Supplementary Appendix: Ludwig Tieck’s Talent for Reading Aloud

Ludwig Tieck’s talent for reading aloud

In his Vorlesungen über schöne Literatur und Kunst, 2:390, Wilhelm Schlegel jots down the following notes for further development in his Berlin lectures: “The art of performing Goldoni and Holberg [has been] lost. Tieck’s [art of] reading aloud”.

Caroline remarks on several occasions that Ludwig Tieck was widely acknowledged to have been extraordinarily talented in reading plays and other written material aloud. She writes to Auguste on 4 November 1799 (letter 253) that “Tiek read us a play by Ludvig von Holberg aloud, Ulysses of Ithaca, until we almost died of laughter. He intends to read everything yet again when you come; what a reading machine he is, and absolutely indefatigable with it.”

Here an illustration of Tieck reading aloud during his sojourn in Dresden (A. von Sternberg, “Tieck’s Vorlese-Abende in Dresden,” Die Gartenlaube 8 [1861] 116–17, here 117):


See in this regard especially Tieck’s own remarks in Rudolf Köpke’s Tieck: Erinnerungen 2:178–80:

Even in my youth, while still attending the Gymnasium, I acquired a not inconsiderable reputation in the art of reading out loud, especially dramatic pieces. I developed this talent ever further later through continued practice, also coming up with certain rules for myself. Much depends on when one takes a breath, and especially on doing so at the appropriate place. It is necessary to draw one’s breath through the nose, which protects the throat from excessive air flow, which during the heat of reading can easily have a slight cooling effect, in which case one’s voice becomes rough and loses both power and endurance.

By contrast, proper exercise can contribute considerably to strengthening and expanding the organ. At my best, I could read two five-act plays one after the other without tiring. During the actual reading, I always tried to stand above the whole. Notwithstanding the fact that to a certain extent I do become one emotionally with each and every character, I nonetheless always tried to maintain enough oversight that I might at any moment catch myself having emphasized this or that word incorrectly.

That is the correct disposition for anyone reading aloud as well as for the actor and artist in the larger sense; and that is the irony here. The tone of the person reading aloud is never permitted to exceed the boundaries of what I have always called the more noble tone of conversation. Not even in the tragic genre is such allowed, since otherwise it turns into false pathos and mannerism, with individual elements being singled out and the impression of the whole thereby lost. And yet everything depends on exactly that whole.

Reading a play with a widely changing voice, or attempts to imitate, even if deceptively, well-known actors, although capable of having an impressive effect at the moment nonetheless remains subordinate, being quite inartistic and inimical to the effect of the whole. That is also why I have always found the now popular activity of readings with so-called role assignments to be repugnant. Through such readings, the whole is utterly sundered.

One person reads tolerably, another horribly, the one reads in a head voice, the other with a jarring bass voice, and none really understand their roles. I was once invited to such a tea reading as a gesture of respect, but I was hardly able to endure it to the finish. [Ignaz Aurelius] Fessler [1756–1839] in Berlin was the first to begin this type of reading. These days, although everyone thinks himself capable of reading, only very few actually understand it, and even otherwise distinguished people often deceive themselves on just this point.

The elder Schlegel could read lyrical pieces and his own poems in an extremely pleasant manner, but dramatic material in an insufferable pulpit voice even though he thought he could read quite well aloud. On the other hand, he criticized my simple style of reading aloud because I allegedly lacked tragic pathos.

Schelling writes to Carl Joseph Windischmann on 8 December 1808 (Plitt 2:137; Fuhrmans 3:567–68):

Ludwig Tieck and his sister have been here [Munich] for about six weeks now. He was and is still a charming fellow. His talent for not so much reading as physically acting out and emotionally evoking comedies and tragedies has attained the highest degree of perfection. One cannot conceive anything more royally entertaining than to have him read aloud and improvise a comedy by [Carlo] Gozzi [1720–1806].

Friedrich Jacobs also fondly recalls Tieck’s readings in Munich (Personalien [Leipzig 1840], 85):

Over the course of the summer [correct: autumn], Ludwig Tieck and his sister, Madam Bernhardi, arrived in Munich from Vienna, a delightful addition to the social circle in which I lived and which consisted primarily of the families Jacobi, Schlichtegroll, Wiebeking, and Niethammer. Tieck, preceded by an excellent renown for which his personal amiability served as a foil, was welcomed everywhere he went. His company was attractive and instructive, his entire personality accommodating and pleasant.

