We continue the Wilhelm Meister's songs series. In the previous post we left Wilhelm on a business trip after his breaking up with Mariane and the theatre, at the very moment he goes to a small town for a few days to take a rest. A place where he will meet some of the characters that will go with him throughout the novel and will come across old acquaintances.
David spielt vor Saul - G. Schick
David toca davant Saül - G. Schick
The first three people Wilhelm meets are Philine and Laertes, actress and actor, and Friedrich, Philine's servant; Philine and Laertes arrived at that town in search of work in a local theatre company, but the company has already dissolved and its members are scattered. Wilhelm's also coincides with a rope-dancing company; when he sees the company’s surly master beating up a little girl, Mignon, he argues with him and pays some coins to set her free. He feels comfortable with Philine and Laertes and becomes responsible for Mignon, so he extends his stay in the nameless town (towns in this novel haven’t got a name). And then, who is the one arriving? Melina and Madame Melina, the couple Wilhelm helped some years before; they are also heading for the theatre company.

They aren't the only people looking for a job; more actors and actresses arrive, including an old man that Wilhelm met in his own town. He asks him about Marianne and the actor, sad and hurt, says he has lost track of her. He explains to Wilhelm that he loved the girl like a daughter and helped her when she was fired because of her pregnancy; after delivery she stopped answering his letters and he knows nothing more about her.

Wilhelm feels confused. He has mixed feelings now. He’s sad because he misses Mariane; guilty because her son could be his (remember that he was completely unaware of her pregnancy); attracted to Philine but also determined to keep away from women; comfortable with the group of actors and actresses even though their selfishness annoys him; he wants to go away as soon as possible because he supposes he won't be able to resist the theatre's call but he also wants to stay because he is fascinated by Mignon.

So there comes a day that Wilhelm, the Melinas, Laertes and Philine are having lunch. All of them are in a bad mood, among other things, because the night before they had a party and punch created havoc. They can’t stop arguing and give dirty looks to each other until the landlord announces that a harpist could entertain them with his music. Only Wilhelm accepts him willingly.

Eventually, in chapter 11 of Book II, we come to the first song of the novel, Was hor'ich vor dem Tor draußen (What notes are those without the wall). It's a ballad: a king hears a singer at his castle's entry and asks the singer to go in to entertain his court. The king is so pleased that he offers the singer a gold chain as a reward, but he refuses and asks for a glass of wine instead; he feels paid with the joy of being able to sing. This idealized image of Art corresponds to Wilhelm's, perhaps that's why the young man is so deeply moved when he listens to this song. The harpist, however, is more practical and accepts, in addition to a glass of wine, some coins the group gives him. He will also sing the next two songs in the novel, so soon we will see that the nature of this song is very different from the others he sings, which are sad and reveal his tormented personality.

This is the only Wilhelm Meister's song that Carl Loewe composed; Not surprisingly, it's the only ballad among the songs and Loewe was the king of ballads. It was published with the name Der Sänger, and it's the second of the Three Ballades, Op. 59. We are listening to the song performed by the baritone Morten Ernst Lassen accompanied by Cord Graben.
Der Sänger 

"Was hör' ich draußen vor dem Tor,
Was auf der Brücke schallen?
Laß den Gesang vor unserm Ohr
Im Saale widerhallen!"
Der König sprach's, der Page lief,
Der Page kam, der König rief:
"Laßt mir herein den Alten!"

"Gegrüßet seid mir, edle Herrn,
Gegrüßt ihr schönen Damen!
Welch' reicher Himmel! Stern bei Stern!
Wer kennet ihre Namen?
Im Saal voll Pracht und Herrlichkeit
Schließt, Augen, euch, hier ist nicht Zeit,
Sich staunend zu ergötzen."

Der Sänger drückt' die Augen ein
Und schlug in vollen Tönen:
Die Ritter schauten mutig drein,
Und in den Schoß die Schönen.
Der König, dem das Lied gefiel,
Ließ, ihn zu lohnen für sein Spiel,
Eine goldne Kette holen.

"Die goldne Kette gib mir nicht,
Die Kette gib den Rittern,
Vor deren kühnem Angesicht
Der Feinde Lanzen splittern.
Gib sie dem Kanzler, den du hast,
Und laß ihn noch die goldne Last
Zu andern Lasten tragen.

"Ich singe, wie der Vogel singt,
Der in den Zweigen wohnet;
Das Lied, das aus der Kehle dringt,
Ist Lohn, der reichlich lohnet.
Doch darf ich bitten, bitt' ich eins:
Laß mir den besten Becher Weins
In purem Golde reichen."

Er setzt' ihn an, er trank ihn aus:
"O Trank voll süßer Labe!
O, wohl dem hochbeglückten Haus,
Wo das ist kleine Gabe!
Ergeht's euch wohl, so denkt an mich
Und danket Gott so warm, als ich
Für diesen Trunk euch danke."

“What notes are those without the wall,
Across the portal sounding?
Let’s have the music in our hall,
Back from its roof rebounding.”
So spoke the king, the henchman flies;
His answer heard, the monarch cries:
“Bring in that ancient minstrel.”

“Hail, gracious king, each noble knight!
Each lovely dame, I greet you!
What glittering stars salute my sight!
What heart unmov’d may meet you!
Such lordly pomp is not for me,
Far other scenes my eyes must see:
Yet deign to list my harping.”

The singer turns him to his art,
A thrilling strain he raises;
Each warrior hears with glowing heart,
And on his lov’d one gazes.
The king, who liked his playing well,
Commands, for such a kindly spell,
A golden chain be given him.

“The golden chain give not to me;
Thy boldest knight may wear it,
Who cross’d the battle’s purple sea
On lion-breast may bear it:
Or let it be thy chancellor’s prize,
Amid his heaps to feast his eyes,
Its yellow glance will please him.

I sing but as the linnet sings,
That on the green bough dwelleth
A rich reward his music brings,
As from his throat it swelleth:
Yet might I ask, I’d ask of thine
One sparkling draught of purest wine,
To drink it here before you.”

He view’d the wine, he quaff’d it up:
“O draught of sweetest savour!
O happy house, where such a cup
Is thought a little favour!
If well you fare, remember me,
And thank kind Heaven, from envy free,
As now for this I thank you.”

(translation by Thomas Carlyle)

Read more: Bread with tears

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