The Wesendonk Lieder are a cycle of songs composed by Wagner in the course of the year 1857 to five poems written by Mathilde Wesendonk. The work is entitled Five Poems for the Female Voice and Piano (Fünf Gedichte für Frauenstimme und Klavier) although they are now usually performed with an orchestra. “I have done nothing better than these songs,” Wagner is reputed to have said. The composition was Wagner's Christmas gift to Mathilde in December 1857. Stehe Still (Be Quiet) below, is the second song in the series.
The Wesendonk home in Zürich
The rushing music heard from the very beginning in Stehe Still! - Stand Still - is later used in Act I of Tristan. The poem, as in the case of the first song, Der Engel, reveals a desire to be released from the inescapable movement forward of life and personal destiny (Genug des Werdens). Here the wheel of Time is a knife that cuts short Eternity, the desire to be, - to be, forever. In Schopenhaurian fashion, the poet demands an end to willing and seeks forgetfulness in an eternity of bliss. The conclusion sets up a riddle of Nature that is solved by the realization that only the love between two human beings can stop the wheel of time and the progress of never-ending regeneration and development. Love stops the clock.
The music, which is a rehearsal for the stormy and passionate first act of Tristan, begins with the madness of the wheel of time in fast rhythmical tempo, which is repeated again for the second stanza, with a dramatic slowdown at the line: ‘lass mich sein’ (Let me be), and then resumes its frantic tempo. A slow down and cessation of the theme of rapid movement occurs, as if the intent were to emphasize the words of the desire for renunciation, at the lines: “That in blessed, sweet forgetfulness, I may measure all my bliss!” (Dass in selig süssem Vergessen / Ich mög’ alle Wonnen ermessen!). And this serves as almost a curtain raiser for the change of mood that occurs dramatically when the theme of love is announced, in the line ‘When one eye another drinks in bliss.’ (Wenn Aug’ in Auge wonnig trinken). There is a serious decrease in tempo here, and almost full stop at the line ‘and no wish more’ (keinen wunsch mehr). The last two lines are rapturous and triumphant music.
Ann Evans sings at the 1994 Proms, with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, conducted by Tadaaki Otaka.
Sausendes, brausendes Rad der Zeit,
Messer du der Ewigkeit,
Leuchtende Sphären immer weiten All
Der ihr umringt den Welten ball,
Urewige Schöpfung, halte doch ein,
Genug des Werdens, lass mich sein!
Halte an dich, zeugende Kraft,
Urgedanke, der ewig schafft!
Hemmet den Atem, stillet den Drang,
Schweiget nur eine Sekunde lang!
Schwelende Pulse, fesselt den Schlag;
Ende, des Wollens ew’ger Tag!
Dass in selig süssem Vergessen
Ich mög’ alle Wonnen ermessen!
Wenn Aug’ in Auge wonnig trinken,
Seele ganz in Seele versinken;
Wesen in Wesen sich wieder findet,
Und alles Hoffens Ende sich kündet,
Die Lippe verstummt in Staunen dem Schweigen,
Keinen Wunsch mehr will das Inn’re zeugen:
Erkennt der Mensch des Ew’gen Spur,
Und löst dein Rätsel, heil’ge Natur!
(trans. Emily Ezust)
Roaring and rushing wheel of time,
You are the measurer of Eternity;
Shining spheres in the wide universe,
You who surround the world globe,
Eternal creation, halt!
Enough development, let me be!
Cease, generative powers,
The primal thoughts which you are ever creating!
Slow your breathing, still your urge
Silently, only for a second long!
Swelling pulses, fetter your beating,
End, o eternal day of willing!
That in blessed, sweet forgetfulness,
I may measure all my bliss!
When one eye another drinks in bliss,
And one soul into another sinks,
One nature in another finds itself again,
And when each hope's fulfillment is finished,
When the lips are mute in astounded silence,
And no wish more does the heart invent,
Then man recognizes the sign of Eternity,
And solves your riddle, holy Nature!
Charicature of Richard Wagner as Siegfried