Friedrich von Schiller

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Born Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller, this innovative dramatist, poet, moral idealist, and cultural fighter for the cause of freedom became a major force in German life. Schiller's family members…
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Born Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller, this innovative dramatist, poet, moral idealist, and cultural fighter for the cause of freedom became a major force in German life. Schiller's family members were Swabian Lutherans. His father was a field surgeon and officer in the employ of Duke Karl Eugen of Württemberg. At 13, the young man entered the Duke's military academy, called the Karlsschule, where he studied law and medicine. At 21, he joined a Stuttgart regiment. Schiller's first play was Die Räuber (The Robbers, 1781), which suffered from improbable character motivations, bombastic speeches, and artificial continuity. Schiller himself made fun of the play in later years. Hearing that Schiller left his regiment without permission to see the play in Mannheim, Duke Eugen ordered him arrested. Schiller fled (following a complex escape plan) to Mannheim. The Duke eventually decided to show himself as tolerant and stopped pursuing Schiller, which allowed Mannheim theaters to contract The Conspiracy of Fiesco at Genoa, Love and Intrigue (aka Passion and Politics), and his major drama in blank verse, Don Carlos (1787). Don Carlos was written the same year as Goethe's Iphigenie auf Tauris, which was also in blank verse and became the primary form for German theater during the Sturm und Drang period. Other plays about the struggle for freedom include Schiller's masterpiece the Wallenstein cycle (Wallenstein's Camp, The Piccolomini, and Wallenstein's Death) (1798-1799), Maria Stuart (1800), The Maid of Orleans (1801), and Wilhelm Tell (1804). Schiller authored 38 poems, philosophical works (influenced by Kant), essays (eg. "Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Mankind"), and historical studies; was appointed a professor of history at the University of Jena; and also edited several literary journals (The Hours, Anthology of the Year, The Muse's Almanach, and the Rheinische Thalia). Many composers were inspired to set Schiller's work to music. Perhaps the best-known setting is that created by Beethoven for the magnificent, heavenly vision of universal freedom in the poem An die Freude (Ode to Joy) in the fourth movement of his Symphony No. 9. Heinrich Kleist later refuted this poem in his "Germania an ihre Kinder" (Germany to Her Children), which imitated the exact same verse form and was filled with ghastly and despairing images of the misery that other nations had inflicted on that country. Beethoven also set Schiller's Death Walks Swiftly, the song of the monks from Wilhelm Tell. An astonishing number of splendid Schiller songs were generated by Franz Schubert. Between 1813 and 1819, 61 songs appeared for male, female, and unspecified voices, plus the Dithyrambe (Der Besuch) and Hymn on the Immortal for mixed chorus. Schubert often wrote two or three unique songs on the same text as his understanding of the poems matured. He created new solutions for the Ode to Joy and Laura at the Piano, a secret homage to the young Schiller's landlady Luise Vischer. The later Romantic Robert Schumann set only Schiller's Der Handschuh (The Glove), Op. 87, 1850. While the German composers seem mostly to have embraced Schiller's imagery of love and brotherhood, with some occasional supernatural shadows like Schubert's Eine Leichenfantasie (Corpse Fantasy) and Thekla: eine Geisterstimme (Tekla: A Spirit Voice), the Italian composers seem to have been drawn toward the theme of revolutionary struggle. For example, Rossini's opera Guillaume Tell (1829); Giuseppe Verdi with his operas Giovanna d'Arco (1845) based on Schiller's Die Jungfrau von Orleans, I Masnadieri (1847) after Die Raüber, Luisa Miller (1849) after Kabale und Liebe (Love and Intrigue), and Don Carlos (1867); and Donizetti's tragedia lirica Maria Stuarda of 1830.