The American Violet Society

Return to AVS Homepage
Return to Violets in the Arts
Return to Periodical Bibliography


Written by:  Norma Beredjiklian © 1994, 2000 All Rights Reserved


    During his prolific albeit short career, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) was known to carry a book in which he noted the German poems he particularly like or that aroused his musical interest. After setting music to them, he would then send these compositions as small presents to his friends showing an apparent disregard for the resurgent German song style that dominated Austria's contemporary musical environment. His personal musical preferences notwithstanding, Mozart's legacy in the song genre are 33 works under the title of Lieder, mostly resembling the French and Italian aria styles he favored.

    Almost all of Mozart's chosen poems have long since been forgotten as they belonged to minor, fashionable poets, with the exception of Das Veilchen ("The Violet"), set to the famous and homonymous poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832). In the opinion of Alfred Einstein, the music historian and critic, "The Violet" represents the only instance in which Mozart encountered a real poem." Despite much debate as to whether "The Violet" is really a song or a miniature operatic aria, there is no doubt that the song and the poem were born out of personal experience. Appearing in "Erwin und Elmire", Goethe's first group of ballads, "The Violet" reflects "in the light of the springtime of poetry the stormy and painful relation between two lovers...and where a young, pert and exuberant girl teases a fine and serious youth, plays with his affections, even as she loves him, "The Violet' is the soul of that fine and serious youth," claim Einstein, adding that "in Mozart, Goethe found a kindred spirit...for in this lyric scene, the lyric element, the stream of musical feeling, receives equal emphasis with the dramatic element as it starts amiably, with the carefree approach of the shepherdess, her song flowing through the fields while the violet's meditation is modest and heartfelt and the inevitable catastrophe is sad...the song bursts open, not out of respect to the poet and the song form, but out of Mozart's inner necessity...for it was rooted in the depths of his personality and experience. Mozart was physically small and unprepossessing, and an incurable disease had long since marked him. Undoubtedly, he had suffered deeply despite a keen awareness of his greatness as an artist, because of his unimpressive appearance." Mozart's connection with the violet continued throughout his musical career. A favorite symbol of unrequited love in the 18th century, the violet was also regarded as a presage of death or as the flower most likely to be found growing by grave sites. The latter is poignantly evidenced by the composer in his choice of Joachim Heinrich Campe's (1746-1818) poem, "Abendempfindung an Laura" ("Thoughts at Eventide") in which the sad, evocative text comes through in harmonic progressions reaching a climax in the passage "pflücke mir ein Veilchen auf mein Grab" (pluck a violet for my grave.)

    In 1791, the last year of his life, Mozart returns once again to the violet in Sehnsucht nach dem Fruhlinge ("Longing for Spring"), set to a poem by Christian Christoph Sturm (1740-1786). Using the musical theme from the Rondo movement of his Piano Concerto in B-flat (K.595), he expresses a mood of resignation to his fate in a song that speaks of children playing joyfully in a field. Devoid of sharp emotions and in a dreamlike fashions, they long for Spring and its beacon, the violet, while the music conveys the resigned cheerfulness that comes from the knowledge that this is the last Spring. Mr. Einstein states that "this fact makes all he more uncanny the depths of sadness that are touched in the shadings and modulations of the harmony." Two hundred years later, "Longing for Spring" is still a favorite among German-speaking children. The charming naivete and easy flow of its melody transcends Mozart's melancholy and it allows his childlike, hopeful nature to come forward time and again to conjure up the violets that will bring on the magic of Spring:

Come, dear May and turn the trees to verdant green
  and make the little violets blossom by the brook!
How gladly I would see a violet one again, dear May
  how I would like once more to take a walk!
But most of all I feel for Charlotte in her grief;
  the poor girl just sits there and longs for blossom time.
In vain I fetch some toys to help her pass the time
  she sits upon her stool just like a broody hen...
If only it got warmer and the grass began to grow!
Do come, dear May, we children do beg you earnestly!
Do come and, above all, bring lots of violets
  and also nightingales and pretty cuckoo birds!.

Return to Periodical Bibliography
Return to Violets in the Arts
Return to AVS Homepage