The evenings during which he read from Shakespeare, Gozzi, or Holberg, he bestowing upon these readings the essence of a complete dramatic performance through his beautiful and malleable voice, his profound sensibility, mood, and loquacious countenance — these evenings were a celebration for everyone who attended. No one I have ever heard read aloud could equal the overall scope of all the characteristics necessary for such readings. Although some could equal him in individual elements, those who set their fame on this particular art form and engaged it as a means income were least able to do so.

Ludwig Tieck had also read such pieces aloud in Jena. See Caroline’s letter to Auguste on 21 October 1799 (letter 250), note 7. Below is an illustration of such an evening with Tieck reading before friends after he moved from Dresden to Berlin in 1840 (Ludwig Pietsch, “Ein Abend bei Ludwig Tieck,” Der Bazar. Illustrirte Damen-Zeitung [1866] 42 [8 November 1866], 337–38, illustration on 337). The article begins:

On the grand Friedrichstrasse in Berlin, near Zimmerstrasse, stands a greenish-brown, one-story house that in no way stands apart from its paltry everyday surroundings. In the long room on the ground floor, however, whose windows face the inner courtyard, Ludwig Tieck, after moving from Dresden to Berlin in 1840 and taking an apartment in this house during the period when his relationship with his royal friend in Potsdam did not keep him occupied, used to read aloud his own literary pieces and those of his favorite writers from Germany, England, Denmark, and Spain.

This room exhibits a rather remarkable sort of wall decoration, and if we are to believe the assurances of the residents today, these decorations come from the time when the inspired words of these writers resounded from Tiecks “beautifully rhymed lips.” This wall is painted with an extended legendary Rhine River landscape with the river, mountains, castle ruins, lofty forests, all with that particular landscape style and coloring, with the naive simplicity of tones and forms in which the creations of the roulleaux [Fr., “runners, rollers”] painters were accustomed to reproduce reality artistically.

Yet we, too, who otherwise find artistically inappropriate elements in our immediate or daily surroundings hardly bearable, would likely have endured and indeed easily enough forgotten these Rhine landscapes had we been granted entrance into this circle that in its own turn often enough brought together every grand name in literary and artistic Berlin during the early 1840s, with all these select men and women listening intently, sometimes with serene enjoyment, sometimes moved by the most stirring emotions, to the voice reading before them.

Tiecks fragile body was so brutally affected by gout that he had to lean his handsome head wholly down against his shoulder, which, however, gave his large, brown, radiant eyes a peculiar, subtly mischievous magic whenever he suddenly gazed upon those of a listener, as it were, from below. One might also point out that on such occasions he never exchanged his classic black silken coat with its shawl collar for the otherwise official social attire, the boring tailcoat.

Almost sunken, then, in this dark collar, slightly bent over, he sat in the armchair in front of his reading table, in the middle of the room’s longer wall, essentially unmoving, and with no other physical action than that of accompanying and supporting, with the communicative movements of his delicate white hand, the euphonious lilt of his sometimes full, sometimes incisive, sometimes soft voice.

No other person before or since has possessed this wondrous facility for reading aloud, for constantly changing his voice in an infinite variety of colors and rigidly maintaining these subtleties of coloring once he had assigned them to the various characters of a play. His public generally sat in a broad semicircle around his table.

Pietsch goes on to identify each guest in the illustration, emphasizing, however, that although the group may never have have been assembled with every one in this illustration present at the same time, still they were regular guests at such evenings. Although these Berlin readings took place in the early 1840s, several persons appear who play a role in the present edition of Caroline’s letters:


Schelling seated at far left. Henrik Steffens standing third from left. Jacob Grimm (of Grimm’s fairy-tale and dictionary fame) is seated in front of and to Steffens’s right (longer hair). Alexander von Humboldt seated at the table in front of Steffens, arms folded in lap. Bettina Brentano (Arnim) seated at table to the right of the double candles; Karl August Varnhagen von Ense sitting next to her, head turned toward her. Countess Henriette Amalie Dorothea von Finckenstein — not by accident — seated to Tieck’s right at the table. Behind her, seated: the sculptor of Auguste’s bust, Tieck’s brother Friedrich Tieck. Standing against the wall, far right, arms folded: Karl von Holtei.