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RC 16 Der König in Thule (“Es war ein König in Thule”)

text source

Goethe’s Gedichte Vol. I (Stuttgart: J.G. Cotta 1868), 107-108

dedicatees

recordings

  • Anniversary Edition 5 Et'cetera KTC 1435 CD5

publications

  • Complete Songs for Solo Voice and Piano Vol. 9 Donemus / Alphons Diepenbrock Fonds 21358696
  • Der König in Thule (“Es war ein König in Thule”) Steyl & Thomas 23739750
  • Diepenbrock Album B/M Vol. II

  • Der König in Thule (“Es war ein König in Thule”)
  • Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von
  • mezzo soprano and piano
  • 1886-06-06 00:00:00.0 - 1886-07-17 00:00:00.0
  • duration ca. 4:30

Diepenbrock got acquainted with Goethe’s poetry around the age of 15. The author plays an important part throughout his oeuvre. In 1910 Diepenbrock called Goethe a great genius in a letter to the poet Willem Kloos. (BD VII:98) The first settings of texts by Goethe, such as the ballads Der König in Thule (The King in Thule) and Mignon (RC 12), date from the time when Diepenbrock was a student. Both songs were published in 1889 and dedicated to Cateau Esser, a singing teacher the composer greatly admired at the time. …more >

Der König in Thule (incipit)


Diepenbrock got acquainted with Goethe’s poetry around the age of 15. The author plays an important part throughout his oeuvre. In 1910 Diepenbrock called Goethe a great genius in a letter to the poet Willem Kloos. (BD VII:98) The first settings of texts by Goethe, such as the ballads Der König in Thule (The King in Thule) and Mignon (RC 12), date from the time when Diepenbrock was a student. Both songs were published in 1889 and dedicated to Cateau Esser, a singing teacher the composer greatly admired at the time.

The ballad Der König in Thule, known as Gretchen’s song from Faust (part 1; see RC 140), has been set to music many times since the eighteenth century. However, the ballad – situated on the mythical island of Thule, the furthest point Greek ships could reach – antedates Goethe’s tragedy and is written as a traditional folk song. In his old age the King of Thule realises that he can’t take the golden cup that his beloved left behind with him. After drinking from the cup for one last time, he throws it into the sea.

Diepenbrock set Der König in Thule to music in the summer of 1886, but in view of publication, he revised the song. The harmony and treatment of the text of Der König in Thule underwent substantial changes. These revisions demonstrate how much he was influenced by Richard Wagner in those early days, as he mentioned four years later in a letter. (BD I:468) In programme notes of a later date Diepenbrock called the opening motive of the introduction, which plays an important part in the song, a recollection motive that expresses the old King’s state of mind. (BD V:724) A climax is reached in the lengthy interlude between the fifth and sixth verse, where the piano illustrates the text and takes on orchestral dimensions.

Following publication there were several reviews in German periodicals. The critic of the authoritative music magazine Neue Zeitschrift für Musik (E.Rch.) speaks of Noblesse des Ausdrucks auf einer hohen Stufe (elegance of expression on a high level) and a refined taste of the composer, a passage Diepenbrock quotes with some pride in a letter to his father from 1891. (BD I:285) Although the critic remarks that the many modulations hinder the audience’s reception of the work, he is positive about the songs:

Da sich der Componist sichtbar mit den besten Mustern bekannt gemacht hat, so lässt sich noch manches Schöne aus seiner Feder erwarten, wenn er nach Überwindung der Sturm und Drangperiode mit grösserer Unbefangenheit und Klarheit im Ausdruck zu schreiben vermag.1

(As the composer has clearly studied the best models, we may expect many more beautiful things to come from his pen, when, after he has outgrown his ‘Sturm und Drang’ period, he is able to write with more detachment and clarity.)

Diepenbrock orchestrated Der König in Thule in 1907 (RC 78). He also incorporated the song in his Muziek bij Goethe’s Faust (Incidental Music for Goethe’s Faust) from 1918 (RC 141).

