Freedom, chess and Friedrich Schiller

Friedrich Schiller has, in my mind, always been associated with chess, ever since I became familiar with his ideas about the nature of the game. Identifying in fact a specific and unmistakable reference to chess in Schiller

His work, however, has proven to be more elusive.

On my desk I have a number of books that hold a permanent position and are never deleted, much like a bibliophile version of the constituent members of the United Nations Security Council. These books include: Cicero

it is complete


against Mark Anthony, in parallel translation in Latin and English; complete works of Marlowe and Shakespeare, Milton

s Paradise Lost and Beowulf, all in the original. In addition, the complete works of Goethe and Friedrich Schiller, the two titans of German literature, in original German. Also Guizot

History of civilization in Europe from the fall of the Roman Empire to the French Revolution,

kindly given as a birthday present by the publisher.

I have already written about Goethe and chess. This week, I turn to Schiller. In comparison with Goethe, Schillers dramas, starting with Die Rdawn (1782) are somewhat histrionic, but they make excellent Verdi operas: Me Masniardi, Don Carlos, Maria Stuart, Giovanna darco (“Joan of Arc”, according to Die Jungfrau of Orleans), Louise Miller (based on Kabbalahand Liebé) and Wallenstein blond beer (adapted in the opening scenes of The Forza of Destino) being obvious examples. However, Schillers The Wallenstein Trilogy, 1799, his finest dramatic work, transcends all previous plays and deserves to be ranked with Marlowes Tamburlainthe great tragedies of Shakespeare and Racine or even Goethes Faust. I must admit that it is one of my ambitions not only to stage Wagners Ring cycle, with Wotan as Kaiser and the gods of Valhalla as Prussian generals, resplendent in Pickeldawn or spiked helmets, but also for welding Schillers Don Carlos in a single unit with Goethethe tragedy Egmont. The merger would provide a full evenings an insight into the political situation in the Spanish Netherlands of the 16th century, as Dutch nationalists fought to free themselves from the yoke of the imperial regent, Margaret of Parma, and the tyranny of the Duke of Alba.

Freedom, indeed, if not outright revolution, was Schiller

watchword. As I explained in the

British chess magazine

earlier this year, it was a well-known fact that the opening text of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (

Freude sch


ner G


tterfunken, Tochter aus Elysium.

..), is based on Friedrich Schiller’s Ode to Joy (


in German). It is less known that Schiller originally wrote the poem as an ode to freedom,


in German, but that the word liberty was suppressed by the censors at the time of the French revolution when it was written. Freude, also two-syllable, begins with F and was deemed more appropriate. However, if you read the full text of the ode, it is obvious that Freedom performs much better than the less energetic Joy. (My translation.)

An die Freude / Ode to joy

Freude, sch


ner G




Tochter aus Elysée,


Wir betreten firerunken,


Himmlische, den Heiligtum.


Deine Zauber binden weeder,


Does the Mode streng geteilt,


All Menschen werden Br


Wo dein sanfter Fl


used gel.

Joy, beautiful divine spark, daughter of the Elysée, O celestial, we enter, drunk with fire, into your holy kingdom. Your magic makes whole what custom had severely torn, all men become brothers, where your gentle wing protects us.

Seid umschlungen Millionen!

Diesen Kuß der ganzen Welt!

der –
Sternenzelt berm

muss ein lieber Vater wohnen.

Embrace millions! Offer this kiss to the whole world! Brethren, above the vault of the stars a dear Father must reside.

Ecstasy? Yes! Freedom? Certainly! Joy? Absolutely not. This

It is no coincidence that Beethoven did not just convert Schiller

s Ode to Music, but also wrote the
and accompanying music for


Goethe’s youthful hymn to freedom, accompanied by his own hymn to freedom, his only opera,


. It’s a shame that recumbent conductors still bend to custom (ironically, as in the very words of the Ode itself). They should happily replace




just like Leonard Bernstein when he directed

Beethovens ninth

on the metaphorically crumbling ramparts of the German capital’s hated circumvallation (better known as the Berlin Wall).

While honing my chess skills at Dulwich College in the antediluvian era when Villons Snow dyesteryear were still falling, I spent a lot of time with the so-called red books published in the Weltgeschichte Schachs series by Dr. Eduard Wildhagen. This German series consisted of 40 volumes, with 20,000 master games and 200,000 diagrams. There were few notes, but the key (in pre-database days) was the provision of a diagram after every fourth or fifth movement. This allowed the student (me) to visually absorb strategy and tactics at a glance and get a real feel for the architecture and skeleton of each position displayed.

Each volume bore a logo from the famous classical Greek vase of Exekias, showing Ajax and Achilles playing an abstract mental sport during the siege of Troy. I later had this image adapted by Royal College of Arms top artist Robert Parsons to signify the Mind Sports Olympiads which I co-founded in the 1990s with Tony Buzan.

Along with the Exekias logo, Dr. Wilhagen always added a very relevant quote from Schiller:

Der Mensch spielt nur, wo er in voller Bedeutung des Wortes Mensch ist, under ist nur da ganz Mensch, wo er spielt.

” (

Humanity only plays where the full significance of the word humanity has been achieved, and full humanity is only fully possible where play is also possible.)

Clearly the words of a chess player, which would have been applauded by

Tony Buzan

and progressive pedagogues, like the indefatigable Malcolm Pein, with his charity Chess in Schools and Communities. Indeed, the educational and psychiatric value of play is increasingly recognized. According to Energia SOI Global Education, announcing a seminar held last week in Mumbai on the cognitive sciences behind the importance of play therapy,

Play therapy is a form of therapy used primarily for children and can be effective in helping children overcome emotional and mental issues. That

s because children may not be able to process their own emotions or express their problems to their parents or other adults. Although it may seem like ordinary playtime, play therapy can be so much more than that as children learn to know their strengths and develop their skills for better learning.

I like to imagine Goethe and Schiller, those two titans of German culture, in Weimar, where Goethe was prime minister and Schiller professor of history at the University of Jena, settling down for a game of chess in the evening, over a bottle or two of Goethe

his favorite red wine. Perhaps even,

a Jenenser from Jena, who lay a long time in a Madeira cask”…Schiller, needless to say, ordered his wine through Goethe, using Goethe

s the Erfurt wine merchant, Raman, but unfortunately only the wine quotes and labels have survived, not the games.

Before leaving you at Easter, here is a position which shows that even

Bobby Fisher

translated last week by John Nunn, has not itself always been infallible.

See this position after White

38th move? Here Fischer, as Black, played the recumbent 38…Rxd1 and lost, when, having already sacrificed his Queen, he could have administered the coup de grace. 38…Ke4+ elegantly sacrifices a rook to force mate in three moves. If 38.fxe4 Bg4+ finishes White off. Posterity weeps over this missed opportunity.

Raymond Keene’s latest book “Fifty Shades of Ray: Chess in the year of the Coronavirus”, featuring some of his best pieces from TheArticle, is now available at



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