Monday, November 12, 2007

Schumann and the Romantic Age

Marcel Brion’s Schumann and the Romantic Age (1956) is mostly about Robert Schumann, his life and work. The book is well written, and Schumann’s life makes for a first-rate story – his fight to marry Clara, the madness that destroyed him, his continual creative struggle.

But then there’s the Romantic Age, meaning the world of Liszt and Chopin, but also Romantic literature – German literature. This book about music is also an essay on a body of work that is unfortunately obscure and difficult to access. The first chapter is basically about Schumann’s early reading – Hoffmann, Tieck, Goethe, and huge quantities of Jean Paul. A later chapter gives us a quick history of lieder, where the ties to German poetry are obvious.

For some reason, this group of writers has never quite found favor in England or America. As a result, translations are rare or non-existent, even of some major works. Brion, discussing Schumann’s one opera (Genoveva, never performed anymore), says that he had to choose between two different treatments of the saint’s life, one by Ludwig Tieck and the other by Friedrich Hebbel, one gentle, the other tragic. Both sound very interesting. Good luck to the reader without German.

What is frustrating is that the stories and poems I have been able to track down are inevitably interesting, and often brilliant. Tieck’s story Blonde Eckbert is a dream-like masterpiece. Adelbert von Chamisso’s Peter Schlemihl, about a man who sells his shadow, and Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué’s Undine, about the perils of marrying a water spirit, are almost as good. Then there’s Schumann’s favorite, Jean Paul, Laurence Sterne’s great disciple.

There are exceptions – Goethe, Kleist, Grimms’ Fairy Tales, even as difficult a writer as Hölderlin are fairly easily available. But why is it so hard to find a translation of E.T.A. Hoffmann’s “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King”, an enormously famous story thanks to Tchaikovsky? Why has his great novel The Devil’s Elixir been out of print since the 1960s?

These writers have had their champions – Carlyle, Poe, Ford Madox Ford. They translated, they advocated, they became frustrated, in the last regard much like me.


  1. Do I ever feel your pain!
    I've spent the last two years "tracking down" early English translations of the German Romantics for a series of novels I'm writing celebrating 18th and 19th Century Literature … specifically German Romantic Literature.
    Yes, works of the greatest poets are available (Goethe, Schiller, Heine). Thanks to Thomas Carlyle's 1827 "German Romance" for examples of Jean Paul, Tieck, Hoffman, Musäus and Fouqué and his other fine translations of Goethe. I praise the works of Carlyle … for he writes of the German Romantics often!
    Henry Morley's 1845 "Dreams of the Lilybell" is perhaps the first translation of Novalis' "Hymns to the Night"(as George MacDonald translated so beautifully later in the century) plus Jean Paul's "Death of an Angel."
    In "German Classics" (1913) Vol 4 are further examples of Jean Paul, Wilhelm v. Humboldt, AW and F. Schlegel, Hölderlin, Tieck and Heinrich v. Kleist. See also Charles Timothy Brooks’ 1862 2-volume translation of Jean Paul's "Titan" (Tignor & Fields). Also Henry Christmas' 1861 2-volume translation of C.M. von Wieland's "Republic of Fools.”
    My particular passion: Goethe’s “Faust” was translated 24 times between the period of 1823 to 1871; and I’ve managed to acquire 14 of these. More translations of our beloved German Romantics are out there … but they are sometimes very difficult and expensive to find. So I would welcome any news on early translations!
    Meanwhile, for Josef von Eichendorff, and all the other German Romantics we cannot find, the translations on Emily Ezust’s “Lied and Art Song Page” ( remain an excellent and most appreciated resource!

  2. Thanks, Linda, this is very useful. Some of what you listed I've read, some is new to me, all of it is interesting. Thanks also for the Lieder site - a source for the poets I had not considered.

    And good luck with those novels. Your project sounds ambitious. Let me know when I can read one of them!

  3. I have also been trying to find translations of these writers. I am a musician and as you know Schumann is one of the key composers for the piano from the Romantic period. I would argue that his piano works to 1839 are seminal to much of what came after in 19th century music.

    At least two major works by Schumman are based on Novels by Jean Paul. But I cannot find them. Surely, by now, Google has run into one or two of these! But no.. nada...

    thanks for hits wonderful post. Most insightful!

  4. I know there are some very old Jean Paul translations that might still be available in some university libraries. I thought these were the sorts of thing that were going to be on Google Books, but not yet.

    And even then, they might not be the works you want. It's a great shame.

    Thanks for stopping by, and good luck. Potential Jean Paul translators and publishers take not - there are at least a few readers out there.

  5. Linda: You mention Henry Morley's 19th-century translation of Novalis. Morley also translated Adelbert von Chamisso's 'Peter Schlemihl'. His translation is included in *Famous German Novellas of the 19th Century* (Mondial, 2005; ISBN: 159569014X) and is on the Gutenberg site at:

    The only Jean Paul in English trans. that I know of is in the 2nd half of *German Romantic Novellas* (vol. 34 of The German Library, published by Continuum in 1985; ISBN: 082640295X). It includes two stories: 'Army-Chaplain Schmelzles' Journey to Flatz' and 'The Life of Maria Wuz', the former in Carlyle's trans. and the latter trans. by F. and R. Storrs.

    Another volume in Continuum's series that might be of interest is *German Literary Fairy Tales* (The German Library ; Vol. 30; ISBN: 0826402771). It has a 19th-century trans. by William Makepeace Thackeray of E. T. A. Hoffmann's 'History of Krakatuk' as well as a modified version of Carlyle's trans. of Tieck's 'Fair-Haired Eckbert' ('modified' in the sense that it was "revised by the editors" F. G. Ryder and R. M. Browning).

    That last volume has also some 20th-century translations of tales by Goethe ('Fairy Tale' & 'Melusina'), Tieck ('The Runenberg'), Novalis ('Hyacinth & Rosebud' & 'Klingsohr's Tale') and Eichendorff ('Marble Statue') among others.

    You might be interested in Angel, a British publisher. In 1985 they issued *Six German Romantic Tales*, which includes Ronald Taylor's recent translations of some tales by Tieck (inc. 'Eckbert the Fair'), Kleist, and Hoffmann.

  6. Thanks for the info - this sort of thing should be easier to find.

    I know there's more Jean Paul in English because the University of Chicago librayr has them - 19th century translations of longer novels, like "Titan".

    Chamisso's "Peter Schlemihl" is a great treat - classic "guy who lost his shadow" story.

  7. I recently uncovered an anthology entitled "Jean Paul: A Reader" edited by Timothy and Erika Casey in 1991. When it shows up in the mail I'll definitely post about it on my site. I also plan to post links to all of his books now on Google (the list was provided to me by a Jean Paul enthusiast librarian) -- although of course the translations are very old and creaky.

  8. I can now confirm that Jean Paul: A Reader does indeed exist! Here's an amazon link.

    This book contains about 100 pages of biography and commentary by Timothy Casey (he's readable and has a sense of humor, thankfully) and 300 pages of selections translated by Erika Casey. Her versions are much more readable than Carlyle's.

    Since we'll probably never see a contemporary edition of Titan (T. Casey calls it Jean Paul's classic and marvels that the 19th cent. American translator completely cut the best part, the comic 'appendices'), this is the best we'll get.

    I'll be posting excerpts at my site shortly.

  9. That Jean Paul collection is a must - thanks for finding it.