Wednesday, 13 January 2016


One of Strauss's best known Songs, written when he was 18 going on 19 based on a poem by Hermann von Gilm.
What is it about? Clearly a love song. But is there more to it? What is "Einst hielt ich, der Freiheit Zecher, Hoch den Amethysten-Becher" all about? Translates as "Once, celebrating freedom, I Held high the amethyst beaker". The celebration is clearly a drunken one and Zecher can be taken as refering to a drinking party along the lines of an ancient Greek symposium (Trinkgelage, Zechgelage). Since ancient times, an "amethyst beaker" was used at drinking parties, because amethyst was seen as reducing the effects of alcohol. Glass beakers with an amethyst color were commom in 19th century Germany (and elsewhere) for drinking wine (a Bohemian amethyst beaker from 1860 is shown below) .
What happens next? "And you blessed the drink...And you exorcised the evils in it..." Perhaps the song refers to someone who saved the narrator from the evils of drink? Now, in 1882 Strauss went to university (the local one at Munich) to study philosophy. What did students in Germany do at that time: meet together and drink a lot of alcohol. Strauss was tee-total for most of his life (his main vice being smoking): perhaps he used the freedom of university to experiment with drink and was saved? We can probably never know if the song had a personal application for him, but clearly the Gilm poem has some such meaning. So far as I can find out, Gilm had not an advocate of revolutionary political ideas, so the "Freedom" being celebrated is not political -so probably not 1848 and all that.
It would not be for the fist time that the love of a good woman (or man) had saved a man (or woman) from the evils of drink! So, yes it is a love song, but with a special meaning.


Yes, you know it, dearest soul,
How I suffer far from you,
Love makes the heart sick,
I thank you.

Once, celebrating freedom,
I Held high the amethyst beaker,
And you blessed the drink,
I thank you.

And you exorcised the evils in it,
Until, as never before,
Blessed, blessed, I sank upon your heart,
I thank you.

PS. Habe Dank - simply one of many ways of saying "Thank you". No native English speaker says "Have thanks"- maybe Borat - so that is just a lazy translation. I simply go for the simple "I thank you". Others have "Thanks to you", which has the advantage it fits the music.

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Vor den Türen, 1935.

Strauss wrote 3 pieces for a Male voice choir in 1935, of which this is the most popular. It is a setting of a poem by Friedrich Rückert. The translation is quite straightforward. However, as usual Strauss makes some alterations. In particular he changes the ending to create quite a moving end! The last line of Ruckert "für Viele im Grab noch Rast" becomes "Viele rast im Grab." A slight change, but together "for many there is rest in the grave, for many in the grave, many rest in the grave". It is a nice effect, which Strauss creates in the music and words. I put in italix repetitions that Strauss adds. Each repetition stresses a darker side. The final phrase balances (many) finding rest with the simple fact of many being in the grave. The double meaning in German is the same as english: to find rest in the grave (good), and simply to rest in the grave, i.e. be dead (not so good). The text added by Strauss is in italix.

Why did Strauss change the ending in this way? In the Ruckert we have a journey through life from optimism: he seeks wealth, honour at the first two doors and gets nothing. Then he tries work and just finds suffering (weh und Ach!). Contentement? No one knows where to find it. Things look pretty bad. But a last ray of hope: the quiet house, to find rest in the grave. This is where Ruckert ends. Strauss, however, adds a further twist as the hope is turned to a realisation that as with everyone, there is just death - an end. Strauss was not a believer in the metaphysical and took a materialistic view to life. The musical journey perfectly reflects the poetry: it starts of as jaunty and optimistic, but becomes darker. The narrator starts his journey to each door with some hope, but it always ends in failure and finally in death. However, it is not a bleak ending: the final chord is G major. So perhaps the song does come "to rest"?

Another dimension of the Strauss extension is the repeated use of Viele. This was written in 1935 and performed by a male voice choir. World war one had started only 21 years previously and ended just over 17 years. Many of those singing would have been in the war and this last meditative passage would have bought to mind to singers and audience the "many" people they had known as friends, fathers, uncles and cousins who had died in the war and now rest in the grave. This aspect of remembrance is absent from the original Rückert.

Vor den Türen
Ich habe geklopft an des Reichtums Haus;
Man reicht mir 'nen Pfennig zum Fenster heraus.
Ich habe geklopft an der Liebe Thür;
Da standen schon fünfzehn Andre dafür.
Ich klopfte leis' an der Ehre Schloß;
"Hier thut man nur auf dem Ritter zu Roß."
Ich habe gesucht der Arbeit Dach;
Da hört' ich drinnen nur Weh und Ach!
Nur Weh und Ach.
Ich suchte das Haus der Zufriedenheit;
Es kannt' es niemand weit und breit.
Nun weiß ich noch ein Häuslein still,
Wo ich zuletzt anklopfen will.
Zwar wohnt darin schon macher Gast,
Doch ist für Viele im Grab noch Rast,
für Viele im Grab noch Rast,
für Viele im Grab, Viele,
Viele rast im Grab.

