Friday, June 27, 2008

Windmuller, Heine, and Lorelei

Catching up with Arts & Letters Daily after a couple weeks, I've found a lot of interesting stuff. I've put some of the teasers at the bottom of this post so you can see what I mean.

One of the items deals with the German poet, Heinrich Heine, with whom I have a remote familial connection. The item is a book review by Michael Dirda in the Wall Street Journal. Here's the link: Touring With an Eccentric Guide (June 14, 2008; Page W11). The book is Travel Pictures, by Heinrich Heine (Translated by Peter Worstman, Archipelago, 223 pages, $17).*

Dirda's review is typically good. He says
Heinrich Heine (1797-1856) once described himself as the last of the romantics and the first of the moderns, which may account for the winning combination of the playful and the serious in his writing. Today he is largely remembered for his ballad-like poetry, much of it set to music by Schubert, Wolf and other lieder composers. In his own day, however, this author of such verse masterpieces as "Die Lorelei" -- about the siren who lures Rhine boatmen to their doom -- was equally celebrated as a prose writer, spending much of his adult life in Paris as a journalist, explaining the French to the Germans and the Germans to the French.

Throughout his life, though, this witty man of letters was utterly serious about defending civil liberties and religious freedom, counting among his friends not only artists like Balzac and Berlioz but also revolutionaries like Karl Marx. In one of his plays Heine, who was Jewish, presciently observed that "where they begin by burning books, they will end by burning people."
While I was reading this review the family connection with Heine came to mind. My great grandfather, prominent New Yorker of the late 19th century, once led a committee that collected funds to have a statue to Heine installed in a New York park. The effort succeeded and the elaborate fountain can be seen in what is now called Joyce Kilmer Park in the Bronx.

The New York Times did an article on the appearance of my forebear before the park commissioners to request the installation: THE HEINE MEMORIAL MONUMENT Description Furnished the Park Board -- Mr. Windmuller's Plea (April 4, 1895, Wednesday, Page 16).** It includes a sketch of the statue with description by an art expert. Here's the sketch; click image to view full size:

Here are excerpts from the art expert's description of the monument:

And here is a bit of history from the web site for Kilmer Park.
The Lorelei fountain celebrates the German poet, Heinrich Heine (1797-1856), author of an ode to Die Lorelei -- a siren from German mythology who lured sailors to their deaths on the Rhine. The fountain was created by German sculptor Ernest Herter for the poet's home city, Dusseldorf. However, political groups opposed to Heine's Jewish origins and political views blocked its installation there. The fountain was finally erected in the Bronx in 1899, thanks to a subscription led by Americans of German ancestry. Funds are now being raised to restore the fountain, the victim of decades of weathering and vandalism, to its former glory.
Windmuller shared Heine's politics and (by birth anyway) his religion. He contributed much to promoting German arts and culture in New York and the welfare of Germans in America. He sided with German liberals like Heine and Karl Schurz in opposition to the growing irrationality of men like Wagner, Nietzsche, and Spengler. There's no proof, but it's pretty likely he emigrated from Munster in 1850 as an indirect result of his participation in the radical uprisings of 1848.

There's a park in Queens that's dedicated to his memory which, a year ago, was the "park of the month:" Windmuller Park. A Google search turns up information about it.

For what it's worth, New York has a park named after Carl Schurz too, but none for Wagner, Nietzsche, or Spengler.

Here are the promised teasers from today's Arts & Letters Daily

Share your grief and you may double your sorrow. Better, perhaps, that all you’ve seen, and all that you suffered, should go with you to the grave... more»

The rise of the therapeutic and the eclipse of the tragic ensures college students’ expectations soar even as their intellectual abilities to handle life’s setbacks erode... more»

We get the art we deserve, and today what we deserve is the splashy, pretentious, dumbed down trophy art that dominates the art world ... more»

An “it-wasn’t-my-fault” industry now produces books like Scott McClellan’s White House memoir. Next in line: Donald Rumsfeld... more»

Country music knows what it means to be trapped by poverty, a lousy job, lust, and booze. To grasp the USA, just listen... more»

John Updike started with art as a small child, newspaper comics at first. Edward Hopper and Mark Rothko came later... more»

A butterfly flaps its wing and a hurricane hits Mongolia. Or whatever. Everybody loves the “butterfly effect,” and everybody gets it totally wrong... more»

Q: “So is Marxism-Leninism scientific?” A: “Surely not. If it were, they would have tested it on animals first.” Old Soviet jokes... more»

For all of Churchill’s faults, we may still be grateful for a 1930s politician who found it intolerable even to breathe the same air as the Nazis... more»

The British invented curry? Not quite. But the Madras curry (Tamil: kari) was born with the East India Company... more»

Will unplugging our cellphone chargers or turning TVs off standby reduce energy use and help fight global warming? How do the numbers stack up?... more»

“I am astonished that the Bush people are so robotic,” says Peggy Noonan. Criticize the boss and you’re banished from the kingdom... more»

Add more signs, directions, and limits on the road, and drivers will be safer, right? Wrong. Drivers tend to compensate... more»

Paris is a miraculous city in no small measure because modern architects have not been able to get their hands on it. Roger Scruton explains... more»

Under Kinderarchy, parents are little more than indentured servants. It’s all about the kids: their schooling, brightness, cuteness, and their quite astonishing creativity... more»

The central image of Samuel Johnson in James Boswell’s Life is that of a heroic figure battling his demons and keeping them at bay... more»

Critical texts to go with contemporary art are so twisted and woolly they could pass for self-parody. Yet they require us to take them seriously... more»

*You can download an older translation of the book from Google Book Search: Pictures of Travel, by Heinrich Heine; translated by Charles Godfrey Leland (New York : D. Appleton, 1904).
**I'm not sure why, but I had to use Internet Explorer to follow the Times link to the pdf article.

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