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Müller, Wilhelm (1794-1827)

Wilhelm Müller

born: 7 October 1794
died: 30 September 1827
country: Germany

Wilhelm Müller, nicknamed ‘Griechen-Müller’ (‘Greek Müller’) because of his interest in the Greek political cause, was born on 7 October 1794 in Dessau. He was the son of a shoemaker, the only child of six to survive. From the age of eighteen he studied philology and history in Berlin. In February 1813 he volunteered for the Prussian army and fought in the battles against Napoleon at Lützen, Bautzen, Hanau and Kulm. After visits to cities as far apart as Prague and Brussels he returned to Dessau and resumed his university studies in 1815. On 18 October of that year he wrote a famous diary entry which makes us regret that Schubert and the poet were never to meet: ‘I can neither play nor sing, yet when I write verses I sing and play after all. If I could produce the tunes, my songs would please better than they do now. But courage! A kindred spirit may be found who will hear the tunes behind the words and give them back to me.’ As Alec Robertson has written: ‘They were, indeed, given back to him in undreamt-of measure.’

In actual fact Müller was probably referring to someone he had met already, the composer Ludwig Berger (1777–1829) who was a (slightly older) member of the poet’s circle of Berlin friends. This group of lively young minds, which gathered at the home of Friedrich von Stägemann, included such important personalities as Achim von Arnim and Wilhelm Hensel. The Liederspiel games, half poetry and half music, with which these creative young people entertained themselves formed the basis of the work which eventually became Die schöne Müllerin.

Müller’s exceptionally personable nature was always at its best in merry company, and he had a gift for friendship. Contacts with literary luminaries such as Tiedge, Brentano and Fouqué led to the inclusion of his work in the anthology Bundesblüthen in 1816. Soon afterwards he set off with Baron Sack on a visit to Egypt which included a stop in Constantinople (where the poet was lucky to escape infection from the plague) and finished up in Italy (1817) where he visited Naples and dallied in Rome. An eventual result of this visit was the publication of Rom, Römer und Römerinnen (1820), an engaging description of everyday life and literature in the Italy of that time. Müller seems to have had a great gift for languages and was a distinguished translator from English, notably of Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus. (It would not have escaped Müller’s notice that Marlowe, too, was the son of a shoemaker.) On his return to Dessau in 1819, Müller taught Latin and Greek in the local Gymnasium and was soon appointed Librarian to the Hofbibliothek by the reigning duke. In 1821 he married Adelheid Basedow who was a granddaughter of Johann Basedow, the celebrated educational reformer and pioneer of modern teaching methods. This marriage produced a son worthy of both his father and maternal grandfather: Max Müller (1823–1900), a great teacher, orientalist, philologist and linguist who was eventually to live in England where he became one of Oxford’s most famous academics.

Wilhelm Müller is chiefly remembered today (outside his musical connections that is) as the poet of Greece’s struggle for emancipation from the Turks. (The links with Byron are obvious, and both poets number a Maid of Athens among their lyrics.) Lieder der Griechen dates from 1821, and this was followed by Neue Lieder der Griechen (1823) and Neueste Lieder der Griechen (1824). This progression of ‘new’ and ‘newest’ songs ended with Missolunghi (1826). These poems reflect Müller’s own folksy and down-to-earth enthusiasm for Greek life. This was very different from the lofty Philhellenism widespread in this period. The poetry of Anacreon with its earthy hymning of wine, women and song was much to his taste, and his frank and open nature could not have been more different from that of aesthetes like Platen who saw in ancient Greek life a mirror and justification of their own forbidden sexual leanings. Müller was no respecter of great reputations and he seems to have been blind to the beauties of neoclassical Goethe; neither would he have enjoyed the classically inspired poems of Mayrhofer. However, these two among Schubert’s poets shared liberal sympathies common to the generation which had fought against the yoke of Napoleon. Like Mayrhofer, Müller did not always please the reactionary politicians terrified of revolution nurtured by students and intellectuals, and he was subject to his share of censorship – much less stringent of course than if he had been, like Schubert’s friend Johann Senn, an inhabitant of Vienna. His overwhelming interest in folk poetry via the Greeks played an important part in developing his taste for a German folk style which influenced many of his followers, Heinrich Heine chief among them. Today, and particularly to the lieder enthusiast, Müller’s poetry seems complementary to that of Josef von Eichendorff (1788–1857). Both fought in the Wars of Liberation against France, and both shared an interest in popular songs and the cult of the wandering lad – the Wanderbursch. In this way the minstrel of the Middle Ages was revived in popular fiction (cf. Müller’s Blumenlese aus den Minnesingern from 1816). Both poets were fond of travel, and they had an affection for Italy in common. They also both delighted in placing their narrators in the guise of soldier, student, sailor, huntsman, shepherd or fisherman. In the end it is the background and culture of the two men which differentiates them: Eichendorff the Roman Catholic from Silesia, Müller the Protestant from Dessau. The former was overtly religious in a number of his poems; the latter seldom talked about his faith – indeed Müller presents his winter traveller as a non-believer. Not all musicians found in his work the dark overtones unveiled by Schubert. Müller’s poetry was set a great many times by lesser composers, and the singability of his verse encouraged music written for cheery and hearty sing-songs rather than the more refined world of art-song in the salon. On 15 December 1822 he wrote a letter congratulating the composer Bernhard Klein (1793–1832) on ‘the musical animation of my verses’. Klein had set a number of the poems from Die schöne Müllerin. Müller continued: ‘My songs lead but half a life, a paper life of black and white … until music breathes life into them, or at least calls it forth and awakens it if it is already dormant in them.’ This concern with collaboration with a musician is amply illustrated by the final lines of Winterreise: the traveller–poet encounters a hurdy-gurdy player and wonders whether it is his destiny to work as part of a song-writing team. It is probably true to say that Müller, who knew nothing of Schubert’s music, would have been entranced by much of the composer’s Die schöne Müllerin – though, like Schubert’s friends, he might have been bewildered by some of Winterreise.

