Václav Luks - harpsichord
The “Sturm und Drang” Revolt in Literature
With these words ends the novel Die Leiden des jungem Werthers (1774). The work, which became the manifesto of a group of literati, who later called themselves the “Sturm und Drang” movment met with an unusual reception among the generation of young people who began to know their world as reflected by the fate of the young hero. Unrequited love, the search for the essence of humanity – of human genius in the form of an independent character of Promethean strength, who knows how to listen to the voice of his soul and is not afraid to buck the social conventions of his or her time and to look for inspiration in Nature and the ordinary man – those were the topics that became more than merely topics of discussion at intellectual soirées. “He had drunk only one glass of the wine. Emilia Galotti lay open upon his bureau.” Thus Goethe describes the place in which Werther is dying, unaware that fiction will soon be superseded by reality and that the book, open on the table of young suicides, will be his own Sorrows of Young Werther. Werther became an icon, a symbol of a generation, so worthy of imitation that the wave of suicides by young people forced Goethe to include a warning in the conclusion of the second, revised edition (1787): “Be a man and do not follow me!” Goethe himself later admitted that the incredible success of Werther was a consequence of the extraordinary concord between this work and the zeitgeist in which it was made. Young people were dressing in the “Werther-Mode,” wrote each other emotional letters, and sought inspiration in Nature. The generation of writers between twenty and thirty years of age shocked the public with a frontal assault on the mores and taste of German society during the reign of the absolutist Karl Eugen, Duke of Württemberg. A decade-long search for political, moral, and aesthetic liberty began. Avant-garde artists met at literary soirées, where they read aloud from their new works, demolished old literary theories, and searched for new models. Shakespeare took the place of the Classics as a model in the dramatic arts. The subjective was placed above the objective, sensibility above sense. The Kantian picture of the world was subjected to merciless criticism. Herder’s Journal einer Reise, published in 1769, and Goethe’s meeting with Herder in Strasbourg in 1770 are generally considered the beginning of this short period in the history of literature. Herder’s claim that the voice of the heart was decisive in a rational decision is an expression of protest against the cool rationality of the Enlightenment and against the superficial elegance of the Rococo style. Emotion triumphs over reason. In 1786 Goethe left for Italy and that same year the storm of the “Sturm und Drang” past on the eve of the French Revolution and in Germany the doors thus opened to Weimar Neo-Classicism.
Music and the “Sturm und Drang”
© 2HP Production, May 2013
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