A portrait of Heinrich Heine (1797 – 1856) is a difficult one to trace as it incorporates so many opposites. Still, three structural lines in this image would have to be that this most German of German writers spent the last twenty five years of his life in Paris, that this powerhouse intellect was housed in a frail and failing body, and that Heine was a Jewish man in a very Gentile world.
These fed into his perspective as outsider and shaped his lyric poems, which Theodor Adorno describes as “ready mediators between art and an everyday life bereft of meaning”. Instead of solving discrepancies, Heine manoeuvred them to cast light and shadow onto the objects observed. Forever the skeptic and never truly aligned with any movement, Heine was hero to some, enemy to others.
Nonetheless, Heine’s intense brand of Romanticism – a romanticism that dared to look dubiously at its own devices – was a beacon to composers. This recital presents a collection of Heine poems in settings by myriad composers, from Schumann and Schubert, to Liszt, Wagner, and Boulanger. For such a complicated figure as Heine, a refracted picture seems apposite.