Although the poet was a slightly suspect liberal, his sheer likeability and good-heartedness won over the Dessau establishment. In 1824, shortly after his son’s birth, Müller was named a Hofrat at the early age of twenty-seven. He was a tireless contributor to a number of almanacs and yearbooks, both as a poet and a critic. These included the 1822 edition of Urania where, in the second and fourth of the Sechs Ländliche Lieder, Schubert found most of the text for Der Hirt am Felsen in 1828. The 1823 edition of the same almanac included the texts of the first twelve songs of Winterreise. In 1822 Müller had edited an important survey of seventeenth-century German poetry in ten volumes, and in 1821 and 1824 appeared the books (two volumes issued separately) by which all music-lovers remember him: Sieben-und-siebzig Gedichte aus den hinterlassenen Papieren eines reisenden Waldhornisten. This anthology, fancifully purporting to be the posthumous papers of a travelling horn-player, included the texts of both Schubert cycles: Die schöne Müllerin appears in the first volume, and the second contained Die Winterreise (note that Schubert dropped the definite article from the title) in its full twenty-four-poem version. In 1826 the poet broadened his scholarly activities and became involved in the Encyclopädie of Ersch and Gruber. In the last year of his life he went on a journey to south-west Germany where he met with his Swabian friends Schwabb, Hauff and Uhland. He also visited Justinus Kerner, known to lovers of lieder through the songs of Schumann. In Müller’s honour Kerner hung a Greek flag (a black cross painted on a bright blue-and-white background) from an old tower outside his house. During the night a rainstorm and autumn mists washed away the blue background leaving on the flag only an ominous black cross – the so-called Leichenfahn, or symbol of death in the house. This was a portent, celebrated in a poem by Kerner, which was worthy of the protagonist of Winterreise. On 1 October 1827, a few days after returning home from his visit to Kerner, Wilhelm Müller died of a stroke. He was only thirty-three years of age.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 1997

Albums

Hyperion monthly sampler – December 2014
FREE DOWNLOADHYP201412Download-only monthly sampler NEW
Schubert: Die schöne Müllerin
CDA30020Hyperion 30th Anniversary series
Schubert: The Complete Songs
CDS44201/4040CDs Boxed set + book (at a special price)
Schubert: The Hyperion Schubert Edition, Vol. 9 – Arleen Auger
CDJ33009Archive Service; also available on CDS44201/40
Schubert: Winterreise
CDA30021Hyperion 30th Anniversary series
Schubert: Winterreise
Studio Master: CDA68034Best of 2014Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
Schubert: Winterreise
Studio Master: CKD371Download onlyStudio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
Songs by Schubert's contemporaries
CDJ33051/33CDs
Schubert: An introduction to The Hyperion Schubert Edition
HYP200Super-budget price sampler — Deleted
The Essential Hyperion, Vol. 2
This album is not yet available for downloadHYP202CDs Super-budget price sampler — Deleted

