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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
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