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Rückert, Friedrich (1788-1866)

Friedrich Rückert

born: 16 May 1788
died: 31 January 1866
country: Germany

Friedrich Rückert was one of the most significant men of letters of his time, and he is one of the figures (Heinrich Heine is another) who form a link between the songs of Schubert and Schumann. He was trained as a lawyer and philologist, and after a period as a teacher went into journalism. He came to Vienna to study Oriental languages with Joseph Hammer-Purgstall and soon became an accomplished translator from such languages as Persian and Arabic. This led to various distinguished university appointments, but it is as a writer that he is remembered. As a dramatist he was largely unsuccessful, but he wrote a large number of poems – some ten thousand – which were very popular at the time despite an inevitable unevenness in quality. His lyrics have always appealed to composers: apart from five Schubert songs (and two fragments), Schumann (who became a personal friend of the poet) much admired Rückert, as did Robert Franz, Loewe, and to some extent Wolf and Strauss. There is no doubt, however, that Rückert stands most often before the public today thanks to the enthusiasm of Gustav Mahler for his work. Apart from poems from Des Knaben Wunderhorn, Mahler favoured Rückert’s lyrics, as far as his own music was concerned, over those of any other German poet. Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder and Fünf Rückert Lieder (which includes the immortal Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen) have given the poet an unassailable place in the song repertory’s hall of fame.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 1997

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