Christian Friedrich Hebbel

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Christian Friedrich Hebbel


Portrait (1851) by Carl Rahl
Born 18 March 1813
Wesselburen, Dithmarschen, Holstein
Died 13 December 1863 (aged 50)
Vienna, Austrian Empire
Occupation poet and dramatist
Nationality Germany
Notable awards Schiller Prize

Christian Friedrich Hebbel (18 March 1813 – 13 December 1863), was a German poet and dramatist.



Hebbel was born at Wesselburen in Dithmarschen, Holstein, the son of a bricklayer. He was educated at the Gelehrtenschule des Johanneums , a grammar school in Hamburg, Germany. Despite his humble origins, he showed a talent for poetry, resulting in the publication in the Hamburg Modezeitung, of verses which he had sent to Amalie Schoppe (1791–1858), a popular journalist and author of nursery tales. Through her patronage, he was able to go to the University of Hamburg.

Wesselburen Place in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany

Wesselburen is a municipality in the district of Dithmarschen in the German Federal State of Schleswig-Holstein. It is situated near the North Sea coast, approximately 11 km west of Heide.

Holstein Region of Schleswig-Holstein, Germany

Holstein is the region between the rivers Elbe and Eider. It is the southern half of Schleswig-Holstein, the northernmost state of Germany.

Gelehrtenschule des Johanneums grammar school in Hamburg, Germany

The Gelehrtenschule des Johanneums is a Gymnasium in Hamburg, Germany. It is Hamburg's oldest school and was founded in 1529 by Johannes Bugenhagen. The school´s focus is on the teaching of Latin and ancient Greek. It is proud of having educated some of Germany's political leaders as well as some of Germany's notable scientists. The school is operated and financed by the city of Hamburg.

A year later he went to Heidelberg University to study law, but gave it up and went on to the University of Munich, where he devoted himself to philosophy, history and literature. In 1839, Hebbel left Munich and walked all the way back to Hamburg, where he resumed his friendship with Elise Lensing, whose self-sacrificing assistance had helped him over the darkest days in Munich. In the same year he wrote his first tragedy, Judith (1840, published 1841), which in the following year was performed in Hamburg and Berlin and made his name known throughout Germany.

Heidelberg University public research university in Heidelberg, Baden-Württemberg, Germany

Heidelberg University is a public research university in Heidelberg, Baden-Württemberg, Germany. Founded in 1386 on instruction of Pope Urban VI, Heidelberg is Germany's oldest university and one of the world's oldest surviving universities. It was the third university established in the Holy Roman Empire.

Tragedy form of drama based on human suffering that invokes an accompanying catharsis or pleasure in audiences

Tragedy is a form of drama based on human suffering that invokes an accompanying catharsis or pleasure in audiences. While many cultures have developed forms that provoke this paradoxical response, the term tragedy often refers to a specific tradition of drama that has played a unique and important role historically in the self-definition of Western civilisation. That tradition has been multiple and discontinuous, yet the term has often been used to invoke a powerful effect of cultural identity and historical continuity—"the Greeks and the Elizabethans, in one cultural form; Hellenes and Christians, in a common activity," as Raymond Williams puts it.

Judith is a play written in 1840 by the German dramatist Friedrich Hebbel.

In 1840, he wrote the tragedy Genoveva, and the following year finished a comedy, Der Diamant, which he had begun at Munich. In 1842 he visited Copenhagen, where he obtained from King Christian VIII a small travelling studentship, which enabled him to spend some time in Paris and two years (1844–1846) in Italy. In Paris he wrote his fine "tragedy of common life", Maria Magdalena  (de ) (1844). On his return from Italy Hebbel met in Vienna two Polish noblemen, the brothers Zerboni di Sposetti, who in their enthusiasm for his genius urged him to remain, and supplied him with the means to mingle in the best intellectual society of the Austrian capital.

