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Adelbert von Chamisso, Painting by Robert Reinick (1831).

b Château de Boncourt, 27–30 Jan 1781; d Berlin, 21 Aug 1838). German writer and naturalist. He is known in music history chiefly as the poet of the cycle Frauenliebe und Leben, which was set to music by Carl Loewe, Robert Schumann, and others.

Literarily Chamisso is known for his fable Der Wundersame Geschichte von Peter Schlemiehl (a Faustian tale of a man who sells not his soul, but his shadow), his travel account Reise um die Welt, and his numerous poems. Some portray ordinary people of the Biedermeier period in both serious and humorous verse, some are sensational narratives, others exotic tales, some inspired by his travels, and some are ironic poems of a liberal political cast; finally there are his lyrisch-episch cycles of first-person lyrics with a narrative outline, many in a woman’s voice (e.g. Frauenliebe und Leben, Tränen).

In science Chamisso is noteworthy as a collector and cataloguer. As the naturalist on a global circumnavigation of discovery (1815–18), he returned with thousands of specimens on which he based many scientific essays; a number of flora, fauna, and geographical locations bear Chamisso’s name. He observed and recorded the languages of peoples with whom he came in contact and wrote a treatise on the Hawaiian language.

1. Life.

Chamisso was born into a French aristocratic family which emigrated to Germany before the Revolution. Adelbert grew up in Berlin. His parents eventually returned to France, but he remained in Germany, mastered the language, and served in the Prussian military. He wrote poetry and, with Varnhagen von Ense, edited a few issues of an annual poetic anthology. He became known in cultural circles and made the acquaintance of many well-known figures, including the historian Fichte, the theologian Schleiermacher, the poet Ludwig Uhland, and the author E.T.A. Hoffmann. He visited France, considered but rejected a permanent return to his homeland, and spent some months in the coterie of Madame de Staël in Switzerland. During this trip he collected botanical specimens.

Back in Berlin, Chamisso pursued scientific studies at the university. When a Russian-sponsored exploratory world voyage was announced, Chamisso applied for the position of and was appointed as the ship’s naturalist. The trip sailed westward around Cape Horn, up the west coast of South America, across the Pacific and along its rim, through the Asian and Indian seas, around Africa, and home. Toward journey’s end, he spent time in England, where he witnessed the political freedoms that had been won by gradual progress rather than by revolution; this left a lasting impression on his views.

Before he embarked on the voyage, Chamisso published what had begun as a tale invented for the children of his friend, the jurist (and his first biographer) Eduard Hitzig; it turned into his story of Peter Schlemiehl (1814). It became a huge international success, to the surprise of its author. His technical reports from the exploratory voyage won praise among scientists, including Alexander von Humboldt. Chamisso was appointed head of the botanical garden in Berlin (1819), a post he retained until his death. In the same year he married Antonie Piaste, Hitzig’s foster daughter. Political uprisings provoked the passage of Metternich’s reactionary Carlsbad Decrees, and in response to the repressive measures (including press censorship), Chamisso wrote some of his most politically tinged verse.

Chamisso settled down to a middle-class life as poet and naturalist, husband and father. These were his most productive years. First his collected poetry and then his collected works were published in 1831, his 50th year. In addition to writing poetry and co-editing the Deutscher Musenalmanach (1833–8), and his work at the botanical garden, Chamisso finally (in 1836) put together a narrative account of his world voyage (Reise um die Welt); it became a popular travelogue and was added to subsequent editions of his works. Chamisso, who had never felt entirely accepted as a German, nor as either an artist or scholar, found himself a best-selling writer, beloved poet, and respected scientist. He died of a respiratory disease a year after the death of his wife. They are both buried in Berlin.

2. Songs to Chamisso’s verse.

Chamisso was neither as prolific a poet nor as popular with lied composers as Goethe, Heine, Eichendorff, and others. Schumann was the only major composer to set Chamisso; he composed 17 songs in 1840: op.25 no.2, op.30 nos.1–3, op.40 nos.1–5, and op.42 (Frauenliebe und Leben) nos.1–8; the latter was his most popular song cycle during the second half of the 19th century and the early 20th. Franz Kugler, an acquaintance of Chamisso’s, had composed a set of Frauenliebe songs in 1830; Carl Loewe published his Frauenliebe (op.60) in 1836. These and other settings of individual poems from the cycle were eclipsed by Schumann’s songs. The approximately 300 other songs on Chamisso texts are by less well known lied composers, some of whom were esteemed musicians in other regards (e.g. F. David, F. Hiller, F. Lachner, H. Marschner, S. Thalberg). Tardel catalogued a number of songs on Chamisso poems and their composers; S. Krebs identified a number of additional musical settings of Tränen, a cycle that provides a stark contrast to the happy marriage depicted in Frauenliebe.

