Winterreise article

Who is that Wilhelm Müller anyway ?

Johann Ludwig Wilhelm Müller, in short Wilhelm Müller, known also as Griechen-Müller (Müller of the Greeks) because of his enthusiasm and admiration for the Greek fight for independence from the Turks.

Wilhelm Mueller He was born in Dessau on the 7th of October 1794 and died there, too, tragically early on the 1st of October 1827. He was the only surviving of six (some say seven, well six or seven, sounds like a loud house anyway) children of the master tailor Christian Leopold Müller and his wife Marie Luise Leopoldine. He attended school in Dessau. Beginning with the year 1812 he studied classical philology in Berlin. In 1813 he joined the Prussian army to defend Germany against Napoleon and thus further German unity. He fought in the battles of Luetzen, Bautzen, Hanau and Kulm as Gardejäger (hunter of the guard, a military title - Was sucht denn der Jäger am Mühlbach hier?). He worked in the Prague depot and the Brussels headquarters and went back to Dessau in 1814.

Together with other fellow students, former soldiers like him, he published his first poems in 1816 (especially poems against the French people) in a volume called Bundesblüten (Blossoms Of The Alliance - well, talk about pathos). He finished his studies in 1817 in Berlin. Being a member of the Berliner Gesellschaft für deutsche Sprache (Berlin Society for the German language) he moved in intellectual circles and was known to Romantiker giants like the Grimms, von Arnim, Brentano, Fouqué and Tieck. On behalf of the Berlin Academy of Sciences he was to travel to Greece, Egypt and the Middle East with the Prussian chamberlain Baron Sack. Because of the plague in Constantinople they stopped off in Italy. The January of 1818 saw them in Rome. Around Eastern he parted from Sack because he wanted to stay in Italy - to study (here we have the typical intellectual traveller). So he went to Naples and spent the summer in Rome. In Italy he experienced the same dictatorial regulations and the same censureship as in Prussia which made him become more and more liberal and tolerant. Once he wrote to his friend Per Daniel Atterbom, a famous Swedish writer: "Truly, I feel ashamed very often that I lifted my sword against the French people!"

When he came back the Berlin Akademie wasn't too happy about his unauthorized cancellation of the Orient journey and sacked him for leaving Sack (sorry, but I had to make this pun). So he had to return to Dessau in 1819 and work as a grammar school teacher for Latin and Greek, for a ridiculously poor salary. His fame as an author was established beginning with 1821 when he began to publish his folksy poems which are, as Brecht states it, "easy things difficult to make". He worked for the publishing house Friedrich Arnold Brockhaus in Leipzig (yes, the famous encyclopaedia publisher) as translator, critic, biographer and editor. He wrote essays for the yearbooks Hermes and Urania and the Literarische Wochenblatt (Literary Weekly) and edited the Bibliothek deutscher Dichter im 17. Jahrhundert (Library Of German Poets Of The Seventeenth Century).

All this was possible because he had been appointed teacher of classics and librarian of the court library by the duke Leopold Friedrich for a much better salary than as a teacher (it is good to have friends among the mighty). In 1824 he became counsellor to the court. In 1821 he married Adelheid Basedow, the granddaughter of the famous educationalist Johann Bernhard Basedow (now, how is it that famous men always marry other famous men's daughters?). The year 1824 saw his poetical breakthrough: the Waldhornisten poems that include the Schöne Müllerin and the Winterreise. Seemingly harmless verses whose longing for a free and harmonic homecountry express fierce criticism of the reactionary politics of the time. Almost every poem of Mueller got set to music and became tremendously popular by this. A lot of his works, especially the Greece poems, were banned and censured.

He was now a famous man - with famous friends and acquaintances, for example Carl Maria von Weber and Goethe (sounds like fun to be a Romantiker). The duke gave him a wonderful flat in the garden house of the Dessau park Luisium, with orange trees in front of the windows (sounds like big fun to be a Romantiker). Shortly after a journey along the Rhine and through the Southwest of Germany on which he met the important Romantik poets and authors A.W. Schlegel, Schwab, Hauff, Kerner and Uhland he died of a heart attack shortly before his 34th birthday (doesn't sound like fun to be a Romantiker).

Today Müller is virtually forgotten, only scholars and Lieder friends know his name. The people who sing folk songs like Am Brunnen vor dem Tore or Im Krug zum Grünen Kranze have no idea that a "lefty" wrote them (well, a lefty paid by a duke - these were complicated times). But Heinrich Heine, undoubtely one of the gods of German literature, wrote in a letter to Müller: "How pure and clear your songs are, real folk songs. I am idle enough to believe that my name will once, when we live no longer, be mentioned together with yours."

Müller's most important works:

Didactic works include the Homerische Vorschule (1824, Homeric Preparatory School). To prove that you can do a lot in only 33 years the guy also made a translation of Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus.

Robert Peters