30 May 2015

Weimar - Travels in former East Germany - 2

Gouty (and Sheila).....

Flood of Life, Storm of Deeds

As readers of Finnegans Wake will know, James Joyce decreed that the triumvirate at the apex of European Literature were DanteGoethe and Shakespeare....  on my honour of a Nearwicked, I always think in a wordworth's of that primed favourite continental poet, Daunty, Gouty and Shopkeeper..... 

Shadow play - Gouty in Weimar

So, Dante is well known as the stand-up comic of the late middle ages, though his comedy has perhaps lost something of its mass appeal in terms of stadium-filling.

Shakespeare.... well, they am still negotiating the film wrights of some of his works, and translations continuous are made.... Who don't know, To be or not?  nor, Et tu, Bro? nor, Tomorrow, and that.... nor, Romeo, Romeo, what's in a name, Rosie.... ect ect (sic)?

Shopkeeper - jauntily statued in Weimar

And therefore, who were this Gouty? What claim did Johann Wolfgang von Goethe make on the great Iris, JJ, to be linked in a trinity with our two way fambly favourites, the Scribbler of Southwark and Stratford,  and the Circumnavigator of the Circles Line?

Busty substances - the many faces  of Goethe

It maybe because I'm a Londoner... or so to speak, but Gouty's big disability is that he was foreign.  I know that reeks of UKIPologies, but ecktually the nuances of Goethe's German have never (apparently) been easily translated into the mother tongue of Air Traffic Controllers, as spoken in Thanet (for example).  Daunty, on the other cheek, is ultimately fairly simple to sing along with (Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita....)  But try putting Faust (part II) into google translate (Alles Vergängliche/Ist nur ein Gleichnis;/Das Unzulängliche/Hier wird's Ereignis;) and it fairly rapidly sounds like a greek menu in Soho.... (For the record, the German means something like: All that must disappear/Is but a parable;/What lay beyond us, here/All is made visible.... and it does not contain the words Taramosalata, Houmous nor Tzatziki)....

Well....  Der truth is that Goethe was a wise guy.  And he struck it lucky in writing a piece called Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (The Sorrows of the Young Werther) and scoring a hit with it in 1774 when its author was barely 25 years old. 

Following the sensational success (associated with the Sturm und Drang movement, you know) of this youthfully romantic epistolary novel (keep up) the then Duke of Saxe-Weimar, Karl August, made Goethe a member of his Privy Council. People of discernment, he said, congratulate me on possessing this man. His intellect, his genius is known. It makes no difference if the world is offended because I have made Dr Goethe a member of my most important collegium without his having passed through the stages of minor official professor and councillor of state.....  A diplomatic edict, for sure - worthy of FIFA.....

And so, dear reader, clever clogs Gouty became a sort of Alastair Campbell of the day, before having a sort of Blairite hissy fit (of course I exaggerate) in 1786 and disappearing to Italy for two years.

Which adventure near came to a sudden stop in Malcesine, when arrest threatened the supposed Austrian spy for sketching the castle....

It was indeed here, on the very day that the King (Elvis) died, that I first became aware of Goethe.....  As it is the population of this Lake Garda town all converse in fluent German, and it would seem as if it were but only the other day that Herr Gouty was actually imprisoned in said fortress....

But, hey, it didn't really happen, or at least it was only a Sturm in a Stein, and he made his way to la bella Roma, where, throwing off the pressures of the Weimar Privy Council, and the strains of his erstwhile unrequited love life, he allowed the jolly German aristos who made up a kind of artistic/literati conclave within the infernal city, to wine and dine young Werther until his head span....  As for the artistic tastes of the German colony here, I can only say: the bells ring loudly, but not in unison.....

A couple of days later (after mentioning Angelica Kaufmann, a Swiss painter, married to the Italian painter, Antonio Zucchi) he wrote, I find it becoming more and more difficult to give a proper account of my stay in Rome.  The more I see of this city, the more I feel myself getting into deep waters.....

Ah, poverino!  I had the same problem (though that's where the similarity ends!)  Goethe's Italian Journey is a most approachable book, which, if not the greatest literary achievement of a long life, gives us not only an insight into a different Italy, but also into the life of one that some at least rate as a near equal to Shakespeare and Dante.... I spent some happy, peaceful hours alone in the Public Gardens close to the harbour [Palermo].  It is the most wonderful spot on earth.  Though laid out formally and not very old, it seems enchanted and transports one back into the antique world..... 

[I wonder if it is the paucity of W H Auden's translation, or the superficiality of Gouty's own thoughts, but I am minded that I could have written that....?]

Nagging Gout....  Four horses afore the doors of the Gouty House in Weimar

Anyway, after a great deal of geological specimen collecting (he had 17,800 rock samples when he died), and observations on Raphael's skull (a brain-pan of beautiful proportions and perfectly smooth, without any of those protuberances and bumps which have been observed on other skulls and to which Gall's phrenological theories attach such importance.  I could hardly tear myself away.....)

Anyway, after all that, he made his way back to Weimar, where the good Grand-Duke had kept his place for him, and settled down to a literary life, occupying a vast house with garden on the Frauenplan.  

