Der Doppelgänger

Writing yesterday about depersonalisation for some reason brought this song by Franz Schubert to mind. I heard it on the radio recently and found it profoundly moving. Der Doppelgänger is a setting of a poem by Heinrich Heine that Schubert composed in 1828 near the end of his life; it was published posthumously in 1929 as part of Schwanengesang.t’s relevance to the topic of depersonalisation lies in the middle verse, in which the poet describes seeing a tormented figure only to realise that the figure is he (the last line says `The Moon shows me my own form’):

Da steht auch ein Mensch und starrt in die Höhe,
Und ringt die Hände, vor Schmerzensgewalt;
Mir graust es, wenn ich sein Antlitz sehe –
Der Mond zeigt mir meine eigne Gestalt.

It’s a very bleak piece, its desolate atmosphere underlined by the inexorable piano accompaniment which consists mostly of block chords. I think you can tell that this is written by a man who knows his days are numbered, but the simplicity and beauty of the composition and pervading sense of loneliness and desolation mark it as a work of genius, which Schubert undoubtedly was.

The singer is the late great Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.


6 Responses to “Der Doppelgänger”

  1. jim Dunlop Says:

    Bleak is the word. I have a lot of time for Schubert, but really, there’s a lot more to life than this. It would have been better to open the windows and see if you could find anything in Coldplay to like.

  2. jim Dunlop Says:

    That’s a shame – much of Coldplay is derivative nonsense, but they have some inspirational moments which it is a mistake to sneer at. Years ago I sat outside on the roof of ROE listening to U2 coming across the city from Murrayfield (it was a west wind). I’m not U2’s biggest fan either, but i still remember the evening like it was yesterday.

    • telescoper Says:

      Presumably they closed the roof because otherwise it would have been too cold to play.

    • telescoper Says:

      I could have listened from my garden if the roof had been open: I can hear the singing of ‘Land of my Fathers’ very clearly on match days.

  3. Der Doppelgänger -Heinrich Heine
    Still ist die Nacht, es ruhen die Gassen,
    In diesem Hause wohnte mein Schatz;
    Sie hat schon längst die Stadt verlassen,
    Doch steht noch das Haus auf demselben Platz.

    Da steht auch ein Mensch und starrt in die Höhe
    Und ringt die Hände vor Schmerzensgewalt;
    Mir graust es, wenn ich sein Antlitz sehe
    Der Mond zeigt mir meine eigne Gestalt.

    Du Doppelgänger, du bleicher Geselle!
    Was äffst du nach mein Liebesleid,
    Das mich gequält auf dieser Stelle
    So manche Nacht, in alter Zeit?

    The Ghostly Double
    The night is quiet, the streets are silent,
    My beloved lived in this house;
    She left the town a long time ago,
    But the house still stands in the same place.

    A man stands there, too, and stares upward
    And wrings his hands with the force of his pain;
    I’m horrified when I see his face—
    The moon shows me my own likeness.

    You ghostly double, you pallid fellow!
    Why do you ape my lovesickness,
    That tormented me here
    So many nights long ago?

    Translation by Celia Sgroi

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