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Aus 'Heliopolis' I, D753

First line:
Im kalten, rauhen Norden
April 1822; published in November 1826 as Op 65 No 3
author of text

This is the fifth poem of a large poetic sequence. It is the poet's personal Kennst du das Land?, but it would be easier for Goethe's Mignon to return to Italy than for Mayrhofer to find Sun City, his very own classical illusion. The song begins in E minor, a key that Schubert associates with dryness (Trockne Blume), freezing cold (Auf dem Flusse) and dark despair and exclusion (Tiefes Leid). Its opening, a stark and solitary solo for the left hand, seems perfect to express dissatisfaction with the puritanical North. It was the overpowering attraction of the warm and tolerant South which lured Thomas Mann's Aschenbach to Venice, self-discovery, and death. There is also something both life-enhancing and life-threatening about Mayrhofer's intended journey to Heliopolis. Schubert suggests this in the ominous pile-up of diminished seventh harmonies under 'Von Menschen könnt ich nichts erfragen', as does Mayrhofer in the poem's introductory stanza, which was not set to music: 'Let's write variations on a poetic theme from the distant past, even though we may suffer the same fate as Icarus: let's fly towards the sun as high and as often as we can.' The fate of Icarus was that his waxen wings melted in the solar blaze and his flight heavenwards was nothing less than a suicide mission. The poem seems to say 'Live dangerously … fight for what you believe in whatever the consequences, journey to the place where you belong'. 'Zwiespalt' is translated here as 'conflict' but it could have other resonances: Mayrhofer had surely read Plato, where in a passage in The Symposium the myth of sex as division is expounded: man searches for his other half to make himself whole. The sun god Helios was normally depicted as a beautiful young man and Love too has wings as personified by the God Eros. Classical allusions of this kind would not be lost on Mayrhofer who was almost certainly homeosexual. The E major dialogue with the flower `'hosen by Helios', is of the utmost musical poignancy. It is the key Schubert uses for redemption in Trockne Blumen and is the tonality for Elysium. 'Turn your eyes to the sun' Apollo's delightful devotee seems to tell the poet, 'even though this is dangerous and blinding. The pure light of Helios brings inner peace and inspires 'Tatenfluten', a stream of heroic deeds and creativity.' If we were to attempt to find anyone within the Schubert circle who may be cast as this alluring flower, it would be Franz von Schober, blond, good looking, of Swedish origin and powerfully charming. In the eyes of some of Schubert's friends he was a notorious hedonist, untrammelled by the restrictions of Biedermeier morality. But Mayrhofer seems to have admired his independent spirit and it is no surprise that the subtitle of the poem is 'An Franz von Schober'.

Heliopolis was the Greek name for the ancient Egyptian city of Iunu or Onu where was centred the priapic cult of the sun God Re, the Osiris hymned by Sorastro in Die Zauberflöte. Commentators have assumed that Mayrhofer was referring to this learned and celebrated place, but he was surely searching for a city of the imagination, a mystical and idealised Utopia where were to be found the virtues and freedoms of ancient Greece. In this respect Mayrhofer was a forerunner of both Walt Whitman ('I dreamed in a dream I saw a city invinvible to the attacks of the rest of the world … the new city of Friends') and A E Housman, another minor poet potent in the history of song. Housman, a character as bleak and private as Mayrhofer, drew solace from a profound knowledge of classical literature, and the mores of a vanished age. He wrote of 'a Grecian lad, one that many loved in vain', and railed against 'the laws of God, the laws of man'. He also saw 'a country far away / Where I shall never stand / The heart goes where no footstep may / Into the promised land'. As an Imperial censor in Metternich's Vienna, Mayrhofer had to administer part of the police-state machinery which he loathed with all his being. His Heliopolis was a place where these restrictive rules would not apply. He hoped that his Greek-inspired poems would have both a political and emotional message for the reader educated and sympathetic enough to break their code. Schiller, Hölderlin, and Keats, among many others, are better known than Mayrhofer for their praise of Attic virtues and their elegies for the passing of the classical age. But Mayrhofer's poems are often darker than theirs, with more of a personal axe to grind. The obscurity of much of his work is partly because he is a stylistic forerunner of expressionism, and partly because his poems were aimed at a sacred band of initiates. One of these was undoubtedly Schubert. Whatever the composer's own sexuality, he was endlessly empathetic to the human condition in whatever form he found it, and was able to paint in sun-lit tones his friend's dream city.

A short while after Schubert's death Mayrhofer wrote a most moving poem (Documentary Biography, p 832) where he envisages Schubert, liberated at last, flying from the cold north to the realms of the sun. In death Mayrhofer makes his composer reach Heliopolis. Whatever their quarrels and disagreements had been in life they were reunited either in heaven or Heliopolis, and are now inseparable in the pages of Lieder history.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 1991


Schubert: Der Wanderer & other songs
Studio Master: CDA68010Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
Schubert: The Complete Songs
CDS44201/40Boxed set + book (at a special price) — Download only
Schubert: The Hyperion Schubert Edition, Vol. 11 - Brigitte Fassbaender
CDJ33011Archive Service; also available on CDS44201/40


Track 4 on CDA68010 [3'09]
Track 14 on CDJ33011 [3'21] Archive Service; also available on CDS44201/40
Track 11 on CDS44201/40 CD25 [3'21] Boxed set + book (at a special price) — Download only

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