Helgoland (Bruckner)

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by Anton Bruckner
Bruckner final years.jpg
The composer, c. 1890/1895
Key G minor
Catalogue WAB 71
Form Patriotic cantata
Dedication Men's Choir of Vienna
Performed 8 October 1893 (1893-10-08) – Hofburg Palace, Vienna
Published 1893 (1893)
Recorded 1977 (1977)Wyn Morris, Ambrosian Male Voice Chorus and Symphonica of London
Movements 7
Vocal TTBB choir
Instrumental Orchestra

Helgoland is a secular cantata by Anton Bruckner for large orchestra and male choir in the key of G minor, assigned the catalogue number WAB 71. The average performance duration ranges from 12 minutes to 15 minutes. The orchestra is composed of 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, contrabass tuba, timpani, cymbal and strings. Since Bruckner did not complete the 9th symphony, Helgoland is his last complete work. Duration: about 13 minutes.[1]


Helgoland was composed in 1893 for the Men's Choir of Vienna[2] to celebrate its 50th birthday. The lyrics were written by August Silberstein, who had already provided a poem Bruckner set to music (Germanenzug in 1864).

The text focuses on the Saxon people of the island of Heligoland who are threatened by the invasion of the Romans, but divine intervention saves them. The piece is full of strength and enthusiasm, and carries the mark of Wagner's influence.[3] The setting was a case of interest, as the island had just been returned by Great Britain to Germany in 1890.

One year earlier, Bruckner had already composed another, shorter patriotic work, Der deutsche Gesang (WAB 63), that was premiered at the First German Academic Song Festival in Salzburg in June 1892.

Helgoland was first conducted on 8 October 1893 by Eduard Kremser. Of all his pieces for male choir, Helgoland is the only secular vocal work Bruckner thought worth bequeathing to the Vienna National Library.[4] It was first published in 1899.[5]


A bird's-eye view of the island of Heligoland
A map of Heligoland from 1910, 14 years after Bruckner's death
German English

Hoch auf der Nordsee, am fernesten Rand
Erscheinen die Schiffe, gleich Wolken gesenkt;
In wogenden Wellen, die Segel gespannt,
Zum Eiland der Sachsen der Römer sich lenkt!

On the North Sea's most distant horizon
Ships appear that resemble clouds;
In billowy waves with tension on the sail
The Romans approach the Saxons' isle.

O weh um die Stätten, so heilig gewahrt,
Die friedlichen Hütten, von Bäumen umlaubt!
Es wissen die Siedler von feindlicher Fahrt!
Was Lebens noch wert, auch Leben sie raubt!

Alack! The holy lieus, hitherto preserved,
The peaceful homes surrounded by trees!
The settlers are aware of the adverse armada!
Everyone being worth living, as they also steal life!

So eilen die Zagen zum Ufer herbei,
Was nützet durch Tränen zur Ferne geblickt;
Da ringet den Besten vom Busen sich frei
Die brünstige Bitte zum Himmel geschickt:

Even those who hesitated now rush to the shore
For looking with tears in the eyes is of no use;
Thus, from the most valuables' bosoms
A prayer is sent to the sky:

Der du in den Wolken thronest,
Den Donner in deiner Hand,
Und über Stürmen wohnest,
Sei du uns zugewandt!

Thou who art enthroned in the clouds,
Who hast thunder in thy hand
And who demandest tempests,
Help us!

Lass toben grause Wetter,
Des Blitzes Feuerrot,
Die Feinde dort zerschmetter!
Allvater! Ein Erretter aus Tod und bitt'rer Not!

Let dreadful storms bluster,
Lightning's fire,
And smash yonder foes!
Lord! Our saviour from death and bitter hardships!

Und siehe, die Welle, die wogend sich warf,
Sie steiget empor mit gischtenden Schaum,
Es heben die Winde sich sausend und scharf,
Die lichtesten Segel verdunkeln im Raum!
Die Schrecken des Meeres, sie ringen sich los,
Zerbrechen die Maste, zerbersten den Bug;
Der flammenden Pfeile erblitzend' Geschoss,
Das trifft sie in Donners hinhallendem Flug.

And look, the wave, that was billowing
Turns into froth-like foam,
The winds arise and they bolt fiercely,
Even the brightest sails are darkened!
The horrors of the ocean are relinquished,
They burst the poles and the bug;
The all-igniting arrows of lightning
Strike them while thunder accompanies their flight.

Nun, Gegner, Erbeuter, als Beute ihr bleibt,
Gesunken zu Tiefen, geschleudert zum Sand,
Das Wrackgut der Schiffe zur Insel nun treibt!
O Herrgott, dich preiset frei Helgoland!

Now, enemy, looter, you stay as a loot,
Sunk to the ocean's depth, dashed to the sand,
Your ships' wreckage floats towards the island!
O Lord, a free Helgoland praises thee!


Helgoland is seldom played for such a mature work, and many noted Brucknerian conductors have neglected to record it, though Daniel Barenboim has done it twice, at the time of his playing the symphonies of Bruckner with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and again with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.

There are only four recordings of the work:


  1. ^ Anton Bruckner - Critical Complete Edition
  2. ^ Called the Vienna Male Singing Society (Wiener Männergesangvereins) in Volume XXII/8 of the Bruckner Complete Edition
  3. ^ MusicWeb review for Barenboim's BPO Bruckner cycle
  4. ^ 8Notes.com Bruckner overview
  5. ^ The Cambridge Companion to Bruckner (PDF)

External links[edit]