Dichter und Kämpfer


Dichter und Kämpfer - (2010)    

Erich Kurt Mühsam

for 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.

[ 2 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.


The 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.



The 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 Mühsam's understanding.


An 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 piano-vocal score.


Dichter und Kämpfer - medium high edition


Dichter und Kämpfer - low edition