Helmina von Chézy

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Contemporary portrait

Helmina von Chézy (26 January 1783 – 28 February 1856), née Wilhelmine Christiane von Klencke, was a German journalist, poet and playwright. She is known for writing the libretto for Carl Maria von Weber's opera Euryanthe (1823) and the play Rosamunde, for which Franz Schubert composed incidental music.

Life[edit]

Helmina was born in Berlin, the daughter of Prussian officer Carl Friedrich von Klencke and his wife Caroline Louise von Klencke (1754–1802), daughter of Anna Louisa Karsch and herself a poet. The marriage of her parents had already broken up at her birth and she was partly raised by her grandmother. She debuted as a writer at the age of 14.

Married the first time in 1799, she divorced the next year and upon the death of her mother moved to Paris, where she worked as a correspondent for several German papers. From 1803 to 1807 she edited her own Französische Miszellen ("French Miscellanea") journal, commenting on political issues, which earned her trouble with the ubiquitous censors.

In Paris she befriended Friedrich Schlegel's wife Dorothea, who introduced her to the French orientalist Antoine-Léonard de Chézy. In 1805 they married and Helmina subsequently gave birth to two sons: the later author Wilhelm Theodor von Chézy (1806–1865) and Max von Chézy (1808–1846), who became a painter. In 1810, together with Adelbert von Chamisso, she translated several of Friedrich Schlegel's lectures from French into German. They had a short romantic fling, followed by another extramarital affair of Helmina with the Austrian orientalist Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall, probably the father of another son who died shortly after his birth in 1811.

As her second marriage too turned out to be an unhappy one, Helmina finally parted from her husband in 1810. She returned to Germany, where she alternately lived in Heidelberg, Frankfurt, Aschaffenburg and Amorbach. In 1812 she settled in Darmstadt. She witnessed the German campaign of the Napoleonic Wars as a military hospital nurse in Cologne and Namur. After she had openly criticised the miserable conditions in the field, she was accused of libel, but was acquitted by the Berlin Kammergericht court under presiding judge E. T. A. Hoffmann.

From 1817 she lived in Dresden, where she wrote the libretto of Carl Maria von Weber's opera Euryanthe. Weber appreciated her writing but disliked her unbound ambition, speaking of her as a "suave poetess but unbearable woman". Several of her Romantic poems were set to music and Franz Schubert wrote incidental music for her play Rosamunde, which however flopped when it premiered in 1823 at the Vienna Theater an der Wien. Living in Vienna from 1823, she again became politically involved, calling attention to the inhumane working conditions at the saltworks in the Austrian Salzkammergut region.

In 1828/29 her son Max left to live with his father in Paris, which was a grievous blow, exceeded by the message of her husband's death in 1832 and the loss of her annual alimony payment. While Max returned to live with his mother in Munich, her elder son Wilhelm ultimatively fell out with Helmina. Upon Max's death in 1846, she remained alone and in despair. Nevertheless during the 1848 March Revolution she met exiled poet Georg Herwegh in Strasbourg and encouraged him to fight for democracy in nonviolence and by the waiver of radical actions.

Unsuccessfully trying to find another employment as a journalist in order to earn a bare living, she finally retired to Geneva, where she received a modest pension by an artists' charitable foundation. She was by now nearly blind and dependent on care by her niece Bertha Borngräber, who also recorded her memoirs which were revised by Karl August Varnhagen von Ense. She died in Geneva at the age of 73.

References[edit]

This article uses material from the German version of Wikipedia