Translation © Robert W. Eshbach, 2013

JJ Initials


Gisela von Arnim

Joseph Joachim to Gisela von Arnim[i]

[Hanover, Mid-April 1854]

My dear friend,

Are you angry with your friend, that he has been silent for so long—? O, don’t do it, you dear Gisela, but believe him that it was necessary. I belong to you more securely than ever before, and will not torment you any more—I have done that so often, my dear friend. If only I could tell you, how I feel that I belong to you in inexhaustibly true love, how all my music resonates in solemn delight around the picture that you have poured into my heart. I make a girl my master; from the unprofaned grace of her gaze I learned intuitively to feel the truest beauty, pure faith. What would I have become without you; how dried out from the hothouse-warmth of my Weimar companions. You have reawakened delight, pain, all the primal flames of feeling, with your rich, sun-like being. Yes, I have recovered all my enthusiasm for music; I feel contented in the blissfulness of my feelings, come what may in this world, and I have you to thank eternally that I have again become myself, you who are born to harmony.

Ah, dear Giesel, you ask if I would have felt happy in Berlin! No, I was abysmally unhappy there—broken in my self-esteem; I felt thoroughly humiliated, dumb, inexperienced, a child from head to sole. I had to see that which I had only imagined, and experience that it is one thing to have honorable intentions and another to banish dearly-held wishes; —I had to hear from a girl, who had been magnanimous toward me, and whom I had offended, that she had thought me more high-minded than I was—ah, let me remain silent about how ashamed I felt—who had always believed himself so proud —

All the bitterness that came over me afterwards has been overcome—and I thank God that he has granted me that which will always raise me above every misfortune. I feel that I was born to be an artist, with joyous enthusiasm, and not with the morose reforming zeal of a moralist; I pay homage to the true, the beautiful, with the obstinacy of my dissatisfaction. I would not write that if it were a passing spring daydream; I feel that it grips me.

I am working now on a symphony whose first movements are already quite far along, and sing in me constantly. Hölderlin’s Hyperion, which I read for the first time recently has taken a powerful hold of me (Now I hear you exclaim how awfully young I still am!), and the themes of the symphony have sprung from the mood that it has aroused in me.

At first, the thought of a Prometheus Symphony came into my head; isn’t every creator a Prometheus?

Did you imagine
That I should hate Life,
Flee into deserts
Because all blossom-dreams did not mature?
Here I sit, forming men
To me, a kindred race
To suffer, to weep,
To relish and to be joyful —


How wonderfully that could be reproduced in 4 movements of a symphony:

  1. Prometheus, the creator of men,
  2. The sacred fire,
  3. The Soul,
  4. The chastised and freed Prometheus;

but I believe it will take a while for this desire to ripen into deed. So far it remains more in my speculation than in my mood. — And now, again heartfelt thanks for your poem Helgi and Sigrun. I ask your permission to keep it for yet another week; I like it so much that I would like to transcribe it myself — it is so steely and pristine, and yet what a warm breast the armor covers; what heavenly sun is mirrored in its fire!

You dear friend!

Herman’s Traum und Erwachen [ii] is very beautiful; many strophes delighted me — but I was staggered to see a secret of our lives confided to the public in it — I confess, I think Herman’s wish to open my eyes has more reason in the dedication than love for me — feeling of sympathy. He is too afraid to be Anton’s friend, and he holds me to be Anton —

Am I wrong about this?

Tell me soon that you are well—and whether you will soon travel to Wiepersdorf? I will be back and forth between Göttingen and Düsseldorf this summer. In autumn I travel to Pest.



J. J.

[i] Joachim/GISELA, pp. 29-31

[ii] Herman Grimm, Traum und Erwachen: Ein Gedicht, Berlin: Wilhelm Hertz, 1854.