Robert Schumann, ‘Talismane’ (Gottes ist der Orient)

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‘Talismane’ in the first edition of ‘Myrthen’ by Robert Schumann
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‘Talismane’ in the text form Robert Schumann used (e.g. “der Einzige, Gerechte” instead of “der einzige Gerechte”) with our own translation, focussing on the formulas used by Goethe.

‘The Orient is God’s! The Occident is God’s! Northerly and southerly lands rest in the peace of His hands’. These four lines have come to stand for so much in the Orientalist canon: the sacred image of West-Eastern unity; the peace of the world under the aegis of a benevolent God; joy in the peaceful retirement that furnishes the pre-conditions for intellectual activity. Above all, the first of these is the most important. The first stanza of Goethe’s talismans appropriates a divine vision for the rapprochement of West and East, signified mightily by his West-östlicher Divan, published in 1819 but begun in the middle of the 1810s.

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Title page of the first edition of the Divan, 1819

The Divan encapsulates Goethe’s secular projects of paying homage to the home of the poetic imagination (the Orient) and rejuvenating Western literature through its forms and symbols. In addition to the potent poetic symbols of love, mystical wine, poetic rebirth and novel form, Goethe poeticises the stone ‘talisman’, or amulet, on which religious mottos would be inscribed to safeguard travellers as they battled the elements.

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Goethe’s attempt at copying Arabic script from a work by the Persian poet Saadi, 1814 (Nationale Forschungs- und Gedenkstätten der klassischen deutschen Literatur in Weimar)

The religious overtones of Schumann’s Lied — which we have decided to profile in our Psalmic translation — resound clearly in the first two lines of the poem. But, as always, there is more. Goethe tellingly appropriates the heraldic ‘The Orient is God’s! The Occident is God’s’ from the prominent polylingual but short-lived journal Fundgruben des Orients, edited by Viennese Orientalist, Joseph von Hammer (later Hammer-Purgstall), who took the lines from the second Sure of the Qu’ran. In Hammer’s Fundgruben the inscription reads: “Sag: Gottes ist der Orient und Gottes ist der Okzident. Er leitet, wen er will, den wahren Pfad” (Say: the Orient is God’s and the Occident is God’s. He leads whom he wants on the path of truth.) repurposing the Qu’ranic inscription to defend, presumably, clean, scholarly activity into the Orient.[1]

The intellectual and literary relationship between Goethe and Hammer was long-standing and mutually productive. Not only did Hammer’s translations of the Divan of mystical Persian poet, Ha’fiz (1812–1813) inspire Goethe to form his own Divan in the Orientalist mode, but Goethe’s poetry — alongside that of August von Platen and Friedrich Rückert, who took their impetus from Goethe’s Divan — spurred Hammer to dig deeper the Orient’s treasures. In the preface to the fourth volume of his Fundgruben des Orients, Hammer makes this explicit:

‘Let us hope that the golden peace will smile favourably upon the Oriental literature on the continent, and also enable us mine-diggers, as gold-digging ants, to snatch some treasures from the gold-preserving griffons of the Orient’.[2] When Hammer released his translations of the Divan of Motenebbi, der grösste arabische Dichter in 1824, it was with the hope that his travails would prompt Goethe, Platen and Rückert, (whom he mentions by name) to domesticate further (‘zur fernen Einbürgerung) the ‘German clothed Arab’ just as his translations of Ha’fiz had vivified German literature at the turn of the 1820s[3]

Would Schumann have known some or all of this? Possibly. Robert Schumann published ‘Talismane’ alongside a number of settings from Goethe’s West-östlicher Divan in his collection of Lieder, Myrthen, intended as a gift to his wife-to-be Clara Wieck on their wedding day, 12th September 1840.

