Sep 7, 2012

Johann Mayrhofer's Real Date of Birth

Opinions on the quality of the work of the Austrian poet Johann Baptist Mayrhofer (1787-1836) may be divided, but one thing is a fact: among all the poems Franz Schubert set to music Mayrhofer's rank second only to Goethe in numbers and some of the results of this particular cooperation, such as "Nachtstück" or "Lied eines Schiffers an die Dioskuren", belong to the  greatest achievements in the art of Lieder. Mayrhofer's fascinating and somewhat tragic life has repeatedly been object of scholarly studies and I have delved into this particular topic myself in an article titled "Dokumente zur Biographie Johann Mayrhofers", in: Schubert durch die Brille 25, (Tutzing: Schneider, 2000), pp. 21-50.


All authors who have written on Mayrhofer agree on 3 November 1787 as Mayrhofer's date of birth: from Ernst von Feuchtersleben in his 1843 edition of Mayrhofer's poems to Constant von Wurzbach in his Lexikon; from Anton Schlossar in Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie,Viktor Hanus in the Österreichisches Biographisches Lexikon and Walburga Litschauer in Neue Deutsche Biographie to Gerrit Waidelich in Bärenreiter's 2012 Schubert Liedlexikon. The only source that is curiously at odds with this long-held information is a commemorative plaque on Mayrhofer's birthplace in the Upper Austrian town of Steyr:



What is the reason for this odd discrepancy of almost two weeks? It turns out that Mayrhofer's baptismal entry in the records the Stadtpfarre Steyr was never consulted by any of the above authors and that the date 22 October, given on plaque on the house Pfarrgasse 12 is correct. The false date "3 November 1787" was put into existence in 1843 by Mayrhofer's friend Ernst von Feuchtersleben, who had obviously received flawed information from somebody in Steyr. This anonymous researcher (or Feuchtersleben himself?) only checked a separate index (begun in 1785) and not the Taufbuch proper. In this index he came across the following mistaken entry (which in the meantime has been corrected with pencil):


The original entry in the baptismal record (Taufbuch 1784-1813, p. 16) is of course very clear and shows that Mayrhofer was indeed born on 22 October 1787, at 9 p.m., son of court procurator Mathias Remigius Mayrhofer:
 

As can be seen. the wrong date "3ten November" belongs to the following entry referring to Maria Josepha Widal, whose name in the index analogously bears the date of Mayrhofer's birth: 


Mayrhofer's godfather was Johann Baptist Göppel (1763-1827), apothecary and  owner of the renowned Löwenapotheke in Steyr. This may be seen as a kind of omen, since in his later life Mayrhofer was known as a notorious hypochondriac. On 8 September 1818 Franz Schubert writes: "Lieber Mayrhofer [...] Höre auf zu Kränkeln, wenigstens zu mediciniren, so gibt sich das andere von selbst." ("Dear Mayrhofer [...] stop ailing, at least medicating, then the other will be resolved by itself".)

Mayerhofer's seal and signature on his will, written in 1829.

1 comment:

  1. So pleased to find out. Finally we have the exact date!

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