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Hyperion Records

CDA67311/2 - Wolf: Mörike Lieder
Recording details: October 2000
Clara-Wieck-Auditorium, Heidelberg-Sandhausen, Germany
Produced by Teije van Geest
Engineered by Teije van Geest
Release date: October 2001
Total duration: 146 minutes 4 seconds

'A major achievement on the part of its three artists … this becomes a straightforward top recommendation' (Gramophone)

'Abiding satisfaction in hearing the Mörike Liederbuch at one spellbinding session … a cornerstone for any Wolf collection. And pure radiant joy heaped high on silver platters' (Fanfare, USA)

Mörike Lieder

This distinguished set brings together all of Hugo Wolf's so-called 'Mörike' Lieder, the first of the great songbooks on which the composer's reputation rests. Eduard Mörike was the author of poetic idylls and delightful fairytales, a bucolic, charmingly inadequate and ineffectual country clergyman at one with his surroundings, and a nature poet par excellence with an engaging sense of humour. His poems inspired Wolf to write some of his most popular, enduring, and endearing songs, though there are many in the collection which are not as well-known as they should be. Astoundingly, all 53 were written within a few months in 1888.

Soprano Joan Rodgers was appointed a CBE by Her Majesty the Queen in the 2001 New Year's Honours list, and Stephan Genz was, of course, the recipient of a Gramophone Award for his Hyperion CD of Beethoven songs with Roger Vignoles. Together with Roger, our two singers bring these delectable songs to life as never before.

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Eduard Mörike used to be regarded as a naive romantic, untouched by the events of his time, the epitome of Biedermeier, the author of poetic idylls and delightful fairy-tales, a bucolic, charmingly inadequate, ineffectual clergyman at one with his surroundings in Cleversulzbach, a nature poet par excellence with an engaging sense of humour. Gottfried Keller unwittingly encouraged this assessment when, on Mörike’s death in 1875, he said that it was as if ‘a fine June day had passed away’; and the sweet, bespectacled face that stares at us from many portraits has also been partially responsible for this distorted picture of one of Germany’s greatest lyric poets. The naivety, the idylls and the humour of many Mörike poems are, in fact, a bastion erected by the poet agaianst those extreme emotions which threatened to overwhelm him throughout his life. The idyll protects him from the demonic; humour helps him cope with emotional turmoil; and the quest for moderation banishes or at least controls erotic undercurrents.

He was vulnerable to an unusual degree and from an early age. Born in 1804, the fourth child of a physician and a vicar’s daughter, he was pampered by his mother and suffered painfully from family bereavements, especially the death in 1824 of his brother (see ‘An eine Äolsharfe’) and his favourite sister, Luise, three years later. Most unbalancing of all, he was seduced and jilted by Maria Meyer. Although poets down the ages have suffered obsessively and creatively from unrequited love—Musset’s yearning for George Sand, Becquer’s for Julia Espin, Heine’s for his cousin Amalia and Yeats’s for Maud Gonne spring to mind—Mörike’s rejection by Maria Meyer was more traumatic than all of these. He met her when he was nineteen, in 1823. She was a Swiss girl of obscure origin, wildly beautiful, a member of the wandering sect of Julia von Krudener, and affected at times by a sort of religious fervour. When they met, she was working as a barmaid in Ludwigsburg, and Mörike was fascinated by her enigmatic personality. Fascination turned to infatuation and, when she jilted him, distraction. From this shattering experience he managed to distil the five Peregrina poems (Wolf set numbers 1 and 4), and there are no love poems in the German language that lurch more violently between ecstatic sensuality and tortured anguish.

