Johann Christian Günther
“Als er gegen seine Schöne” (Johann Christian Günther), 1925 (4:00)
New edition by Austin Clarkson (Stefan Wolpe Society)

From 1924 to 1926 Wolpe composed a great deal of music for voice. Settings of Hölderlin, Kleist, Günther, Tagore, Rilke, Hans Sachs and La Fontaine run to over 1,700 bars of music. Johann Christian Günther (1695-1723) was a precursor of Goethe and the Sturm und Drang school of Romantic poets. His death at the age of 28 ended the career of a brilliant author who suffered severely from poverty, ill health and neglect. The full title of Günther’s poem is, “Als er gegen seine Schöne etwas zu frei aufgeführet hatte” (1925)[“As he, on account of his beauty, had behaved rather too freely”]. The poem expresses the utmost suffering of the lover seeking forgiveness of the beloved for his untoward behavior. Wolpe likely addressed the song to the artist Friedl Dicker (1898-1944). He met Dicker at the Bauhaus in 1920 and fell deeply in love with her. Though Dicker was in a professional and personal relationship with the architect Franz Singer, Wolpe continued to see Dicker from time to time. “Wolpe’s diary from 1924 and 1925 bear witness to his desperate struggle for the woman he loved and the ups and downs of their relationship” (Heidy Zimmermann).

The manuscript of Wolpe’s setting is missing at least two pages. The surviving pages consist of 58 bars of music for four the eight stanzas of Günther’s poem. The highly charged, fully chromatic music, with an aura of Gustav Mahler, is in the form of a through-composed scena, with piano interludes within and between the stanzas.