Thou'rt like a lovely floweret, by Sebastian B. Schlesinger (1837-1917)

This is, of course, the well-known Du bist wie eine Blume  of Heinrich Heine (1797-1856), but titled and published for turn-of-the-century American consumption in a now somewhat dated English translation by one Charles G. Leland. The musical setting is by one of the more interesting figures among the many minor composers of the time: Sebastian Benson Schlesinger.

It has been observed that Heine's little poem has inspired over two hundred published musical settings (Philip Miller lists twenty-eight of the better-known ones in his excellent The Ring of Words ), and it probably would not be difficult to locate enough of them to make up a full-length recital, ranging from famous settings by Schumann and Liszt on through less well-known ones by Gretchaninoff and Ives. Though this might be an interesting exercise for the performers, I suspect few audiences would appreciate it.

Still, a program section of such comparative settings could hold some interest, and Schlesinger's unpretentious setting would certainly fit any such grouping. For this is the prettiest--most melodically pleasing--setting of these lines I know and, despite its title, it need not be sung in translation, as the composer has fitted it not only to Mr. Leland's translation, but to Heine's German as well.

The poem is from the poet's collection Die Heimkehr  (The Homecoming), written in 1823-1824. It is a perfect example of the so-called Heinestrophe: a simple and flexible form employing stanzas of four lines, each with three stresses, and a varying number of unstressed syllables. The rhyme scheme is ABCB, with alternating feminine and masculine endings:

Du bist wie eine Blume,
So hold und schön und rein;
Ich shau' dich an und Wehmut
Schleicht mir in's Herz hinein.

Mir ist, als ob ich die Hände
Aufs Haupt dir legen sollt',
Betend, daß Gott dich erhalte
So rein und schön und hold.

Thou'rt like a lovely flow'ret,
so void of guile or art,
I gaze upon thy beauty,
and grief steals o'er my heart.

I fain would lay devoutly,
my hands upon thy brow
and pray that God will keep thee
as good and fair as now.

Better translations than Leland's abound, among them Louis Untermeyer's in Poems of Heinrich Heine   and Hal Draper's in The Complete Poems of Heinrich Heine, A Modern English Version . Do take note that this is not the simple love poem first reading might suggest, but an expression of concern by a wordly and cynical poet for the fragile innocence of a lovely child. It is also probably as near to prayer as the notoriously unreligious Heine ever came. Schlesinger has changed the poet's capitalization and punctuation but made no changes of substance.

The composer's Biedermeier  setting is simplicity itself. His lovely melody is cast in 6/8 meter and glides lightly over a simple accompaniment of arpeggiated chords. A little phrase-peak figure in the accompaniment lends interest by breaking the regularity of the arpeggi and it also serves as a brief melodic bridge between vocal phrases. The dynamic gamut, in keeping with the spirit of the text, is very subdued and the vocal range is both limited and low--from A below the treble staff, up an octave and third to C#. This puts it within easy range of all medium and low voice singers and allows the singer to sustain the wistful, intimate mood effortlessly. It also makes the song ideal teaching material, a gracious and interesting piece for use in easing a student's transition from Italian song to German Lied.

What meager information I have on Sebastain Benson Schlesinger comes from Baker's Biograhical Dictionary of Music and Musicians. It seems he was born in Germany and brought to the U.S. at the age of thirteen, where he studied music in Boston. A prolific song writer and a gentleman with roots in both America and Europe, he lived for some time in London and, finally, in France. Whether he was related to the several other Schlesingers of musical note--the late conductor Bruno Walter [originally Schlesinger] or the Schlesingers of the noted 19th century music publishing firm--is not clear.

My copy of Thou'rt like a lovely floweret  was published by The Arthur P. Schmidt Company of Boston. The music shows several copyright dates, the most recent being 1911. The Schmidt firm also published an album of thirteen songs by Schlesinger that included this song.


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Copyright 1999, John Koopman. All rights reserved. No part of these websites, designated A BRIEF HISTORY OF SINGING and UNSUNG SONGS, or their contents may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means--electronic, photocopying or otherwise--without the written permission of the copyright holder. For information about the use of this material please contact the author through the Conservatory of Music, Lawrence University, Appleton, WI , (U.S.A) 54912-0599. Fax 920 832 6633