Translation: At the Doors.

I knocked at the house of wealth;
I was handed a penny through the window.
I knocked on the door of love;
There were already fifteen others in line ahead of me.
I knocked softly at the castle of honour;
"Here we open only to knights on horseback."
I looked for the house that sheltered labour;
Within I heard only cries of woe! Cries of woe!
I searched for the house of contentment;
No one far and wide knew of it. No one from far and wide
Now I still know of a quiet little house
At which I shall finally knock.
True, there are many guests therein already,
But for many more still there is the grave for rest,
for many there is the grave for rest,
In the grave, for many,
many rest in the grave.

Notturno, Opus 44, Number 1, (TrV 197). 1899.

Notturno is a difficult text to deal with. It is a Ricahrd Dehmel poem set to music by Richard Strauss in 1899.  Part of the problem lies in the fact that there are mutliple versions of the Dehmel poem. Strauss based his lyrics on the original 1891 version titled " Erscheinung". There is an excellent wikipedia page on the Stauss setting, so I will not comment on the details. However, whilst there are translations of the original Dehmel poem, there is no generally available translation of the actual German text as set by Strauss. It is not easy to translate, and there are many possibilites. One example that troubled me was how to translate the refrain "der tiefen Wunde dunkles Mal". Dunkles mal can mean "dark times", but it can also mean "dark mark". I first translated it as "the Deep wound of dark times"; however, after discussions with German friends opted for "the dark mark of a deep wound". I have also tried to keep the translation so that it follows line by line the German: this is not always the best "free" English translation.

The moon hung high; the snowfield
Lay pale and dreary all around us,
Like my soul pale and empty,
For next to me, so silent and savage,
As rigid and cold as my distress,
As if he would never leave,
Stiffly, waiting, sat Death..

Again it came, still so mild,
So weary and gentle
In the distance of night.
So full of grief,
The breath of his violin came nearer,
And before me stood his silent image.

He who entwined me like a ribbon
So that my youth did not fall apart,
And that my heart might find the desire,
The great aimless longing.
So now he stands on the barren land,
And stands so sad and solemn,
And neither looked up nor greeted me,
Just letting his music float around
Crying through the cold fields;
And only staring at me
From his brow,
Like a pale and hollow eye,
The dark mark of a deep wound.

Gloomily swelled the gloomy song,
And grew hotter, gushing, swelling,
As hot and full,
As life that burns for love,
As love that screams for life,
And for unattained bliss,
So woefull, Swelling up,
The flowing song flooded;
And quietly, quietly bled and flowing together
Into the bleak snow-field, red and pale,
The dark mark of a deep wound.

And tired slid the tired hand,
And before me stood
A bleak day,
A distant, bleak day of youth,
When rigid in the sand
His withered bloom lay,
With his desire lost.
In his great melancholy
And his tired sadness,
He strode toward the goal;
Loudly wailed the weeping song,
Aching and flowing,
And the lament of his strings cut,
And his brow bled
Weeping with my souls distress,
As if I should hear a commandment,
As if I should rejoice in my suffering,
As if he wanted to feel my suffering
Feel together all the guilt of all suffering
And all the warm grace of life -
And weeping, bleeding he turned away
Into the bleak darkness and faded away

And with trembling I heard his song
Receding and escaping from me.
And how tender, trembling
The distant pleading of the long tones,
I felt a cold breeze rustling
And laden with dread
I felt an ominous quiet in the air,
And trembling, I wanted now to see him,
To see him listening,
He, who waited and sat with my misery,
And I turned -- there lay empty
The bleak field, silent and pale
Death too vanished into the darkness.

The moon hung high; gentle and tired
Into the empty night,
Vanished the pleading song,
And vanished, gone,
Was my dead friend’s pleading song.

Please note: as with all of these posts, I assert the copyright. However, I am happy for them to be used freely so long as they are attributed. "Translation by Huw Zosimos (2016)" with URL to this Blog is sufficient. Any suggestions or comments to improve the tranlsation are welcome!

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Welcome to my new Blog.  The main purpose of this Blog is to provide un-copyrighted translations of the Songs of Richard Strauss (and others) and other matters.  Many of the translations I do myself, others are out of copyright.  If you do use them, I would be grateful if you gave me an attribution:  "translated by Huw Zosimos".


PS. The name "Huw" is a Welsh spelling of the name "Hugh" or "Ugo". It is pronounced the same as Hugh, or in Welsh slightly differently (Kh-ee-oo).  The name "Zosimos" is a Greek name. I live in Swansea. The picture is a self-portrait I did of myself a few years ago.