Overly philosophic - (2012)
Bertram Kottmann, after Robert Walser
for medium voice and piano
A phantom in its falling
and rising is my being.
Ever I see me calling
myself yet from me fleeing.
I see myself - a laughter,
a sadness darkly sprawling,
a demagogue thereafter;
yet everything is falling.
And in my lifetime's phases
I never had a bearing. [ 1 ]
In long forgotten spaces
I find myself wayfaring.
Copyright © 2012 by Bertram Kottmann, BKottmann (AT) t-online.de, reprinted on this website with kind permission.
Please contact the copyright-holder when requesting permission to reprint.
2 pages, circa 2' 30"
Robert Walser, circa 1890
The original text which Bertram Kottmann has reinterpreted into English is Robert Walser's Zu Philosophisch. This Swiss writer became prized as much and more after his death, though he lived a life of some despair. Of the creative muse and urge, Walser wrote, "Sehr oft warf ich mich, in dem entlegenen Zimmer, das ich bewohnte, auf die Knie und bat Gott um einen hübschen Vers. Dann ging ich zur Tür hinaus und verlor mich in die Natur." In Die Gedichte" - Kleine Dichtungen von Robert Walser, 1914, Kurt Wolff Verlag, Leipzig. That he would beg God for inspiration on bended knee in some forgotten place and then rush outdoors to become lost is quite an image, and this reinterpretation by Kottmann captures the images ranging from highs to lows. Such a man perhaps often feels as if he cannot know even himself. [ 2 ]
The setting is chromatic, resting for the first two strophes on C with a hint of the octatonic scale of alternating whole and half steps broken by the inclusion of the dominant G, and then for the last strophe on F before a final cadence rooted on C. Slipping half steps characterize the poet's lost wandering. Single words dot a short ending - "phantom, laughter, sadness...."
The score for Overly philosophic 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.
[ 1 ] "Although highly unsuccessful during his lifetime and leading the life of an artist on the margins of society, his writings have been linked to Kleist, Kafka, Joyce and Beckett. The silencing of Walser's unique voice by mental illness and his disappearance behind the walls of psychiatric hospitals has been considered a tragedy and over the years doubts were raised about the true nature of his illness." In "The Case of Robert Walser (1979-1956) by Viktoria Lyons & Michael Fitzgerald. Ir J Psch Med 2004; 21(4), p.138
[ 2 ] "Maybe Walser was anticipating the diagnostic difficulties he would cause one day. Taking on the mask of one of his literary figures he warned 'Nobody has the right to assume of knowing me' - he possibly did not know himself." Ibid, p. 142