The house is much as he left it, with his collections of minerals, paintings, sculptures and ceramics on display. He and his wife, Christiane (who died in 1816), developed it into a meeting place and he was constantly holding soirées and receiving distinguished guests.  

Although famous as a writer (his drama Faust was highly influential throughout the literature of Europe; Schopenhauer cited his novel Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship as one of the four greatest novels ever written, along with Tristram Shandy, La Nouvelle Heloïse, and Don Quixote - though who was he to judge? - and just about everybody from Mozart to Mahler set his poems to music....) Gouty also produced a number of scientific works, and he was read by Charles Darwin, among others.  He himself considered his Theory of Colours (1810) to be his most important work.

A Brown Study - where Gouty worked (and died)

With his friend Sheila (aka Friedrich Schiller, 1759 - 1805) who lived a street away, Gouty founded the Weimar theatre, and together they stand to this day on the Theatreplatz, with fresh flowers at their feet every day.

Sheila's claim to fame, apart from being partially responsible for the term Weimar Classicism, lies in his dramas (several of which became famous operas, such as Verdi's Don Carlos, Donizetti's Maria Stuarda and Rossini's Guillaume Tell) and in his poem, An die Freude, which became the Ode to Joy in the final movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.  

Not a bad claim to fame?

Sheila at home - shame about the wallpaper

Schillers Wohnhaus is an altogether more modest affair than Goethes Wohnhaus und Ausstellung

But both give some idea of the lives lived within them, and both have extensive additional space devoted to exhibitions. In Gouty's case, it is an exhausting labyrinth of cases demonstrating just how (indisputably) great the man was, which was in fact the intended destiny of his house (it was open to the public within hours of his death and has remained so ever since).  In Sheila's case, the current exhibition is of works by another worthy Weimar resident (his house still stands on the Marketplace), Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472 -1553).

Sybille of Cleves (not unlike Prunella Scales)

Cranach portrayed himself, next to Martin Luther, in his masterwork, the Triptych Altar Piece in the City Church of St Peter and St Paul,

Lucas Cranach the Elder, with white beard, being anointed with the blood of the crucified Christ

Though apparently several of his greatest works mysteriously went missing in the middle of the twentieth century.  One very fetching Venus can still be seen in a photograph of Hitler's study, though the original is no longer to be found....  The exhibition notes put it clearly:  The Nazis attempted to reassess Europe's cultural heritage from their standpoint of racial chauvinism.... [They] held Cranach the Elder aloft as a representative of 'Germanic artistic creation'....  This ideological instrumentalization (sic) of art went hand-in-hand with their justification of power....  

This had nothing, of course, to do with the fact that Hitler's favourite Cranach was a decidedly sexy young lady wearing nothing but a bee sting..... 

Gouty too was a collector of Cranachs, though his taste was clearly more religious.....

The UNESCO World Heritage committee added Classical Weimar to a list of world heritage sites in 1998, thereby acknowledging the art-historical significance of the public and private buildings and park grounds dating back to the height of Weimar's classical period and the outstanding role Weimar played as an intellectual centre of European life in the late 18th and early 19th century.

It wasn't only Gouty and Sheila, nor the paintings of Lucas Cranach, père et fils, that created this extraordinary heritage.  J S Bach lived and worked here,

The Church of St Peter and St Paul, also known as the Herder Church.
Several of Bach's children were baptised here.

Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche lived here for a while, and as Master of the Weimar School of Arts and Crafts Architect Walter Gropius founded the Bauhaus here.  In 1540, five years before his death, 57-year-old Martin Luther wrote to his wife from Weimar, that I’m doing well here. I eat like a Bohemian and drink like a German, thanks be to God for this. Amen.

Martin Luther on the balcony of the Elephant Hotel - the same balcony from which Hitler addressed the local people....

Another famous resident, whose house is also open to the public, was Frans Liszt. He lived here, with his friend Princess Carolyne zu Sayne-Wittgenstein, for the summers between 1869 and 1886, and the music conservatoire of Weimar is named after him. [Fancy having a conservatory named after you!]

Fliszt in the Park

With all this Kultural History it is not surprising that Weimar was European Capital of Culture in 1999, though I suppose it only fair to say that perhaps Joyce's Gouty played the biggest part.....   

But what Gouty would have made of Finnegans Wake..... We have to had them whether we'll like it or not.  They'll have to have us now then we're here on theirspot.  Scant hope theirs or ours to escape life's high carnage of semperidentity by subsisting peasemeal upon variables......

[Aktually, I think the true of them would have gott off like a horse of fire.....]

The Goethe Gartenhaus in the Park on the Ilm

You don't play the flute by just blowing - you've got to move your fingers!

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
28th August 1749 - 22nd March 1832

Flood of Life; Storm of Deeds


  1. "readers of Finnegan's Wake"? Isn't that an Oxford moron, or am I?

  2. Simon the solipsist31 May 2015 at 10:53

    Did gouty ever develop a taste for cranachan (water of liffe with a liddle oat plus...)?
    Mar fellows what a few sheilas and der bach-an-alian reveleries mite get up two-gather!