On Renée Fleming's January
11 recital, you'll find none of the spiritual struggle that marks
the Rilke poetry of Brad
Mehldau's Book of Hours in the Zemlinksy songs. The poems
he sets are by Richard Dehmel, they depict an affair between a married
woman and a man, and they are about as carnal as they come.
To anyone familiar with Dehmel (1863–1920), that's not a surprise. He
caused a scandal—and made his name—in German-speaking countries when he
tackled unspeakable (for the time, in 1896) sexual subjects in his
notorious Weib und Welt (Woman and World). As our program
notes writer Susan Youens puts it, his "erotic frankness dismayed
the more puritanical denizens of the German-speaking world."
Apparently, one of those unnerved by Dehmel's subject matter was
Rilke. In correspondence from 1903, he warns that Dehmel
"is so infinitely frightening, full of adultery and
confusion, far from the real destinies which make us suffer more than
these temporal glooms, but also give us more opportunity for greatness
and more courage for eternity."
This pretty well sums up the difference between the two poets. With
Mehldau and Zemlinsky on the same program next week, you'll get a chance
to hear two musical outlooks on them as well.