After the 1809 campaign patriotic literature extolling the virility and martial attributes of German manhood circulated among the Prussian elite. Until 1813 this literature circulated in a largely clandestine manner, but was allowed full expression following Prussia’s declaration of war on France in 1813. That campaign also saw the emergence of a Prussian martyr, the poet and volunteer Theodor Körner. Killed in a skirmish with the French, Körner’s posthumously published poems provided inspiration to educated young men of the Prussian nobility and Bildungsbürgertum, such as Carl von Pfitzner, whose volunteer diary we see here.
In 1815 those who had missed out on the War of Liberation in 1813/14 because of their youth saw another opportunity to strike at the French enemy. However, as Pfitzner discovered, not all volunteers were motivated by the same idealistic concerns. Baser motives, such as the chance for enrichment through looting or a belief in the laxer discipline of the volunteer units, motivated many to enlist. Even for those fired with patriotic fervour the campaign of 1815 proved unsatisfactory. Quickly over and fought more for dynastic reasons than for the sake of liberation, the 1815 campaign was overshadowed in the nineteenth-century German popular memory by the War of Liberation and never acquired the same potentially subversive political overtones as 1813.
'Abschied nach Wien'
Contributed by Katherine Hambridge
On the first page of his diary, Pfitzner used the martyr poet Körner’s words to express his own feelings on leaving home: 'Leb wohl, leb wohl, mit dumpfen Herzenschlägen', the first line of the 1813 poem 'Abschied nach Wien'.
Körner's poetry did not just circulate in text form, but was set to music by the composers of the time. 'Abschied nach Wien', for example, appeared in the Viennese Stephen Franz's collection of Sechs Gedichte von Theodor Körner zum Gesang und Fortepiano (1814). This song was not to be sung communally, but by a soloist, in a salon or more informal domestic gathering, and the Franz has fully embraced the lyric mode of the text; his fruity harmonic language, and swooping vocal lines emphasise Körner's portrayal of the Romantic subjectivity of the volunteer, both heroic and conflicted in his duty.
This poem – and its musical setting – demonstrates the variety of artistic engagements with the war, and the different ways that patriotic sentiment was transmitted.
You can listen to a rendition of the Lied here.
‘Abschied nach Wien’