Thursday, 5 April 2012

Karwoche violets

Easter brings out the pious. Some genuinely so, some by rote!  So here is Eduard Mörike, set by Hugo Wolf. The poem is Karwoche. "O Woche, Zeugin heiliger Beschwerde! du stimmst so ernst zu dieser Frühlingswonne....der Frühling darf indessen immer keimen" Read the full text and excellent translation by Malcolm Wren on Emily Ezust's Lieder Texts site HERE.

Holy Week is the darkest time of the year for the truly devout, who meditate on the meaning of Jesus's death. Yet it coincides with the arrival of Spring. No accident, for Easter and the Resurrection symbolize Spring in a wider spiritual sense. Christian ideas have deep pre-Christian roots. Think Persephone, or the ancient European goddess  Ostara (variants in spelling). Or even Du Liniang, the Peony Pavilion heroine raised back to life by love. (More here - there was a fault on the broadcast site, might be OK now)

Eduard Mörike was a clergyman, but sensitive to pagan nature spirits, and to irony. So he imagines a girl plucking violets for a wreath which will wither on the altar. "Ach dort, von Trauermelodieen trunken, und süß betäubt von schweren Weihrauchdüften, sucht sie den Bräutigam in Todesgrüften, und Lieb' und Frühling, Alles ist versunken!"

The church is filled with music and incense, but around and beneath are graves. The girl is seeking her bridegroom in the vaults of the dead, "and Love, and Spring, all submerged". Hugo Wolf set this poem twice, once as piano song, once fully orchestrated. In both, the final word "versunken" drops sharply downwards, suggesting sudden chill. Perhaps it's the usual Romantic fascination with death, perhaps it's just an acknowledgement that frosts can blitz a promising Spring (as we've learned this week). Mörike and Wolf are saying, "don't count your blessings too soon".

photo : Chris Gunns

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