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Dedication to Clara Wieck by Robert Schumann in the first issue of ‘Myrthen’ (1840)

There is evidence to suggest that Schumann read the prosaic portions of the Divan, the Noten und Abhandlungen, in which Goethe extols Hammer-Purgstall and the Fundgruben. At the end of the 1840s, when Schumann returned to Orientalist themes, he set Goethe’s poem interpolated into the notes on ‘Chiffre’ (ciphers), with the title, ‘Liebeslied’[4]. And although whether he imbibed Goethe’s Orientalism is a trickier question to answer, there is one passage in a letter to Clara Schumann dating from 1838 in which he transcribes the Divan poem ‘Wie mit innigstem Behagen’, which in Myrthen would become the Lied der Suleika, headed by the commentary: ‘Goethe has composed Oriental mores and feelings into the Divan’,[5] a paraphrase of Goethe’s orientalising project: to translate the pure, poetic spirit of the Orient into tangible literary production. If this point remains moot, however, what is clear is that the poems from Goethe’s Divan included in Myrthen: ‘Freisinn’ (which also borrows from Hammer’s Qu’ranic translations published in the Fundgruben),[6] ‘Talismane’, the two Lieder ‘aus dem Schenkenbuch’, and, of course, ‘Suleika’ (the resonance of whom we will explore later in the series), served a specific purpose: to herald a new world of discovery. This new world was not the Orient per se but the Occidental delights of marriage. How much it differs from our Jüngling in ‘Schöner Augen’! The staunchly Occidental function of the Orient offers one plausible reason for its presence in German garb, i.e. conspicuously without modish signifiers of the Orient, such as modal-minor colorations or jangling Turkish numbers.

Schumann simply presents us with an epigrammatic, dignified Qu’ranic translation into a German Lied. In fact, the musical setting resembles more of a prayer. It begins with a C major arpeggio in the voice first in an upwards figuration and then in downwards motion, imitating the fanfares of brass instruments to the accompaniment of percussive slaps in the piano. The first two poetic lines set to music form a discrete whole: ‘The Orient is God’s’ represents the antecedent phrase, moving upwards; the ‘Occident is God’s’ presents the consequent, mowing downwards. After the prayer-like four lines, the music adopts a chorale-like texture: implied four-part harmony in the piano part, a steady though not ponderous harmonic rhythm, above which the voice articulates dotted fanfare rhythms. The middle section translates the portent of confusion and danger into a serpentine and digressive piano figuration, which is subsequently obliterated by the confirmation of God’s protectorate over the northernly and southerly lands in the form of a recapitulation and a comparatively lengthy ‘Amen’ coda.

The Orient, Schumann’s talisman, betokens strength, fortitude and the marriage of two cultures. As Goethe silently intoned — in his Nachlaß and not in the Divan — ‘Orient und Occident sind nicht mehr zu trennen’.[7]

[1] Erich Trunz ‘Anmerkungen’ in Goethes Werke. Band II (München: Hamburger Ausgabe, 1978), 554.

[2] Joseph von Hammer, ‘Vorrede’, Fundgruben des Orients, Vol. 4 (Wien, 1814). Laßt uns hoffen, daß der goldene Friede auch der orientalischen Litteratur auf dem Continente günstig lächeln, und auch uns Minengräbern, als goldgrabende Ameisen, in den Stand setzen werde, mehrere Schätze den goldbewahrenden Greifen des Orients zu entreißen.

[3] Joseph von Hammer, Motenebbi, der größte arabische Dichter. Zum ersten Mahle ganz übersetzt (Wien, 1824), XXXVIII.

[4] John Daverio, Crossing Paths: Schubert, Schumann, Brahms (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 85.

[5] Clara und Robert Schumann (Eva Weissweiler, ed.), Briefwechsel, Band I, 1832–1838 (Stroemfeld/Roter Stern: Frankfurt am Main, 1984), 152.

[6] Baher Mohamed Elgohary, Joseph Freiherr von Hammer-Purgstall (1774–1856): Ein Vermittler orientalischer Literatur (Stuttgart: Akademischer Verlag Heinz, 1979), 259.

[7] Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (ed. Erich Trunz), ‘Aus dem Nachlaß [des Divans]’, Goethes Werke. Band II, 121.

An experimental channel for discussing music & literature by Anhad Arora and Henrike Lähnemann

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