Tomorrow is my last lecture at the Carleton University’s LiR Spring Program, the topic is Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman. In his 1843 Autobiographical Sketch Wagner acknowledged he had taken the story from Heinrich Heine’s retelling of the legend in his 1833 satirical novel The Memoirs of Mister von Schnabelewopski (Aus den Memoiren des Herrn von Schnabelewopski). The central theme is redemption through love.

You can read more about this opera on this page, but here I want to remember Heine’s best known poem and most mysterious, seductive character, Loreley.

The story  dates back to the 13th Century, when many believed the treasure of the Nibelungen was buried here at the foot of the Loreley rocks (see photo below), guarded by Wagner’s Rhine maidens.  These ambiguous creatures were better known as “nixie,” Scandinavian-derived water spirits and they also appear in the Grimm fairytales.

One of the other interesting water spirits is the Celtic-derived Melusine, whom Martin Luther and Goethe both wrote about (unfavorably) and who inspired Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid.  But she’s another story…

Also see the sirens in the Odyssey, The Lady of the Lake and Gustav Klimt’s modern mermaids.

Although it inspired many composers, the most popular version of Heine’s poem is the song composed by Friedrich Silcher.

Loreley rocks, Rhine river, Germany


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