RC 55 Kann ich im Busen heisse Wünsche tragen

  • Günderrode, Karoline von
  • contralto or mezzo-soprano and piano
  • June 6, 1902
  • duration 3:30

Kann ich im Busen heisse Wünsche tragen (Can I Carry Hot Desires in My Heart?), composed in early summer 1902, is dedicated to the alto Pauline de Haan-Manifarges. Several weeks after its publication in October 1905 she performed the song in public.

The text is a sonnet by Karoline von Günderrode (1780-1806), a German poet whose philosophical poetry Diepenbrock admired. At the age of 26 this talented woman took her own life because of an impossible love affair. The emotionally charged sonnet Kann ich im Busen heisse Wünsche tragen reflects the mood of the young poet, torn between hope and death wish.

In Diepenbrock’s song, written in E major, this conflict appears to be depicted by a continuous irresolution between major and minor, as demonstrated by the ambivalent character of the half-diminished seventh chord on words like “unbekränzt” (uncrowned, m. 6, 1st beat) and “trauernd” (mourning, m. 8, 1st beat). While the voice as it were recites the first hesitant line in a restrained manner (sehr ruhig and pp), the syncopation in the right hand of the piano reveals the inner unrest. On the ‘Seufzer’ (minor second) that colours the short interludes, Diepenbrock has notated: mit schmerzlich sehnsüchtigem Ausdruck (with painful longing expression).

When in the first tercet Günderrode mentions descending to the realm of Pluto (in Roman mythology the god of the underworld), where the passion of love is found to burn even in the darkness, Diepenbrock unfolds – allmählich belebter und breiter – a completely different musical structure, with an ascending melody and a continuous crescendo that culminates in a powerful top note in the voice. Now the text is set to broad vocal lines, against a restless accompaniment that constantly fans out from low to high. In the last strophe there is a reference to the beginning of the song. Then in the postlude the motive of “des Lebens Blütenkränze” (the flower wreaths of life, see m. 4) returns, this time over an organ point on e in the bass. The ‘Seufzer’ dominates the last measures of the song.

After the first performance, at which Diepenbrock’s Clair de lune (Moonlight, RC 43) and Ik ben in eenzaamheid niet meer alleen (I Am No Longer Alone in Solitude, RC 41) were sung as well, a critic wrote:

“The songs by Diepenbrock [...] immediately had an impact. They are so outspoken in their character, which is so important for the harmonic treatment!”

This anonymous writer realises that the composer makes huge demands on the listener, but he does not consider that a problem:

“[Diepenbrock] has the right to demand full and serious attention; only after careful consideration will these songs reveal their beauty.” (BD V:634)

In 1907 Diepenbrock made a setup for the orchestration of Kann ich im Busen, but he gave up after one page (see RC 76*).

Désirée Staverman