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The Song Of The Germans

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The melody 'Poco adagio. Cantabile' of the string quartet op 76 by Franz Joseph Haydn, is one of the most serene I know. I can't stop playing it back in its many versions available in YouTube. It was with this quartet that the Deutschlandfunk, a German radio station, woke me up in the the sunrise hours last October 3rd, a national holiday for the "Day of German Unity".

I was in Vienna, a stone's throw from the place where Haydn wrote this melody 220 years ago, and I wondered: how could these notes celebrate a decade of warriors triumphs, fed by tens of millions of corpses? Even because the quartet accompanies continuously since 1922 the German national anthem "Das Lied der Deutsche" (The Song of the Germans). "This opera - wrote Jost Hermand in 1979 - has not only an intention, but also a reception. And this is clearly negative. Since 1914 it has been so charged and enhanced with wrong meanings, that its origins have become less and less important. " The German scholar is probably referring only to the words. And what about the notes? One can argue verbally against the words. But it can not be argued musically against notes: even better, against their historical perception?

It was Karlheinz Stockhausen who tried it with his composition Hymnen from 1966-1967. There the sweet Haydn's melody is crippled by a disc that stutters and it spat like a machine gun. Yet even such a disfigurement can't distract me from hearing it numerous times - on this 3rd October - these notes, as well. Can a music imply an absolute perception, directly from the ultra-human, as perhaps Pythagoras thought once, and how probably do think those, who give a metaphysical answer to the eternal question Warum Musik ist so schön? (why is music so beautiful?).

Since the end of the 18th century the "Poco adagio. Cantabile" by Haydn was used to set music in more than seventy texts. Haydn was fond of playing it every day on the piano. He took it from a Croatian love song and used it in an opera, in a mass and in a concert. His notes also echoed in Telemann and Mozart.

In short, before the 20th century the notes of the Haydn "Poco adagio. Cantabile " were spreading in Europe almost in the air. Since 1941 they swept Europe in the wake of the Third Reich's thanks and bombs. And I wonder how this was possible. In 1797 Haydn readied the melody for Kaiserlied, a birthday gift to the Emperor: "God preserve the Emperor Francis, our good Emperor Francis". Imperial anthem in Austria, that music became a popular song in the pre-revolutionary Germany. In 1841 August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallerleben, a German teacher, patriot, author of children's and hikers' songs, took it as such to music his song Das Lied der Deutschen (The Song of the Germans. Note: 'Germans', not 'Germany'). Hoffman had conceived it as a patriotic drinking song (Trinklied), which boasted, in the second of three stanzas, the women, the wine and the singing of the Germans. In 1922 all three stanzas became the German national anthem, proclaimed by the president of the Weimar Republic, the Social Democrat Friedrich Ebert. In 1841, the first stanza of Hoffmann "Deutschland, Deutschland über alles, über alles in der Welt" (Germany, Germany above all, above everything in the world) expressed a yearning for Risorgimento, toward the unification of the German-speaking people, then divided into forty principalities. It was the only verse adopted as an anthem by the Nazi Germany, who interpreted it as an instigation to dominate of the world. The third verse "Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit für das deutsche Vaterland!" (Unity, justice and freedom for the German fatherland!) was however the only one adopted as the anthem by West Germany in 1952 and by the unified Germany since 1990.

But is it necessary to know all this? Or may be, one does not want to know it! In an early autumn morning it is the notes - not the words - that can not get out of my ears. Is "Poco Adagio. Cantabile ", a teflon-melody, good for all seasons? What determines its intangible fortune? The power of music? Or is it determined by the weakness of human beings? I am still looking for an answer.