Lyric Symphony

I heard the New York Philharmonic last night, in a concert of Beethoven’s overture to The Creatures of Prometheus, Mozart’s Prague Symphony, and Zemlinsky’s Lyric Symphony, with Thomas Hampson and Hillevi Martinpelto. I’d never heard of Zemlinsky before, though he was quite famous in his time. He was a late late Romantic composer and in fact was a teacher of Schoenberg and Berg. The Lyric Symphony was written around 1920, as Zemlinsky’s version of Schubert’s Das Lied und die Ende. I couldn’t quite make sense of the piece, despite Hampson’s interesting lecture on it the previous week. The lecture left me with more philosophical questions than information about Zemlinsky, however. The piece uses poetry of the great Rabindranath Tagore, which I wanted to share.

Texts from Zemlinsky’s Lyric Symphony

I.
I am restless, I am thirsty for far away things
My soul rambles in longing
to touch the dark hem of the world.
Oh great eons, oh impetuous calls of your flute,
I forget, I ever forget,
That I have no wings to fly,
that I am bound to this piece of Earth
for all time.

I am much in need and watchful,
I am a stranger in a foreign land;
Your spirit comes to me
and whispers impossible hopes.
Your familiar voice rings in my ears
like you are here.
Oh distant goal, oh impetuous calls of your flute,
I forget, I ever forget,
That I do not know the way,
That I do not have a high spirited horse.

I am restless, I am a wanderer in my heart.
In the sun flecked mist of the uncertain hours
What huge pictures of you form
in the blue sky.
Oh immensity, oh impetuous calls of your flute.
I forget, I ever forget,
that the doors are everywhere closed in the house
where I live alone, oh immensity,
Oh impetuous calls of your flute.

II.
Mother, the young Prince
must come past our door,
How can I pay attention to my work
this morning?
Mother, show me, how shall I plait my hair;
Show me, what clothes shall I wear?
Why do you look at me so surprised, Mother?
Well I know it will not be the only time
I look out of my window.
I know I shall only be in his sight for a moment;
Only the echoing notes of the flute
will softly reach me from afar,
But the young Prince will be passing among us
And I want to look my best
for this moment.

Mother, the young Prince
is come to our door,
and the morning sun shines on his carriage,
I draw the veil across my face,
Tear the ruby necklace from my throat
and throw it to him in the road.
Why do you look at me so surprised, Mother?
I know well, that he would not take up my necklace.
I know he would crush it under his wheels
and leave a red streak back in the dust.
And no one knows what my present was,
and who gave it]
But the young Prince came over to our door
and I [have then] thrown the jewels from my breast
into the road [for him].

III.
You are the evening cloud
floating in the sky of my dreams.
I paint you and fashion you
ever with my love longings.
You are my own, my own,
Dweller in my endless dreams!

Your feet are rosy-red
with the glow of my heart’s desire,
Gleaner of my sunset songs!
Your lips are bitter-sweet
with the taste of my wine of pain.
You are my own, my own,
Dweller in my lonesome dreams!

With the shadow of my passion
have I darkened your eyes,
Haunter of the depth of my gaze!
I have caught you and wrapt you,
my love, in the net of my music.
You are my own, my own,
Dweller in my deathless dreams!

IV.
Speak to me, my love.
Tell me with words what you are singing.
The night is dark,
The stars are lost in the clouds,
The wind sighs through the leaves.
I will loose my hair,
My blue cloak will enfold you like the night.
I will enclose your head on my breast,
And here in the sweet solitude
Let your heart speak.
I will close my eyes and listen.
I will not look in your face
when you have finished speaking,
Let us sit still and silent,
Only the trees will rustle in the dark,
Night will lighten, the day will dawn,
We will look into each other’s eyes
and each go their own way.
Speak to me, my love.

V.
Release me from the bonds of your sweetness, Love
No more of your wine the kiss,
This mist from your holy smoke stifles my heart.
Open the door, make room for the light of morning.
I am lost in you.
Ensnared in the riches of your affection.
Free me from your spell
and give me back my courage,
My liberated heart will be ever grateful.

VI.
Finished then the last song
and let us go our separate ways,
Forget these nights when night is o’er.
Whom do I bother to take in my arms?
Dreams do not permit themselves to be captured,
My greedy hands press empty on my heart
and weigh on my breast.

VII.
Peace, my heart,
Let the time for parting be sweet;
Let it not be a death,
but an achievement.
Let love melt in the memory
and pain [melt] in song.

Let the last touch of your hand be soft,
Like a night flower.
Be quiet, be quiet, oh wonderful end,
for just one moment,
and speak your last word in silence.
I bow before you;
I hold my lamp high
To light you on your way.

Read the German text here.

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