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Song Beyond the NationTranslation, Transnationalism, Performance$
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Philip Ross Bullock and Laura Tunbridge

Print publication date: 2021

Print ISBN-13: 9780197267196

Published to British Academy Scholarship Online: September 2021

DOI: 10.5871/bacad/9780197267196.001.0001

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Performance Matters in Heine: The Case of Pauline Viardot’s ‘Das ist ein schlechtes Wetter’

Performance Matters in Heine: The Case of Pauline Viardot’s ‘Das ist ein schlechtes Wetter’

(p.94) 5 Performance Matters in Heine: The Case of Pauline Viardot’s ‘Das ist ein schlechtes Wetter’
Song Beyond the Nation

Benjamin Binder

British Academy

Heinrich Heine’s poem ‘Das ist ein schlechtes Wetter’ (Die Heimkehr 29) can be read as a meta-poem about the ambivalence of his ironic art. The poet looks through his window into the stormy darkness, and we cannot tell if his perceptions of a mother carrying groceries and her daughter sitting at home are real or imagined. Reception of the poem has been similarly divided, with some critics likening the poem to a genre painting in a realist vein, and others citing it as another manifestation of Heine’s love-hate relationship with Romantic idealism. Literary translations and musical settings of the poem each take their own stand on the poem’s ambiguities, but the manner and context of performance will be crucial to what any presentation or adaptation of the poem might mean. A particularly cosmopolitan example of such a context is Pauline Viardot’s intimate Karlsuhe salon in the winter of 1869. In performing her own musical setting of the poem in this environment, Viardot seems to have identified with the mother represented in the poem and performs herself as a caring, nurturing matriarch to her own daughters. Ivan Turgenev must have been present at this performance, and his Russian singing translation of Viardot’s song corroborates this sentimental interpretation. Meanwhile, Louis Pomey’s French singing translation, decidedly more acerbic and cutting, may have been prepared for a more public audience interested primarily in Heine’s wit rather than Viardot’s personal family relationships. Finally, a contemporaneous passage in Viardot’s correspondence reveals her offense at Richard Wagner’s recently re-published essay Das Judentum in der Musik and suggests a political performance context for her song in which Viardot now expresses quasi-maternal sympathy for her Jewish colleagues maligned by Wagner’s screed and defends the notion of a cosmopolitan, international family of artists.

Keywords:   Heinrich Heine, Pauline Viardot, Ivan Turgenev, Louis Pomey, Richard Wagner, Performance, Translation, Irony, anti-Semitism

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