• A Poet Who’s Far from Heaven

    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.