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Goethe: The April 1816 collection sent to Goethe

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Your Excellency,

The undersigned ventures by these presents to rob Your Excellency of a few moments of your valuable time, and he takes upon himself so great a liberty only in the hope that the enclosed set of songs may be deemed by Your Excellency to be a not altogether unwelcome gift.

The poems contained in the present fascicle are set to music by a musician aged nineteen, Franz Schubert by name, whom nature endowed from the tenderest childhood with the most pronounced leanings towards the art of music, gifts which Salieri, the Nestor among composers, brought to fair maturity with the most unselfish love of art. The general acclamation accorded to the young artist for the present songs as well as for his other, already numerous compositions by severe critics of the art no less than by the inexpert, both men and women, together with the general desire of his friends, have at last induced the modest youth to open his musical career by the publication of part of his compositions, whereby he will doubtless shortly take his place in that rank among German composers which his pre-eminent talent assigns him.

A beginning is now to be made with a selection of German songs, to be followed by sizable instrumental works. It is to comprise eight books. The first two (of which the first is enclosed as a specimen) contain poems by Your Excellency, the third contains poems by Schiller, the fourth and fifth by Klopstock, the sixth by Matthisson, Hölty, Salis, &c., and the seventh and eighth contain songs from Ossian, these last excelling all the others.

These songs the artist now wishes to be allowed to dedicate most submissively to Your Excellency, to whose glorious poetry he is indebted not only for the origin of a great part of them, but also, in all essentials, for his development into a German song-writer. Himself too modest, however, to regard his works as worthy of the great honour of bearing a name so highly celebrated throughout the reach of the German tongue, he lacks the courage to request so great a favour of Your Excellency in person, and I, one of his friends, permeated as I am by his melodies, thus venture to ask it of Your Excellency in his name. An edition worthy of such favour shall be assured. I refrain from any further recommendation of these songs, which may speak for themselves, but will only add that the succeeding books by no means yield to the present one as regards melody, but on the contrary may perhaps even exceed them, and that the pianoforte player who is to interpret them to Your Excellency should want nothing in skill and expression.

Should the young artist be so fortunate as to obtain the approval of one whose approbation would honour him more than that of any other person in the wide world, may I request that the solicited permission may be graciously intimated in two words,
To him who remains in boundless veneration

Your Excellency's most obedient servant,

Josef Edler von Spaun

Vienna, 17th April 1816
Resident at Landskron-Gasse, No. 621, 2nd floor.

English translation by Eric Blom, from Otto Erich Deutsch, Schubert. A Documentary Biography  London 1946 pages 56-57

Goethe did not reply to Spaun’s letter. The packet was returned.