Désirée Staverman

1 Neue Zeitschrift für Musik 58 (1891), 251; see BD I:534.

 



Es war ein König in Thule
Gar treu bis an das Grab,
Dem sterbend seine Buhle
einen goldnen Becher gab.

Es ging ihm nichts darüber,
Er leert' ihn jeden Schmaus;
Die Augen gingen ihm über,
So oft er trank daraus.

Und als er kam zu sterben,
Zählt' er seine Städt' im Reich,
Gönnt' alles seinen Erben,
Den Becher nicht zugleich.

Er saß beim Königsmahle,
Die Ritter um ihn her,
Auf hohem Vätersaale,
Dort auf dem Schloß am Meer.

Dort stand der alte Zecher,
Trank letzte Lebensgluth,
Und warf den heil’gen Becher
Hinunter in die Fluth.

Er sah ihn stürzen, trinken
Und sinken tief ins Meer.
Die Augen thäten ihm sinken;
Trank nie einen Tropfen mehr.


  • A-6(4)

    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    • 4
    • 5

    A-6(4) dated on the last page 6 Juny 86 / 17 Juli 86

    • 1886-06-06 00:00:00.0 – 1886-07-17 00:00:00.0
    • location: Diepenbrock Archief Laren
    • pages: 5

  • click to enlarge

    Anniversary Edition 5

    cd Et'cetera KTC 1435 CD5
    Alexander, Roberta ♦ Jansen, Rudolf ♦ Nes, Jard van ♦ Holl, Robert ♦ Prégardien, Christoph ♦ Pfeiler, Christa ♦ Doeselaar, Leo van ♦ McFadden, Claron ♦ Kuyken, David

    Tracks: 1 = RC 3; 2 = RC 6; 3 = RC 11; 4 = RC 12; 5 = RC 16; 6 = RC 20; 7 = RC 25; 8 = RC 42; 9 = RC 55; 10 = RC 121; 11 = RC 90; 12 = RC 95; 13 = RC 91

  • Complete Songs for Solo Voice and Piano Vol. 9

    1997 Donemus / Alphons Diepenbrock Fonds Staverman, Désirée
  • Der König in Thule (“Es war ein König in Thule”)

    1889 Steyl & Thomas
  • Diepenbrock Album B/M Vol. II

    1955 Reeser, Eduard

16 jan 1904 Uitvoering van Der König in Thule en Es war ein alter König (RC 25) in de Kleine Zaal van het Concertgebouw te Amsterdam door Gerard Zalsman met pianobegeleiding van Dirk Schafer.

Gisteravond gaf Gerard Zalsman andermaal een liederenavond, ditmaal met medewerking van den Haagschen pianist Dirk Schäfer, wiens spel ons dadelijk trof door de schoone poëtische begeleidingen van den liederencyclus Dichterliebe van Schumann, dien Zalsman zong, en door de zoo echt muzikale voordracht van de Sonate in E. gr. t. opus 109 van Beethoven. [...] Van Zalsman hoorde ik behalve Dichterliebe van Schumann zeer mooie liederen van Carl Smulders, A. Diepenbrock en Hans Sommer. Hij scheen mij beter gedisponeerd dan de vorige maal en trachtte met het uitdrukkingsvermogen waarover hij beschikken kan en dat meestal tot het weemoedige beperkt blijft, toch zooveel mogelijk afwisseling te geven. De indruk der muzikale voordracht en de zangkundige eigenschappen was vrijwel gelijk aan dien van zijn vorig concert. Een zeer mooie stem, die pas gaandeweg van het eenigszins keelachtig timbre bevrijd wordt, en in de voordracht wel veel dynamische nuances maar geen groote afwisseling van uitdrukking heeft, zoodat het groot aantal zangen, zooals hij nu weer deed hooren, niet in het voordeel is van den indruk. — De ernst en de grote zorg die hij aan zijn voordrachten wijdt en zijn zekerheid moeten daar echter tegenover worden gesteld. — Het succes van beide solisten was zeer groot.

Algemeen Handelsblad (v.M. [= S. van Milligen]), 17 januari 1904

pdf All reviews for RC 16 Der König in Thule (“Es war ein König in Thule”)