Dichter und Kämpfer -
Erich Kurt Mühsam
low or medium high voice and piano
Chris Edmonston gewidmet
Unrühmlich ist es, jung zu sterben.
Mein Tod wär sträflicher Verrat.
Ich bin der Freiheit ein Soldat
und muß ihr neue Kämpfer werben.
Und kann ich selbst die Schlacht nicht lenken,
seh selbst nicht mehr das bunte Jahr,
so soll doch meine Bundesschar
im Siege meines Rufs gedenken.
Drum will ich Mensch sein, um zu dichten,
will wecken, die voll Sehnsucht sind,
daß ich im Grab den Frieden find
des Schlafes nach erfüllten Pflichten.
pages, circa 2' 00" ]
Erich Kurt Mühsam
Poet and Freedom Fighter (1913)
It is inglorious to die young.
My death was criminal betrayal.
I am a soldier for freedom
and must promote freedom's new warriors.
Yet I myself can not be drawn into that battle
not even see to the colors through the year,
yet shall my marching troops
commemorate victories in honor of my work.
For this I must be human, and be a poet,
And speak out, that which is filled with longing,
In order that I find peace in the grave,
Asleep after fulfilling my obligations.
Mühsam was a firebrand in his early politics, and cross paths with
authorities over his out-spoken anarchistic views. In this text from the
collection, Brennende Erde. Verse eines Kämpfers, 1920,
Kurt Wolff Verlag , München, we find him confessing that he is the word
warrior, not the street fighter, which is among the themes throughout his
work of this time. Next to the text from originally from 1913, I place
his arrest photo from the National Socialists' Oranienburg concentration
camp arrest in 1934, after which he was mercilessly beaten and killed. This
tells us that even the poet and writer of tracts is indeed warrior, and
makes this poem precient coming twenty-one years before his death.
Mühsam's clear preferences for freedom over tyranny and individuality over
the concentration of centralized political power are hallmarks of his work.
Coached in the lingo of that time, some of his work reads oddly today until
we step back from the terminology and focus on the simplicity of "freedom
over tyranny" and "individualism over collectivism." Such simple concepts
made him an enemy to the state wherever he spoke. For more on his death, see
my setting of
Gesang der jungen Anarchisten.
martial gestures lean towards more dissonant functional harmonies within the
tonic minor. The vocal line rises and falls in large arches, like waves. The
setting is in three verses, the final verse being lightly amended to include
a rising final outcry, by using the title of the poem as the last lyric.
final gesture cries out the poet's two roles in the struggle for freedom --
poet and warrior -- as the last awkward triplet adds diatonic dissonances to
the tonic minor cadence.
Chris Edmonston, to whom this setting is dedicated, is currently a PhD
student in classical philology at the University of California at Irvine,
who wrote to me for permission to republish some translations of Mühsam's
poetry which appear on this site alongside my musical settings. Without
question I granted this, for Mühsam's libertarian, anarchistic outlook needs
be better known by us all, as one sums up Mühsam in his own words, we would
do well politically to seek "Liberating Society from the State." Often
revolutionary politics merely and sadly replaces one state master with a
different brand name of centralized power, appropriates the word
"revolution" while allowing no further evolution nor the questioning of the
newly installed authoritarians. Such "revolution" is merely swapping one
state master for another, while pretending it is revolutionary. This was not
English language edition of Liberating Society from the State and Other
Writings: A Political Reader, By Erich Mühsam, is being prepared by
Gabriel Kuhn, to be published by PM Press in 2011.
The score for
Dicther und Kämpfer is available as a free PDF download, though any
major commercial performance or recording of the work is prohibited without
prior arrangement with the composer. Click on the graphic below for this
Dichter und Kämpfer - medium high edition
Dichter und Kämpfer - low edition