Copenhagen Capital of Denmark

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Christian VIII of Denmark King of Norway 1814, King of Denmark 1839-1848

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Christine Hebbel, 1855 Christine Hebbel.jpg
Christine Hebbel, 1855

Hebbel's old precarious existence now became a horror to him, and he made a deliberate breach with it by marrying (in 1846) the beautiful and wealthy actress Christine Enghaus, giving up Elise Lensing (who remained faithful to him until her death), on the grounds that "a man's first duty is to the most powerful force within him, that which alone can give him happiness and be of service to the world": in his case the poetical faculty, which would have perished "in the miserable struggle for existence". This "deadly sin," which, "if peace of conscience be the test of action," was, he considered, the best act of his life, established his fortunes. Elise, however, still provided useful inspiration for his art. As late as 1851, shortly after her death, he wrote the little epic Mutter und Kind, intended to show that the relation of parent and child is the essential factor which makes the quality of happiness among all classes and under all conditions equal.

Christine Enghaus German actress, wife of Friedrich Hebbel

Christine Enghaus, pseudonym of Johanne Louise Christine Engehausen, was a German actress and wife of the German playwright Friedrich Hebbel.

Long before this Hebbel had become famous, German sovereigns bestowed decorations upon him; in foreign capitals he was feted as the greatest of living German dramatists. From the grand-duke of Saxe-Weimar he received a flattering invitation to take up his residence at Weimar, where several of his plays were first performed. He remained, however, at Vienna until his death.

Weimar Place in Thuringia, Germany

Weimar is a city in the federal state of Thuringia, Germany. It is located in Central Germany between Erfurt in the west and Jena in the east, approximately 80 kilometres southwest of Leipzig, 170 kilometres north of Nuremberg and 170 kilometres west of Dresden. Together with the neighbour-cities Erfurt and Jena it forms the central metropolitan area of Thuringia with approximately 500,000 inhabitants, whereas the city itself counts a population of 65,000. Weimar is well known because of its large cultural heritage and its importance in German history.


Deathmask Hamburg Museum AB 2136.jpg

Besides the works already mentioned, Hebbel's principal tragedies are:

Of his comedies Der Diamant (1847), Der Rubin (1850) and the tragi-comedy Ein Trauerspiel in Sizilien (1845), are the more important, but they are heavy and hardly rise above mediocrity. All his dramatic productions, however, exhibit skill in characterization, great glow of passion, and a true feeling for dramatic situation; but their poetic effect is frequently marred by extravagances which border on the grotesque, and by the introduction of incidents the unpleasant character of which is not sufficiently relieved. In many of his lyric poems, and especially in Mutter und Kind, published in 1859, Hebbel showed that his poetic gifts were not restricted to the drama.

His collected works were first published by E. Kuh in 12 volumes at Hamburg, 1866–1868.


Some of Hebbel's works were set to music, such as his poem Requiem by Peter Cornelius and in Max Reger's Hebbel Requiem . Reger set his poem "Die Weihe der Nacht" for voice, choir and orchestra. Robert Schumann's opera Genoveva is based on a play of Hebbel.

In 1872 Samuel de Lange used Hebbel's poem "Ein frühes Liebesleben" in an unusual instrumentation for voice, string quartet and harp. An arrangement with piano instead of harp was made during a centennial revival of Samuel and Daniël de Lange  (nl )'s music. [1]

Eduard Lassen wrote incidental music to Die Nibelungen in 1873. In 1878/79 Franz Liszt combined music from the Die Nibelungen setting with excerpts from Lassen's incidental music to Goethe's Faust , in a single piano transcription, Aus der Musik zu Hebbels Nibelungen und Goethes Faust (S.496).

In 1922 Emil von Reznicek composed an opera Holofernes after Hebbel's Judith und Holofernes.

The poem "Dem Schmerz sein Recht" was set to music by Alban Berg in 4 Gesänge, Op. 2, No 1.


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  1. "Samuel de Lange, "Ein frühes Liebesleben"". (in Dutch). Retrieved 2017-03-24.