my guide

Speaking of bachs: In December 1933 the German composer Richard Strauss wrote a song titled Das Bächlein, (originally for voice and piano but the first recording that came up is for voice and orchestra), in which a wanderer asks a mountain stream where it came from and where it is going. It answers “I come from the womb of dark rocks. A merry childlike spirit drives me onward, I know not whither. He who called me forth from the rock, He, I think, shall be my guide.”

Strauss set the words for my guide rhapsodically. There can be no doubt that he realised the double meaning of mein führer (leader/guide). There is still debate about his interactions with the Nazi regime, even though he was cleared by a denazification tribunal in 1948. In the early days he might have seen it as the (or a) solution to the chaos of the previous 20 years, but after he reluctantly accepted the position of president of the Reichsmusikkammer he quickly lost whatever illusions he had and fell from favour, especially because of his professional relationship with author Stefan Zweig and personal relationship with his daughter-in-law and her family. The song wasn’t published until after his death. 

In his CD notes for Hyperion Records, English pianist Roger Vignoles writes “If one could only ignore the thrice-repeated ‘mein Führer’ with which the poem ends, this song could be treasured as an exquisite example of Strauss in his best ‘folk-song’ mode … The whole song is perfectly crafted, and but for its questionable history deserves to be far better known.” I have a vague memory of hearing about this on a radio program (otherwise I don’t know how else I would have found out about it). I messaged Australia’s leading classical music broadcaster and asked if he remembered talking about it, and he said that he didn’t remember (which doesn’t mean that he didn’t; he just doesn’t remember. He’s talked about a lot of things over the years).

Coincidentally, and this is actually my point, one possible meaning of the name Hitler is related to mountain stream, from hiedl in Austro-Bavarian German (different dictionaries give slightly different definitions) (another is related to hütte, hut) so maybe Bach = Hitler. But Adolph Hitler had that name only by accident. His father Alois’s father was unknown, so Alois was registered under his mother’s name Schicklgruber. She later married Johann Georg Hiedler (who may have been Alois’s father) and Alois later again decided to officially adopt that name, but his step-uncle Johann Nepomuk Hiedler (who raised him after his mother and step-father died, and who may also have been his father), arranged for him to be re-registered as Hitler, for reasons no-one seems to know. (Hiedler, Hitler and a number of other spellings are for practical purposes interchangeable.) All this happened before Adolph was born, so he was only ever surnamed Hitler. History may have been different if Adolph Hiedler or Adolph Schicklgruber had entered German politics in the years following World War 1. 


3 thoughts on “my guide

    • I had a passing familiarity with Hummel, and had vaguely wondered what sort of name Nepomuk was. I listened to his preludes, etudes and some of his concertos today.
      Given the number of Giovanni Battistas and Jean Baptistes, it is perhaps surprising that there are no Johann Täufers.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I was just about to google Johann Täufer when I realized that Täufer must mean “baptizer” in German, where “taufen” means “to baptize” and is cognate with English “deep” (as in “dip in the water”).

    (Notice that more modern Bible translations refer to “John the Baptizer” rather than “John the Baptist”, evidently to avoid confusion about specific religious denominations, like how the Methodist Credo takes pains not to capitalize “catholic.”)

    Germans also like to use “Maria” as a middle name for males, as in yet another composer’s name, Carl Maria von Weber. That would never happen in any English-speaking place I know of, any more than calling your child Jesus (because you like the name), which is common in Spanish-speaking lands.

    Liked by 1 person

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