A substantive secondary literature concerns the cycle Frauenliebe und Leben (Solie, Walz, Muxfeldt, Guralnick, Hallmark). Solie argues that Schumann’s music only intensified the sentimentality and stereotyped view of women voiced in the poems. Walz looks carefully at Chamisso’s verse forms and the cyclic structure of the poems. Muxfeldt suggests that Chamisso may have written his poems in response to a perceived lacuna in poetic expression by women in their own voice and finds redeeming qualities in them and in Schumann’s songs. Guralnick compares the relationship in the poems to that between Robert and Clara. Hallmark maintains that within the context of early 19th-century German society, the poems are probably broadly representative of women’s experiences; he also finds Schumann’s songs far more psychologically apt and penetrating than other contemporary settings; his book contains a short biography of Chamisso and a survey of his poems, and an exposition of Schumann’s manuscripts for the songs with select instances of his revisions. (Ozawa provides an exhaustive account of Schumann’s manuscripts for all his Chamisso settings.)

Writings

  • Gedichte von Adelbert von Chamisso (Leipzig, 1831)
  • ed. J.E. Hitzig: Adelbert von Chamisso’s Werke (Leipzig, 1836)
  • ed. H. Tardel: Chamissos Werke: Kritische und durchgesehene und erläuterte Ausgabe (Leipzig, 1907)
  • ed. J. Perfahl: Sämtliche Werke in Zwei Bänden, i: Prosa, Darmatisches, Gedichte, Nachlese der Gedichte, Anhang, ii: Reise um die Welt: Aufsätze, Bibliographie und Anmerkungen von Volker Hoffmann (Munich, 1975)
  • ed. W. Feudel and C. Laufer: Werke in Zwei Bänden, i: Dramatische und Poetische Werke, ii: Reise um die Welt (Leipzig, 1981)
  • ed. M. Glaubrecht: Reise um die Welt (Berlin, 2012) [Lithography by L. Choris]

Bibliography

Biographies
  • J.E. Hitzig: Adalbert von Chamisso’s Werke, v–vi (Berlin, 1864)
  • W. Feudel: Adelbert von Chamisso: Leben und Werk (Leipzig, 1971, 2/1980)
  • P. Lahnstein: Adelbert von Chamisso: Der Preuße aus Frankreich (Munich, 1984)
Collections of essays
  • K. Bździach, ed: Mit den Augen des Fremden (Berlin, 2004)
  • M.-T. Federhofer and J. Weber, eds: Korrespondenzen und Transformationen: Neue Perspektiven auf Adelbert von Chamisso (Göttingen, 2012)
Specialized studies on Chamisso and lieder
  • K. Ozawa: Quellenstudien zu Robert Schuamnns Liedern nach Adalbert von Chamisso (Frankfurt, 1989)
  • R.A. Solie: ‘Whose Life? The Gendered Self in Schumann’s Frauenliebe Songs’, Music and Text: Critical Inquiries, ed. S.P. Scher (Cambridge, 1992), 219–40
  • M. Walz: ‘Frauenliebe und Leben Op. 42: Biedermeierdichtung, Zykluskonstruktion und musikalische Lyrik’, Schumann Studien, 15 [conference report on Wissenschaftliche Arbeitstagung zu Fragen der Schumann-Forschung: Zwickau 1992], ed. G. Nauhaus. (Cologne, 1996)
  • H.W. Schwab: ‘Carl Loewes Vertonung von Adelbert von Chamissos Gedichtzyklus Frauenliebe und Leben: Ein Vergleich mit weiteren Vertonungen’, Carl Loewe 1796–1869: Halle 1996, ed. K. Musketa and G. Traxdorf (Halle, 1997), 15–51
  • K. Muxfeldt: ‘Frauenliebe und Leben Now and Then’, 19CM, vol.25/1 (2001), 27–48
  • S. Summerville: ‘Chamisso als Liederdichter’, Mit den Augen des Fremden, ed. K. Bździach (Berlin, 2004), 195–208
  • E.S. Guralnick: ‘“Ah Clara, I am not worthy of your love”: Rereading “Frauenliebe und Leben,” the Poetry and the Music’, ML, vol.87/4 (2006), 580–605
  • R. Hallmark: ‘Amadeus Wendts Bilder des weiblichen Lebens: Ein Vorbild für Chamissos Frauenliebe und Leben?’, Robert Schumann: Persönlichkeit, Werk und Wirkung: Leipzig 2010, ed. H. Loos (Leipzig, 2011), 90–112
  • M.-T. Federhofer and J. Weber, eds: Korrespondenzen und Transformationen: Neue Perspektiven auf Adelbert von Chamisso (Göttingen, 2012) [incl. R. Hallmark: ‘Chamisso’s Frauenliebe und Leben in Context: Contemporary Poems about and by Women’, 219–37; S. Krebs: ‘Chamissos Thränen: Die musikalische Rezeption des Gedichtzyklus’, 239–58]
  • R. Hallmark: Frauenliebe und Leben: Chamisso’s Poems and Schumann’s Songs (Cambridge, 2014)
  • R. Hallmark: ‘Chamisso’s and Schumann’s Gender Stereotyping Reconsidered’, Schumann-Studien, 11, ed. T. Synofzik and U. Scholz (Sinzig, 2015), 131–44
19th Century Music
Music & Letters