Holderlin, Johann - Bread and wine
Type of Spiritual Experience
In the great poems of his maturity, Hölderlin would generally adopt a large-scale, expansive and unrhymed style.
Together with these long hymns, odes and elegies – which included "Der Archipelagus" ("The Archipelago"), "Brod und Wein" ("Bread and Wine") and "Patmos" – he also cultivated a crisper, more concise manner in epigrams and couplets, and in short poems like the famous "Hälfte des Lebens" ("The Middle of Life").
In the years after his return from Bordeaux he completed some of his greatest poems but also, once they were finished, returned to them repeatedly, creating new and stranger versions sometimes in several layers on the same manuscript, which makes the editing of his works problematic.
Some of these later versions (and some later poems) are fragmentary, but they have astonishing intensity. He seems sometimes also to have considered the fragments, even with gaps and unfinished lines and incomplete sentence-structure, to be poems in themselves.
In his years of madness, Hölderlin would occasionally pen ingenuous rhymed quatrains, sometimes of a childlike beauty, which he would sign with fantastic names (most often "Scardanelli") and give fictitious dates from the previous or future centuries.
A description of the experience
Round about the city rests. The illuminated streets grow
Quiet, and coaches rush along, adorned with torches.
Men go home to rest, filled with the day's pleasures;
Busy minds weigh up profit and loss contentedly
At home. The busy marketplace comes to rest,
Vacant now of flowers and grapes and crafts.
But the music of strings sounds in distant gardens:
Perhaps lovers play there, or a lonely man thinks
About distant friends, and about his own youth.
Rushing fountains flow by fragrant flower beds,
Bells ring softly in the twilight air, and a watchman
Calls out the hour, mindful of the time.
Now a breeze rises and touches the crest of the grove —
Look how the moon, like the shadow of our earth,
Also rises stealthily! Phantastical night comes,
Full of stars, unconcerned probably about us —
Astonishing night shines, a stranger among humans,
Sadly over the mountain tops, in splendor.
Alphons set Holderlin's poem to music, here is what he said
"This morning, from 9.30-12, we sweated ourselves on it, and by now the notes are almost known. It is awfully difficult. It goes against everything an orchestra is used to. "
This short message about the orchestral rehearsal for the premiere of 'Die Nacht' in a letter by the composer of October 13, 1911, could not be more to the point. "Awfully difficult" the work is indeed, the orchestra which is able to fully realise this score may hold itself in the highest esteem. And that goes for the vocal part as well. But 'Die Nacht' is not about difficulty. First and most of all 'Die Nacht' is about beauty. Beauty on an unprecedented scale.
The performance is by Janet Baker and the Concertgebouw Orchestra conducted by Bernard Haitink on March 25, 1971.