Many of the visitors to Weimar – perhaps most of them – are on the Goethe trail. For me he held no strong musical connections, although Beethoven and Schubert both set some of his texts. Beethoven also wrote the overture for Goethe's tragedy Egmont, a work which he greatly admired. The two men respected each other professionally, but their brief meetings in the spa town of Teplitz over a few days in July 1812 were scratchy – politically they might be described as left wing and right wing – and they never met again, despite Beethoven's efforts to do so late in his life.
The other big literary figure in Weimar is Goethe's friend Schiller. Again, the main musical link is Beethoven, who used Schiller's poem An die Freude [literally 'To Joy', usually translated in English as 'Ode to Joy'] as the basis for the choral finale of his ninth symphony. Beethoven cherry-picked the verses that best reflected his thoughts, and used only half of Schiller's original poem. Notably he prefaced his version with a few lines of his own, beginning 'O Freunde' [Oh friends] rather than 'Freude' [Joy], to emphasise his strong feelings for the brotherhood of man. Schubert set some of Schiller's poems, and Brahms wrote a difficult choral setting of the poem Nänie, a lamentation on the inevitability of death. Verdi, Donizetti and Rossini all based operas on Schiller's plays.
Ernst Rietschel's statue of the two men outside the Deutsches Nationaltheater, which was founded and originally directed by Goethe, is one of the must-take photos in Weimar. So I headed straight there, after arriving at the Hauptbahnhof from Leipzig at 09:04 and dropping my case off at my pension nearby. Unfortunately I found a pop stage set up in front of the theatre for an event that weekend – with the inevitable fast-food vans, etc. – making it difficult to take the mandatory photos of the statue. I got most of it by shooting with a long lens over the clutter, and grabbed an oblique view of the front of the building at the 18mm end of the Nikon 18-200; luckily there were few people yet in Theaterplatz. [Only on the way back to my pension on Sunday night did I find it clear and deserted, with the chance of a photo on the Nikon P5000].
I continued through to Platz der Demokratie, and on into Park an der Ilm – a large partly wooded area either side of the River Ilm – to find Goethes Gartenhaus, the isolated house in which Goethe lived when he first came to Weimar, and which he later used as a summerhouse; he supposedly wrote the poem Der Erlkönig here, wonderfully set to music by Schubert, and others.
Not far from Platz der Demokratie is Frau von Stein's House, the former ducal stables, which the stablemaster Baron Friedrich von Stein converted into a house (a rather nice one, actually). His wife Charlotte von Stein was born in nearby Eisenach and became a Lady-in-Waiting to Anna Amalia, Duchess of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach. She was an educated socalite and a very close friend of Goethe (initially his first Weimar love, in fact), and a strong influence on his writing. Her Chrysler was parked outside the house [only joking, it was someone else's]. Later I found her grave in the Historiche-Friedhof [the old cemetery], not far from the Goethe family grave.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1748-1832) moved to Weimar in 1775 – at the age of 26 – to work in the court of the Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, the 18-year-old Carl August, son of Anna Amalia. Five years earlier he had, by chance, met the German philosopher and writer Johann Gottfried Herder (in honour of whom the Herderkirche is named) on a visit to Strasbourg, who crucially had inspired him to develop his own style of writing. He was enobled in 1782, becoming 'von Goethe' instead of plain 'Goethe'.
Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller (1759-1805) first came to Weimar in 1787, but two years later was appointed Professor of History and Philosophy at the leading university in the nearby city of Jena. He returned permanently to Weimar, and to playwriting, in 1799. He and Goethe developed a good intellectual and professional relationship, encouraging each other in their writing.