So where does gay sensibility come in?

So where does gay sensibility come in?

His early lyric poems, written under his own name, have important gay references in them

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What? Strauss is a composer known for his devotion to the female voice and a who used his own family life as the subject for his work. In 1897 Strauss wrote Vier Lieder Op. 27 as a wedding gift for his wife. The songs include Morgen and Heimlich Aufforderung, songs which have been beloved of sopranos ever since. The opening of Morgen with its long violin melody which is taken up by the soprano is just about perfect. Except of course that Strauss originally wrote it for piano, and when he recorded it himself (which he did twice) he used a male voice. Now, I once heard Dietrich Fischer Dieskau sing the song and frankly, was not completely convinced. So what is going on?

Well, for a start the words of Morgen and Heimlich Aufforderung are by John Henry Mackay. A poet and writer who was born in Scotland of a Scots father and German mother but from the age of two was taken back to Germany by his mother. Mackay was what we would call nowadays a gay activist, but such terms are anachronistic. He was an anarchist, but also wrote important early gay texts under his own name and under his pseudonym. But the Gemeinschaft der Eigenen was not founded till 1903, well after Mackay wrote his lyric poems.

It was two of these that Strauss chose to set. If you read an English translation then the hints become clear:-

Morgen And tomorrow the sun will shine again And on the way which I shall follow She will again unite us lucky ones As all around us the earth breathes in the sun Slowly, silently, we will climb down To the wide beach and the blue waves In silence, we will look in each other’s eyes And the mute stillness of happiness will sink upon us Heimlich Aufforderung Up, raise the sparkling cup to your lips, And drink your heart’s fill at the joyous feast. And when you raise it, so wink secretly at me, Then I’ll smile and drink quietly, as you. And quietly as I, look around at the crowd Of drunken revelers — don’t think too ill of them. No, lift the twinkling cup, filled with wine, And let them be happy at the noisy meal. But when you’ve savoured the meal, your thirst quenched, Then quit the loud gathering’s joyful feast, And wander out into the garden, to the rosebush, There shall I await you, as often of old. And ere you know it shall I sink upon your breast, And drink your kisses, as so often before, And twine the rose’s splendour into your hair. Oh, come, you wondrous, longed-for night!

Of course, the poems can be read a number of ways, which is very much the way with gay literature of the period. And we don’t know what Strauss really thought. But he did know Mackay. His interest in Mackay seems to have originally stemmed from the fact that Mackay had intended (in 1889) to write a biography of the philosopher Max Stirner (1806-1856) and it was this link to the philosopher of egoism that appealed to Strauss. Evidently the two of them had a passionate discussion about Mackay’s book The Anarchists and then two weeks later Strauss set these two Mackay lyrics. Contact between the two men stopped by 1902.

His main interest was in fact younger men and had strong links to the Gemeinschaft der Eigenen which could be described as a sort of gay scouting movement and rejected the theories of Magnus Hirschfeld

You only have to listen to Jonas Kaufmann’s recording of Morgen to find all sorts of interesting resonances in it. And, yes, Kaufmann has convinced me that having the song sung by a male voice is not just possible, but works wonderfully well age gap dating dating site free.

You can find Kaufmann’s performance on Youtube. There is more information about Richard Strauss and John Henry Mackay in Hubert Kennedy’s article in Thamyris 2.

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