About this Recording
8.557077 - SCHUMANN, R.: Lied Edition, Vol. 4 - 12 Gedichte, Op. 35 / 5 Lieder und Gesange, Op. 127 / 4 Gesange, Op. 142
English  German 

Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
Settings of Poems by Justinus Kerner

 

When Robert Schumann first brought his works before the public, from 1831 onwards, he was regarded purely as a composer for the piano: his first 23 published works were written exclusively for the keyboard. It was not until 1840, when his Liederkreis, Op. 24, after Heinrich Heine, was published, that he showed himself also to be a master of the Lied. He then developed his art systematically in the fields of symphonic work, chamber music, oratorio and opera. This sequence of publications, however, gives a false impression of the composer’s artistic development. In particular, the numerous vocal compositions of his “Year of Song” 1839/40 were by no means Schumann’s first attempts at composing for the voice. As early as 1827/28 he wrote several youthful songs which were certainly not published in his lifetime. It was not until 1893 that a supplementary volume of the old Schumann Complete Edition, under the editorship of Brahms, was published, containing three of these early works, while other works from Schumann’s youth were published only in 1933 and 1984.

The impetus for Schumann’s first attempts at Lieder was his acquaintance with the family of Dr Ernst August Carus when they stayed in Zwickau on a visit in 1827. Carus’s wife was an amateur singer whom Schumann accompanied at the piano and with whom he soon became infatuated. She introduced him to the songs of Franz Schubert, thereby encouraging him to write his own first songs. In 1828, when Schumann came to study in Leipzig, contact with the Carus family was renewed and Agnes Carus drew Schumann’s attention to a volume of songs by the now almost totally forgotten Brunswick Kapellmeister Gottlob Wiedebein which contained, among others, settings of Goethe and Jean Paul. At the same time Schumann appears to have got to know a collection of poems by Justinus Kerner which appeared in 1826. The almost folk-song-like lyrics of these Kerner poems, together with Wiedebein’s songs, captured Schumann’s imagination and liberated his creative powers to such an extent that in June and July of 1828 he set to music Kurzes Erwachen (Brief Awakening), Gesanges Erwachen (Song’s Awakening), An Anna I (To Anna I), An Anna II (To Anna II) as well as Im Herbste (In Autumn).

In order to obtain an independent judgement on them Schumann sent the songs to Wiedebein for his assessment: “Dear Sir, please forgive the impudence of an eighteen-year old youth who has been filled with enthusiasm for the volume of your songs, which are beyond praise, and who has dared, with his own feeble notes, to intrude upon the sacred world of music...” Not only did Schumann seek Wiedebein’s reaction to his own work but he tried also to get him interested in Kerner’s lyrics:

“Kerner’s poems attracted me most of all for their mysterious heavenly power, a quality often found in the poems of Goethe and Jean Paul. Kerner’s poems encouraged me to make my own feeble attempts at writing songs because in his hands each word is celestial and must be set precisely to music. At the same time I beg to include a respectful request, if I may, to plead with you, a master of the musical art, and to ask you, on behalf of all those who know your work and who look forward eagerly to the second volume of your songs, to delight us by setting to music some poems by Kerner...”

Wiedebein’s letter of reply criticized Schumann’s uncertainty in his grasp of musical craft, but he praised in these songs: “...here and there a truly poetic feeling; a genuine spirit blazes” and encouraged the young Leipzig dilettante to “higher study of his art”. As for the idea of his setting Kerner’s poems to music, Wiedebein just did not see the point and Schumann’s enthusiasm for the Swabian poet also seems to have waned. Yet that Schumann later attached importance to the Kerner songs of his youth is evident in the fact that he reworked some of them as slow movements in his piano sonatas. The Aria from his Sonata in F sharp minor, Op. 11, is a pianistic reworking of the song Anna I and similarly Im Herbste became the Andantino of the Sonata in G minor, Op. 22.

Schumann returned to the poems of Justinus Kerner in his ”Year of Song” 1839/40 when he dedicated to the poet his Op. 35 song-cycle. On 22 November 1840 his newly-married wife Clara wrote in her diary: “Robert has composed three marvellous songs. The texts are by Justinus Kerner: Lust der Sturmnacht (Joy in a Stormy Night), “Stirb, Lieb’ und Freud‘!” (“Die, Love and Happiness”) and Trost im Gesang (Comfort in Song). He understands the texts so beautifully, more deeply than any other composer I know; none has his sensitivity.”

The twelve Kerner-Lieder, which date from November and December 1840 and which appeared finally as Schumann’s Op. 35, were not considered by Kerner to be a complete entity but were gathered together by the composer. Schumann said of them that they were not like the circular cycle of songs such as the Eichendorff settings, Op. 39; they were, rather, a loose sequence of songs which none the less contained textual and musical cross-references which could be described as “Lieder-Novelle” (“novella-songs”).