He now tried to avoid such destructive eruptions, as ‘Gebet’ and ‘Verborgenheit’ explain, but suggestions of unrequited love and infidelity surface intermittently throughout his poetry: ‘Der Knabe und das Immlein’, ‘Ein Stündlein wohl vor Tag’, ‘Das verlassene Mägdlein’, ‘Im Frühling’, ‘Agnes’, ‘Der Gärtner’, ‘Zitronenfalter im April’, ‘Frage und Antwort’, ‘Lebe wohl’, ‘Lied vom Winde’ and ‘Lied eines Verliebten’ all have unhappy love as a theme, often veiled with a protective layer of whimsy. In ‘Das verlassene Mägdlein’ he deliberately reverses the hurt, making the girl suffer, and elsewhere, as in ‘Agnes’ and ‘Der Knabe und das Immlein’, he externalises his grief by giving the impression that he is speaking only in the name of others. Despite this precarious balancing act, an erotic undertow is often present in his love poetry (‘Nimmersatte Liebe’, ‘Begegnung’, ‘Erstes Liebeslied eines Mädchens’), and even when he indulges his predilection for idylls (‘Gesang Weylas’) and humour (‘Storchenbotschaft’, ‘Der Jäger’) implied sensuality is never far from the surface.

Reading these poems it is easy to forget that Mörike was a priest, and it was indeed a profession for which he had no liking and little aptitude. He eked out a living and wandered from one poorly-paid post to another—the very names are redolent of provincial backwaters; Möhringen, Köngen, Pflummern, Plattenhardt, Owen, Eltingen, Ochsenwang, Weilheim and Ötlingen. He carried out his duties unenthusiastically and with no sense of vocation, and it was not until 1834, when he was the oldest curate in Württemberg, that he was given his own parish at Cleversulzbach, where he was vicar until 1843. He disliked all forms of work that required regular application and was notorious for his laziness and hypochondria. He hated writing sermons and had no ambition to make a career in the Church—a cause, incidentally, for the failure in 1833 of his relationship with Luise Rau, the clergyman’s daughter to whom he had become engaged in 1829. Though the Church gave him little satisfaction, he composed a number of religious poems that are among the most beautiful in the German language: ‘Auf eine Christblume I and II’, ‘Auf ein altes Bild’, ‘Schlafendes Jesuskind’ (a meditation on a painting by Francesco Albani), ‘Karwoche’, ‘Zum neuen Jahr’, ‘Neue Liebe’ and ‘Wo find ich Trost?’.

Unsuited for the Church, and living in an environment that was as petty as it was geographically remote, Mörike sought refuge in a world of dreams and visions. Though he never travelled far in the real world, he journeyed extensively in his imagination, and wrote, between 1828 and 1832, the romantic novel Maler Nolten, which contained the verse play Der letzte König von Orplid, that had originally been conceived by Mörike and his friend Ludwig Bauer when they were boys at school in Urach. Orplid was the name of a fantastic island, protected by the goddess Weyla and populated not just by humans, but by elves (‘Elfenlied’), cobolds and fairies. Its topography and history are outlined in the first part of the novel, and it was conceived to be in the Pacific, somewhere between New Zealand and South America. The novel, which owes much to Goethe’s Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre, is little read today, but it contains some of Mörike’s best-known poems, including parts of ‘Der Feuerreiter’, ‘Gesang zu zweien in der Nacht’ (not set by Wolf), ‘Elfenlied’, ‘Das verlassene Mägdlein’, ‘Er ists’, ‘Im Frühling’, ‘Der Jäger’, ‘Agnes’, ‘An die Geliebte’, ‘Lied vom Winde’, four ‘Peregrina’ poems and a stanza from ‘Gebet’.

Mörike led an uneventful life. After his mother’s death in 1841 he relied increasingly on his sister Klara, who kept house for him. When his parishioners at Cleversulzbach expressed dissatisfaction with their vicar, he handed in his resignation and lived on the meagre pension with his sister, first at Schwäbisch Hall and then at Bad Mergentheim, where he met his future wife, Margarethe von Speeth. They married in 1851 and moved on to Stuttgart in the same year. While living there, he lectured on German literature to the girl pupils of the Katharinenstift, and continued to write poems and stories, including his masterpiece, Mozart auf der Reise nach Prag, that ends with the poem ‘Denk es, o Seele!’. Margarethe bore him two daughters, but his domestic situation was never really happy. Klara lived with the married couple and was unwilling to relinquish her domestic duties—which explains Mörike’s frequent remark in his diary: perturbatio domestica. He knew periods of happiness, however, and enjoyed friendships with Theodor Storm, Paul Heyse and Moritz von Schwind. He finally left his wife and lived a nomadic existence until his death in 1875.

Richard Stokes © 1996

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