"The Nightingale" (Danish: "Nattergalen") is a literary fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen about an emperor who prefers the tinkling of a bejeweled mechanical bird to the song of a real nightingale. When the Emperor is near death, the nightingale's song restores his health.
Well received upon its publication in Copenhagen in 1843, the tale is believed to have been inspired by the author's unrequited love for singer and fellow Scandinavian, Jenny Lind. The story has been adapted to opera, ballet, musical play, television drama and animated film.
The Emperor of China learns that one of the most beautiful things in his empire is the song of the nightingale. When he orders a nightingale brought to him, a kitchen maid leads the court to a nearby forest where the bird is found. The nightingale agrees to appear at court. The Emperor is so delighted with the bird's song that he keeps the nightingale in captivity. When the Emperor is given a bejeweled mechanical bird he loses interest in the real nightingale, who returns to the forest. The mechanical bird breaks down due to overuse. The Emperor is taken deathly ill shortly thereafter. The real nightingale learns of the Emperor's condition and returns to the palace. Death is so moved by the nightingale's song that he departs and the emperor recovers. The nightingale agrees to sing to the emperor of all the happenings in the empire, that he will be known as the wisest emperor ever to live.
Composition and publication
According to Andersen's date book for 1843, "The Nightingale" was composed on 11 and 12 October 1843, and "began in Tivoli", an amusement park and pleasure garden with Chinese motifs in Copenhagen that opened in the summer of 1843. In his lifetime, Andersen traveled no further east of Copenhagen than Athens and Istanbul. His experience with China was limited to European Chinoiserie, a decorative style popular from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries.
The tale was first published by C.A. Reitzel in Copenhagen on 11 November 1843 in the first volume of the first collection of New Fairy Tales. The volume included "The Angel", "The Sweethearts; or, The Top and the Ball", and "The Ugly Duckling". The tale was critically well received, and furthered Andersen's success and popularity. It was reprinted on 18 December 1849 in Fairy Tales and again, on 15 December 1862 in the first volume of Fairy Tales and Stories.
Andersen met Swedish opera singer Jenny Lind (1820-1887) in 1840, and experienced an unrequited love for the singer. Lind preferred a platonic relationship with Andersen, and wrote him in 1844, "God bless and protect my brother is the sincere wish of his affectionate sister." Jenny was the illegitimate daughter of a schoolmistress, and established herself at the age of eighteen as a world class singer with her powerful soprano. Andersen's "The Nightingale" is generally considered a tribute to her.
Andersen wrote in The True Story of My Life, published in 1847, "Through Jenny Lind I first became sensible of the holiness of Art. Through her I learned that one must forget one's self in the service of the Supreme. No books, no men, have had a more ennobling influence upon me as a poet than Jenny Lind".
"The Nightingale" made Jenny Lind known as The Swedish Nightingale well before she became an international superstar and wealthy philanthropist in Europe and the United States. Strangely enough, the nightingale story became a reality for Jenny Lind in 1848-1849, when she fell in love with the Polish composer Fryderyk Chopin (1810-1849). His letters reveal that he felt "better" when she sang for him, and Jenny Lind arranged a concert in London to raise funds for a tuberculosis hospital. With the knowledge of Queen Victoria, Jenny Lind attempted unsuccessfully to marry Chopin in Paris in May 1849. Soon after, she had to flee the cholera epidemic, but returned to Paris shortly before he died of tuberculosis on 17 October 1849. Jenny Lind devoted the rest of her life to enshrining Chopin's legacy. Lind never recovered. She wrote to Andersen on 23 November 1871 from Florence: "I would have been happy to die for this my first and last, deepest, purest love."
Andersen, whose own father died of tuberculosis, may have been inspired by "Ode to a Nightingale" (1819), a poem John Keats wrote in anguish over his brother Tom's death of tuberculosis. Keats even evokes an emperor: "Thou was not born for death, immortal Bird! / No hungry generations tread thee down / The Voice I hear this passing night was heard / In ancient days by emperor and clown". Keats died of tuberculosis in 1821, and is buried in Rome, a city that continued to fascinate Andersen long after his first visit in 1833.
Lars Bo Jensen has criticized the Hans Christian Andersen/Jenny Lind theory: "...to judge Andersen from a biographical point of view only is to reduce great and challenging literature to casebook notes. Thus it is a pity to regard "The Nightingale" as simply the story of Andersen's passion for the singer Jenny Lind, when it is equally important to focus on what the tale says about art, love, nature, being, life, and death, or on the uniquely beautiful and highly original way in which these issues are treated. Andersen's works are great, but it has become customary to make them seem small. It has been and still is the task of interpreters of Hans Christian Andersen's life and work to adjust this picture and to try to show him as a thinking poet."
Jeffrey and Diane Crone Frank have noted that the fairy tale "was no doubt inspired by Andersen’s crush on Jenny Lind, who was about to become famous throughout Europe and the United States as the Swedish Nightingale. He had seen her that fall, when she was performing in Copenhagen. Copenhagen’s celebrated Tivoli Gardens opened that season, and its Asian fantasy motif was even more pronounced than it is today. Andersen had been a guest at the opening in August and returned for a second visit in October. In his diary that night he wrote: 'At Tivoli Gardens. Started the Chinese fairy tale.' He finished it in two days."
Heidi Anne Heiner of SurLaLune Fairy Tales has observed, "The tale's theme of "real" vs. "mechanical/artificial" has become even more pertinent since 1844 as the Industrial Revolution has led to more and more artificial intelligences, machines, and other technologies. The tale gains more poignance in the age of recorded music."
The story has inspired the creation of several notable adaptations. One of the best known is Russian composer Igor Stravinsky's opera Le Rossignol (1914, rev. 1962), a 35-minute, 3 act opera with a libretto by the composer and Stepan Mitusov. "The Song of the Nightingale", a 20-minute symphonic tone poem was constructed by Stravinsky from the opera's score in 1917 and accompanied a ballet presented in 1920 by Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes with sets by Henri Matisse and choreography by Léonide Massine.
Nightingale: A New Musical, premiered in London 18 December 1982 starring Sarah Brightman. On television, the tale was adapted for Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre in 1983 with Mick Jagger as the Emperor, Bud Cort as the Music Master, Barbara Hershey as the Kitchen Maid, Edward James Olmos as the Prime Minister, and Shelley Duvall as the Nightingale and Narrator.
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- Andersen, Hans Christian; Frank, Jeffrey; Frank, Diana Crone (2003). The Stories of Hans Christian Andersen: A New Translation from the Danish. New York: Houghton Mifflin.
- Heiner, Heidi Anne (2007-07-07). "History of "The Nightingale"". SurLaLune. Retrieved 2009-02-05.
- Jensen, Lars Bo. "Criticism of Hans Christian Andersen". Retrieved 2009-02-05.
- Johansen, Bertil Palmar; Haugan, Asbjørg (1987). "Keiseren og nattergalen".
- Jorgensen, Cecilia (2005-03-17). "Did the Emperor Suffer from Tuberculosis?". Icons of Europe. Retrieved 2009-02-05.
- Liukkonen, Petri. "Hans Christian Andersen". Books and Writers. Retrieved 2009-03-21.
- Nunnally, Tiina (2005). Fairy Tales. Viking Penguin. ISBN 0-670-03374-4 Check
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- "The Nightingale: Editions". Hans Christian Andersen Center. Retrieved 2009-02-05.
- Tatar, Maria (2008). The Annotated Hans Christian Andersen. New York and London: W.W. Norton & Company. ISBN 978-0-393-06081-2.