In one powerful image of a wanderer contemplating the mystery of a fog-shrouded world, Caspar David Friedrich, the greatest German landscape painter, captured the zeitgeist of the Romantic era. But it was a pair of profound poems, Johann Wolfgang Goethe’s “Wanderer’s Nightsong,” written on another mountaintop some 40 years earlier, that set the metaphorical wanderer on a search for life’s meaning.
Variously mystic or anguished poet, the wanderer travels through the art, music, poetry, and philosophy of 19th century Europe and even America, but it is in Germany, the very center of Romantic attitudes to nature, that the journey is most compelling.
In his second lecture on the intersection of landscape and the Romantic imagination, James Reel will discuss Germany’s nature philosophers, writers, and composers, many of whom drew inspiration from one another to create enduring works of art. The program begins at 2:30 p.m. Thursday (May 11) in the ASA Great Room.
It was a productive age for music fused with storytelling. Robert Schumann’s “Papillons” (butterflies) was based on an incident in a novel of the time. Although Austrian, Franz Schubert wrote lieder drawn from descriptive German poems, including the song cycle “Winterreise” (winter journey) and the melodic theme for his “Wanderer Fantasy,” a pianistic tour de force. Felix Mendelssohn found his symphonic muse in the countrysides of Italy and Scotland.
One of the most versatile Romantics, playwright Friedrich von Schiller, sometimes called the German Shakespeare, was a prodigious poet as well. His “Ode to Joy” (1785), which Beethoven set to music for the ending of his Ninth Symphony, was chosen as the anthem of the European Union two centuries later.
The remaining talks in the series will cover the Romantic era in England (May 18) and in America (May 25).
Written by Caroline Bates, Academy Village Volunteer