Alphabetical listing of all musical works

Am Bach viel kleine Blumen stehn  
Am Bach viel kleine Blumen stehn  
Am Brunnen vor dem Tore  
Am Brunnen vor dem Tore  
Am Feierabend  
Auf dem Flusse  
Auf einen Totenacker  
Bächlein, lass dein Rauschen sein!  
Blümlein Vergissmein  
Danksagung an den Bach  
Das Mühlenleben  
Das Wandern  
Das Wandern ist des Müllers Lust  
Das Wirtshaus  
Der Berghirt (Bürde)
Der Dichter, als Epilog  
Der Dichter, als Prolog  
Der du so lustig rauschtest  
Der greise Kopf  
Der Hirt auf dem Felsen, D965 (Schubert)
Der Jäger  
Der Leiermann  
Der Leiermann (Banck)
Der Lindenbaum  
Der Lindenbaum  
Der Müller (Berger)
Der Müller und der Bach  
Der Neugierige  
Der Reif hat einen weissen Schein  
Der stürmische Morgen  
Der Wegweiser  
Der Wind spielt mit der Wetterfahne  
Des Baches Lied (Berger)
Des Baches Wiegenlied  
Des Müllers Blumen  
Des Müllers Wanderlied (Berger)
Die böse Farbe  
Die Krähe  
Die liebe Farbe  
Die Nebensonnen  
Die Post  
Die Post, Op 76 No 6 (Kreutzer)
Die schöne Müllerin (Müller)
Die schöne Müllerin, D795 (Schubert)
Die Wetterfahne  
Drei Sonnen sah ich am Himmel stehn  
Drüben hinter’m Dorfe  
Drüben hinter’m Dorfe  
Eifersucht und Stolz  
Ein Licht tanzt freundlich vor mir her  
Ein ungereimtes Lied  
Eine Krähe war mit mir  
Eine Mühle seh’ ich blinken  
Einsamkeit  
Erstarrung  
Erster Schmerz, letzter Scherz  
Es bellen die Hunde, es rasseln die Ketten  
Es brennt mir unter beiden Sohlen  
Fliegt der Schnee mir in’s Gesicht  
Fremd bin ich eingezogen  
Frühlingstraum  
Frühlingstraum  
Gefrorne Tränen  
Gefrorne Tropfen fallen  
Gute Nacht  
Gute Ruh’, gute Ruh’!  
Gute, gute Ruh’!  
Guten Morgen, schöne Müllerin!  
Halt!  
Hätt’ ich tausend  
Hie und da ist an den Bäumen  
Ich frage keine Blume  
Ich hört’ ein Bächlein rauschen  
Ich hört’ ein Bächlein rauschen  
Ich lad’ euch, schöne Damen, kluge Herrn  
Ich möchte ziehn in die Welt hinaus  
Ich möchte ziehn in die Welt hinaus  
Ich schnitt’ es gern in alle Rinden ein  
Ich such’ im Schnee vergebens  
Ich träumte von bunten Blumen  
Ich träumte von bunten Blumen  
Ihr Blümlein alle  
Ihr Blümlein alle  
Im Dorfe  
In die tiefsten Felsengründe  
In Grün will ich mich kleiden  
Irrlicht  
Kein Liedchen mehr!  
Ländliche Lieder (Kreutzer)
Letzte Hoffnung  
Manche Trän’ aus meinen Augen  
Mein!  
Meine Laute hab’ ich gehängt an die Wand  
Mit dem grünen Lautenbande  
Morgengruss  
Müllers Blumen (Berger)
Müllers trockne Blumen (Berger)
Mut!  
Nun merk’ ich erst, wie müd’ ich bin  
Nun sitz’ am Bache nieder  
Pause  
Rast  
Rückblick  
Schad’ um das schöne grüne Band  
Seh’ ich sie am Bache sitzen  
Täuschung  
Tränenregen  
Trockne Blumen  
Ungeduld  
Von der Strasse her ein Posthorn klingt  
Von der Strasse her ein Posthorn klingt  
War es also gemeint  
Was sucht denn der Jäger am Mühlbach hier?  
Was treibt mich jeden Morgen  
Was vermeid’ ich denn die Wege  
Wasserflut  
Weil gern man schliesst mit einer runden Zahl  
Wenn auf dem höchsten Fels ich steh’  
Wenn auf dem höchsten Fels ich steh’  
Wie eine trübe Wolke  
Wie hat der Sturm zerrissen  
Winterreise, D911 (Schubert)
Wir sassen so traulich beisammen  
Wo ein treues Herze  
Wohin so schnell, so kraus und wild, mein lieber Bach?  
Wohin?  
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