Ich bin!


Ich bin! - (2013)     

Bertram Kottmann after John Clare

for tenor and piano


Ich bin! Doch was ich bin - mag's keiner wissen?
Im Stich gelassen und gefallen aus der Zeit,
verzehr ich mich in meinen Kümmernissen,
die nah'n und geh'n in Selbstverlorenheit,
Schatten des Daseins, einem seelenlosen,
und doch bin ich und leb', wenngleich verstoßen

ins Nichts aus Lärm und Hohn und Bitterkeit
ins aufgewühlte Meer des wachen Traums,
wo kein Gefühl mehr ist und keine Freud,
nur noch das Wrack des alten Selbstvertrau'ns
und allem, was mir lieb. Selbst die, die mir am nächsten standen,
sind fremd mir - ja - sind fremder als die andern.

Ich sehn' nach Orten mich, wo nie ein Mensch je ging,
wo niemals eine Frau geweint, gelacht,
um dort zu sein bei Gott, dem Schöpfer aller Ding,
zu schlafen wie als Kind ich schlief in sichrer Nacht,
voll guten Sinns, in Mutters Schoß. Lasst mir die Ruh,
das Gras - mein Bett, der Himmel deckt mich zu.

Copyright © 2013  Bertram Kottmann

5 pages, circa 4' 30"

John Clare


(Original text in English)


I am: yet what I am none cares or knows,
My friends forsake me like a memory lost;
I am the self-consumer of my woes,
They rise and vanish in oblivious host,
Like shades in love and death's oblivion lost;
And yet I am, and live with shadows tossed

Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,
Into the living sea of waking dreams,
Where there is neither sense of life nor joys,
But the vast shipwreck of my life's esteems;
And e'en the dearest - that I loved the best -
Are strange - nay, rather stranger than the rest.

I long for scenes where man has never trod,
A place where woman never smiled or wept;
There to abide with my Creator, God,
And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept:
Untroubling and untroubled where I lie, -
The grass below - above the vaulted sky.


Bertram Kottmann recommended to me his interpretation of John Clare's text, "I am." As translations often border re-interpretations, from time to time it seems apt to set one text rather than another as words sing their own language. For this Kottmann's text, in a more modern idiom than the original English, suggested specific harmonic colors and contours which I would not have chosen for the original text. For other musical settings of Kottmann's texts in German and English, click here.


John Clare (1793-1864) was an English poet, the son of a farm labourer, who came to be known for his celebratory representations of the English countryside and his lamentation of its disruption. His biographer Jonathan Bate states that Clare was "the greatest labouring-class poet that England has ever produced. No one has ever written more powerfully of nature, of a rural childhood, and of the alienated and unstable self". (From Wikipedia)



Set for tenor, the through-composed setting moves from unsettled mood to next restive mood, generating a number of different tempo changes and sometimes aggressive gestures seeking release in gentler moods. I chose a different drama for the mention of God, for as "creator of all things," it is dramaturgically likely that God is not only a proposed answer but also cause for the troubles of life to one who would voice imagery as found in the first strophes. The final cadence lingers, unresolved.




The score for Ich bin! 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.


Ich bin!