weimar in 1775. By 1782, Goethe was ennobled by the duke.

In Weimar, with a newly informed sense of philosophical direction and purpose, Goethe would craft some of his most passionate and moving pieces. Many of the poems composed in this period would be set as lieder by the greatest musical composers of Germany including Beethoven, Franz Schubert, and Brahms.[4] While the excitement the composers felt in reading Goethe’s poems is only imaginable, it is a truly amazing experience to hear how these geniuses decided to set Goethe’s poems to music. Through the lied, or “art-song,” a new dimension was added to the poems, and with it a new understanding of their meaning, music, and magic. Schubert alone set eighty of Goethe’s poems to music, including the rousing “Der Erlkonig,” the Faustian “Gretchen am Spinnrade” and the deeply moving “Nur Wer die Sehnsucht Kent.”[5] More than any other poet, Goethe’s works were chosen by composers for musical settings. This is without doubt one of the highest of honors any poet can attain. (Read more.)

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