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Seligkeit

For a long time I had a banner on the Agonblog’s header with three graphics running across. The third graphic was a snippet of a title page for an art song: Franz Schubert’s “Seligkeit.” (In English: “Bliss” or “Blessedness.”)

How dearly, dearly I love this song. Its first two verses wistfully contemplate the joys of heavenly life: joys beyond accounting, endless dancing and singing and recitation of Psalms. The lilting waltz is so easy and sweet one has no trouble at all imagining translucent 19th-Century Viennese twirling to its rhythm in some celestial ballroom.

In the last verse, however, the airy but pious waltz transforms into lighthearted, prankish laughter. The young man singing about heaven has second thoughts. If a certain girl would favor him with a meaningful glance, he’d just as soon forget about heaven, and stay earthbound forever.

More than a hundred years later, Ira Gershwin cut a rug nearby to Schubert’s when he wrote these lyrics:

Methus’lah lived nine hundred years
Methus’lah lived nine hundred years
But who calls dat livin’ when no gal’ll give in
To no man what’s nine hundred years

Who indeed?

Nietzsche once asked, “Who among you can at the same time laugh and be exalted?” Apparently Franz Schubert, the Gershwin brothers, and Frank Loesser, for three.


Seligkeit’s lyrics, in the original German and in English translation are available here. Various recordings of the song can be found for download here. There is a lovely rendition in this young soprano’s online repertoire. And, if you find yourself in the market for Seligkeit, I recommend starting with Elly Ameling.

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