To the distant one

by Thomas Siemens

To the distant one – Johann Kaspar Mertz

“Is this really how I lost you?
Have you, O fair one, escaped me?
Still ringing in your ears
Every word, every sound.”


Thus begins the poem “To the Distant” by J. W. v. Goethe. A piece by the guitarist and composer Johann Kaspar Mertz, who died in Vienna in 1856, bears the same title as this poem. The same title is no coincidence. We would easily miss this connection today. After all, apart from the title of the piece, there is no further cross-reference to Goethe. In the Romantic period, however, it was part of the good manners of bourgeois society to know the works of Goethe. The allusion would not have gone unnoticed at that time.

This little insight gives us a nice perspective on the play by Johann Kaspar Mertz. We can see that Mertz was anxious to set the poem to music as a romantic character piece. And so we can find the emotional content of the poem in the music. We hear love, passion, grief and longing.


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