Litanei is the third movement in Schoenberg’s Second String Quartet. The movement introduces the soprano in the form of a theme and variations and was composed to a text of the same name, by poet Stefan Georg. Schoenberg was drawn to the work because of its emotional expression, writing that its “great dramatic emotionality . . . surpass[es] the borderline of what should be admitted in chamber music . . .” and that “serious elaboration required by variation would keep [him] from becoming too dramatic.”

The poem describes a person who is broken-hearted and despondent, in emotional tumult and begging for peace and a release from his feelings. The text evinces pure, unbridled and unrestrained feeling, seemingly emanating directly from the heart. Both the words and the music climax on the last two lines of the poem: “Nimm mir die liebe; gib mir dein glück!” or “Take from me love, give me thy peace!” The singer arrives on a high C, dropping to her low B in an intense rush of profound emotion and quietly intoning the last line of the piece. 

My print tries to convey the rush of tormented, heartfelt expression so palpable in the text. Part of my inspiration for this piece comes from one of Schoenberg’s own paintings: Blauer Blick.

Arnold Schoenberg, Blauer Blick, 1910.

Lawrence Schoenberg collection, Los Angeles

Litanei

Deep is the sadness

that overclouds me,

Once more I enter

Lord! in thy house.

 

Long was the journey,

weak is my body,

Bare are the coffers

full only the pain.

 

Thirsting, the tongue

craves wine to refresh it.

Hard was the fighting,

weak is my arm.

 

Grant thou rest

to feet that are falt’ring

Nourish the hungry,

break him thy bread!

 

Faint is my breath,

recalling the vision,

Empty my hands,

and fev’rish my mouth.

 

Lend me thy coolness,

quench thou the blazes,

Let hope be perished,

send forth thy light!

 

Fires are still burning

open within me,

Down in the depth

still wakens a cry.

 

Kill now my longing,

close the wound!

Take from me love,

give me thy peace!

**This translation is by Carl Engel and was Schoenberg’s preferred version.

 © 2020 by Alexandra Huryn. 

  • Grey Instagram Icon