World-weariness is the basic mood of the Kerner poems and when the word “Lust” (“Joy”) appears in the title or text of the songs, it is to do predominantly with the joy of renunciation or separation. Almost without exception (No. 10 is in C major) Schumann chose the key of B flat major for his settings, with E flat major as the central axis, gravitating towards A flat major at the end. In order to avoid a monotonous mood in the series of songs Schumann sought variety within it: the cheerful march-like tone of Wanderlied (Song of Travel) (No. 3) has made it one of the most popular and relaxed of the set.

Even this Wanderlust, however, is about leavetaking and in No. 2 “Stirb, Lieb’ und Freud‘!” (“Die, Love and Happiness”) a lover takes leave of his sweetheart who has taken the veil and is off to a nunnery. A cathedral is the setting for this tale of separation and Schumann evokes the sacred atmosphere by using the archaic time signature of CC. This feeling of separation is manifest in the remaining Kerner songs, whose verses take on a somewhat misanthropic stance. Alienation from mankind and a yearning to find salvation in nature are the subjects of Erstes Grün (First Green) (No. 4) and Wanderung (Wandering) (No. 7) and the final songs of the set continue this theme. In the penultimate song is the line: “It is mankind which is responsible for my death-wounds. Nature made me whole, but men gave me no peace.”

In Lust der Sturmnacht (Joy in a Stormy Night) (No. 1) the poetic self finds security in its inner being, so that even the ability to speak or communicate is gradually lost in Stille Liebe (Silent Love) (No. 8). The only friend from whom one will never be parted is already dead. In the middle of the cycle is the hymn-like Auf das Trinkglas eines verstorbenen Freundes (To the drinking-glass of a departed friend) (No. 6). Schumann illustrates its frequent pauses and nocturnal atmosphere with adjacent seventh chords, used less with harmonic correctness than for local colour, which leave an especially lasting impression. The set of songs which began so restlessly with the powerfully passionate Lust der Sturmnacht ends quietly with a lonely person’s presentiment of death. For effect, this song is not recommended as the final number of a Lieder evening; if one were to look for a dramaturgical parallel perhaps Schubert’s death-frozen Der Leiermann from Die Winterreise might come to mind.

To balance this anticlimax Schumann comes up with a device of compositional compression which binds the final songs even more closely together. The melodically- and harmonically-open-ended Frage (Question) (No. 9) finds its immediate continuation in Stille Tränen (Silent Tears) (No. 10); conversely, the next song, „Wer machte dich so krank?“ (“Who made you so ill?”) (No. 11), has a kind of “open” beginning which seems to echo the long piano postlude of the previous song and which leads harmonically into the A flat tonality of the last two songs. It is without precedent that Schumann constructed the Opus 35 set of songs in pairs: two originally unconnected poems whose rhythmic details in the stress of the text proceed identically in the vocal part.

In connection with his Opus 35 Schumann had set other Kerner poems which however found no place in the final collection. Schumann published these compositions years later in his Fünf Lieder und Gesänge, Op. 127, and in his Vier Gesänge, Op. 142. Trost im Gesang, Op. 142 No. 1, (Comfort in song), and Sängers Trost Op. 127 No. 1, (A Singer’s Consolation), continue the sentiments of Op. 35. Sängers Trost even seems to be directly linked to Alte Laute (Old Sounds), the last of the Op. 35 set. The portrayal of the grave follows the yearning for death: the singer lies buried in the grave, thinking not of mankind but only of nature.

Some other songs, dating from the “Year of Song” 1839/40 but withheld from publication at that time, appeared later in Schumann’s Op. 127 and Op. 142, the latter of which was published posthumously in 1858. The Heine settings Dein Angesicht (Your face), Es leuchtet meine Liebe (My love shines), Lehn’ deine Wang’ (Lean your cheek) and Mein Wagen rollet langsam (My carriage rolls slowly) belong to the emotional world of Dichterliebe. Of these Mein Wagen rollet langsam is the most remarkable; its novel accompanying figure, which alternates between stopping and starting, suggests an irregular jolting forward movement, and its extremely lengthy piano postlude hints at an appropriate final song for a cycle.

Schlußlied des Narren (Feste’s Closing Song) is one of the earliest completed settings of the year 1840. For the one and only time Schumann turned to a text by Shakespeare (from Twelfth Night) in the translation by Schlegel and Tieck. Schumann sets the three verses, whose second lines are identical but which end differently, syllabically, succinctly and without frills - completely in the spirit of music appropriate for a play.

Yet another name which appears only once in Schumann’s work is that of the Silesian poet Moritz Graf von Strachwitz (1822-1847). Schumann sets his poem Mein altes Roß (My Old Horse) in a jaunty march rhythm, even if the evocation of the youthful rider is but a distant memory in an old man’s mind. The author of Mädchen-Schwermut (A Girl’s Melancholy) was for a long time unknown but the poem has now been attributed to Lily Bernhard, a friend of Clara Schumann. In his setting Schumann experimented with innovative heterophonic differences between the voice and the piano, identical phrases often sounding as though they had been slightly delayed.

Gerhard Dietel
English version by David Stevens


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