Amerika - (2009)    

Johann Wolfgang Goethe

for medium voice and piano


Amerika, du hast es besser
Als unser Kontinent, das alte,
Hast keine verfallene Schlösser
Und keine Basalte.
Dich stört nicht im Innern,
Zu lebendiger Zeit,
Unnützes Erinnern
Und vergeblicher Streit.

Benutzt die Gegenwart mit Glück!
Und wenn nun Eure Kinder dichten,
Bewahre sie ein gut Geschick
Vor Ritter-, Räuber- und Gespenstergeschichten.

[ 3 pages, circa 2' 00"]

Johann Wolfgang Goethe


America, you have it better
Than our old continent.
You have no tumbledown castles
And no basalt deposits.
Your present is not disturbed deep down by
Useless remembrance and vain strife.

Use the present with good fortune!
And if your children write poetry,
May a kindly fate guard them from writing
Stories of knights, rascals, and specters.


translation by Marilyn Barnett



In his last years, the urbane and essential European Goethe (1749-1832) developed an unrestrained enthusiasm for a young America, as it was understood in that era, in part for its carefree and youthful cultural life. The mention in this particular text of a continent free of "basalt" is explained by Goethe's understanding of the basalt deposits around Europe as a geologic ossification of once violent volcanic forces. In 1822 he wrote of that new land whereon one might not yet tread. ("Weltteil glücklich zu preisen, dass er vulkanische Wirkungen entbehrt, wodurch denn die Geologie der neuen Welt einen weit festern Charakter zeigt als der alten, wo nichts mehr auf festem Fuß zu stehen scheint.")


The setting is a square four, with occasional dotted rhythms as a snap to the textual line. The first lines receive this marching treatment, while the next another, more lyric as the eighths and sixteenths absent themselves from the accompaniment. The verse of this A-B-A form extends through to the text's break, the largest majority of the text itself.



The B section is exceedingly short, comprising one line of text, and is captured by a notated ritardando as if a recitative as the tonal region shifts some distance from the tonic of D major. The verse begins anew with the remaining text of the poem and portions of the first as lyric. The setting ends with the falling minor third reminiscent of the melody we know as "America."



The score 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 piano-vocal score.