You know this intriguingly nightmare-inducing production of Die Entführung aus dem Serail? And how at the end Selim is reciting poetry and Konstanze says something like “oh, Selim, that’s beautiful!” ?
Well, I was minding my own business the other night, listening to Werner Güra sing some Hugo Wolf songs, and there was some business in one of them about a pine tree and two black horses and it began to seem to me that I had heard this somewhere before. I had, of course, not two weeks previous from Dorothea Röschmann courtesy of the Edinburgh Festival. But I had heard it somewhere even more before than that.
Oh yes. The poem that Selim recites is Eduard Mörike’s “Denk es, o Seele!” which was set by Hugo Wolf. He even says so, right there in the opera. (He says that it was by Mörike, not that it was set by Wolf.) But I didn’t take any notice at the time, as I had no reason then to know who Mörike was.
The first time I heard the poem, and indeed the first few times I heard the song, I thought of it as being addressed to another person, not as the title and the repetition of the title as a line in the song indicate (though I guess “my soul” could refer to someone else in a sort of metaphorical sense). This made the poem feel sort of creepy and threatening, as it’s about telling whoever is listening that the horses are out there which will draw your hearse; the tree is out there that will grow on your grave, etc. But if the speaker is just chatting up his own soul, it’s yet another dark little meditation on death, and Romantic poetry has baskets and baskets of those.
As far as interpretation of Entführung goes, though, I am not sure that adding Hugo Wolf to the mix would necessarily clarify much of anything.
I do wonder though – perhaps someone will be able to tell me – would Mörike be recognizable to your average opera-house crowd in Germany? I mean, if I was at the Met and someone interrupted a Mozart opera and started reciting Walt Whitman or Emily Dickinson, I’d figure that we were intended to get the reference, since we all had to read those two in high school. With, say, Amy Lowell I would not assume familiarity. But I have no idea where Mörike would fall on the familiarity spectrum.
(Also, I’ve finally memorized the Mac keyboard shortcut for umlauts. I äm nöw thë qüeen of speedilÿ rendered diacritical märks! Yåy!) (As an English speaker, I of course secretly believe that adding little dots and things to vowels to indicate how they are actually pronounced is a sign of weakness and a failure of character. Bootstraps, etc.)