The author of some of the loveliest verse ever written in the German language, Heine was the son of prosperous, assimilated Jewish parents, and his Judaism was a theme not only during his lifetime – he converted to Christianity in 1825, declaring his act a “ticket of admission to European culture” – but also long after his death. Heine’s books were among those burned by the Nazis in 1933 as they began to fulfil his prophecy that “There, where one burns books, one also burns people in the end.” But not even they could ban his most popular work, the Loreley, which was tolerated – in poem form and in the musical setting by Friedrich Silcher – as a “folk song”. Heine was deeply influenced by the spirit of the French Revolution, which he imbibed during the years of the French occupation of Düsseldorf. A radical and a trenchant critic of German feudalism, he spent much of his life in exile in Paris, and died there in 1856.

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