Mörike, Eduard

© The New Grove, 1980

Mörike, Eduard (Friedrich) (b Ludwigsburg, 8 Sept 1804; d Stuttgart, 4 June 1875). German writer, clergy­man and teacher. He studied at the monastery school in Urach and theology at the university of Tübingen, where he met Maria Meyer, the “Peregrina” of his poems and the model for Elisabeth in his novella Maler Nolten (1832). He was ordained in 1826 but retired from the Church in 1843. In 1851 he married and settled in Stuttgart as a teacher of literature at the Katharinenstift.

     Mörike had special affinities with music: personally, professionally and above all creatively. These affinities are manifest in his poetry, which though first published in 1838 elicited only a sporadic (and hardly commen­surate) response until Hugo Wolf's 57 settings of the 1880s. This half-century hiatus suggests that Mórike's highly charged and highly coloured language had to await a complex and chromatic musical equivalent for its significant embodiment.

     Its inherent musicality had simple and strong founda­tions; in folksong, in hymn metres, and in the general German tradition. At least one poem (Zum neuen Jahr) was written to an existing tune; another (Chor jüdischer Mädchen) was part of an unfinished opera; a third (Ach, nur einmal) is prefaced by a melody quoted from Mozart - about whom Mörike wrote the justly famed novella, Mozart auf der Reise nach Prag (1855), which is as notable for its intuitive critical insight as for its beauty of form and phrase. Mörike's social circle included the amateur pianist Wilhelm Hartlaub and composer Friedrich Kauffmann (and his son Emil, later a friend of Wolf's); these relationships occasioned several poems on music as well as the earliest settings of the lyrics, by the Kauffmanns. Their plain diatonic style was also common to Silcher (one song) and later Hugo Distler (48 partsongs). Schumann (five songs, four part­songs). Franz (nine songs) and Brahms (two songs, one duet) found more complex equivalents, but the deepest musical strata of Mörike remained for the most part unmatched.

     These elements can be classified as relating to melody, rhythm and motif. In the first case, poetic echo­-refrains (as in Agnes) or puns (Elfenlied) or deliberate vowel patterns and cadences require an analogous turn of musical phrase. Next, Mörike's familiarity with clas­sical verse forms and metres made him a master of the significant stress and placement of key words. More subtly, he used relevant rhythms to unify a poem (e.g. the cantering beats of Der Gärtneror the insistent feet that begin Fussreise)Finally his favourite unifying images are often themselves either directly musical (e.g. the wind-blown harp notes that symbolize lament in An eine Aeolsharfe) or are readily translatable into sonorous terms (e.g. the breezes that signify love in Lied vom WindeBegegnung etc).

     These latter devices of relevant unifying rhythm and motif are the precise poetic counterpart of the fully evolved lied form itself, which may in part explain the often-remarked Mörike-Wolf affinity. Othmar Schoeck's 47 settings also repay study from this stand­point.




H. Maync: Eduard Mörike: sein Leben und Dichten (Stuttgart und Berlin, 1902, 2/1913)

J. H. Kneisel: Mörike and Music (New York, 1949)

S. S. Prawer: Mörike und seine Leser: Versuch einer Wirkungsgeschichte (Stuttgart, 1960)

W. Rehm: “Mörike, Eduard”, MGG [with list of writings and fuller bibliography]

E. Sams: “Homage to Eduard Mörike”, MT, cxvi (1975) [with list of settings]