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8.550400 - SCHUMANN, R. / BRAHMS / WAGNER: Romantic Song Cycles
Robert Schumann wrote his song-cycle Frauenliebe und-leben in July, 1840. The year, his Ligderjahr, in which he composed one group of songs after another in incredible profusion, had begun with a legal decision that seemed to favour him. At his insistence he had persuaded his widowed mother to allow him to abandon his study of the law and in 1830 to become a pupil of the well known piano-teacher Friedrich Wieck, lodging in his house in Leipzig. An abortive flirtation with one of Wieck's pupils was followed by a more serious relationship with Wieck's favourite daughter, Clara, on whom her father had lavished a great deal of attention and whose career as a pianist promised much. Wieck, with some justification, objected to the prospect of Schumann as a son-in-law and sought every means at his disposal to prevent the match. Protracted and painful litigation resulted in a final victory for Schumann at the beginning of July, 1840. The couple married two months later.
Frauenliebe und-leben is a setting of eight of a set of nine poems written in 1830 by Adalbert von Chamisso. The poems set by Schumann may be imagined to reflect something of Clara Wieck's hopes and fears at her approaching marriage, at least as the composer saw them. The subject of the poems tells of her first awareness of love, the miraculous response to her affections and the final tragedy, when her young husband dies, leaving her happy memories to be recalled in the brief piano postlude that closes the cycle. Clara Schumann's own marriage was to bring far more bitterness, culminating in the final insanity of her husband and his death in an asylum in 1856.
Schumann's health was already declining when in 1853 he and Clara first met the young Johannes Brahms, a musician whose genius he immediately recognised. Brahms gave Clara Schumann considerable support during the difficult years of her husband's illness and remained on the closest terms with her until her death in 1896, a year before his own death. The Four Serious Songs, settings of words on the subject of death taken from Martin Luther's translation of the Bible, were written in 1896, reflecting, perhaps, the possibility of Clara Schumann's death or, indeed, his own. They were dedicated, however, to Max Klinger, and intended originally for bass. The tragic tone of the first three songs is lightened by hope in the final setting of St. Paul's famous words on charity, or love as Martin Luther unambiguously has it.
Wagner's Wesendonck songs owe their origin to the composer's affaire with the wife of Otto Wesendonck, a rich businessman, who had generously assisted him during his exile in Switzerland and provided him with a house on his estate. Wagner's liaison with Mathilde Wesendonck gave rise to his music-drama of forbidden love, Tristan und Isolde, and, during the summer of 1857, to the setting of five poems by her, early examples of what later became a prodigious literary output. The five poems reflect Mathilde Wesendonck's admiration for Tristan, while the music foreshadows elements in that work. Im Troibhaus is closely related to the Prelude to Act III and Träume to the Act II love-duet, the latter played in an instrumental version as a birthday serenade for Mathilde.
The idyll in Zürich, with Wagner and his wife Minna living in the house he called Asyl, adjacent to the new Wesendonck villa, could not last. Otto Wesendonck was prepared to play, for the time being, the complaisant husband, but Minna's patience finally broke when she intercepted a note from her husband to Mathilde. Wagner took refuge at first in Venice and then moved to Lucerne, where he finished Tristan. The Wesendonck songs were later to arouse emotions in the heart of the young Cosima von Bülow, daughter of Liszt and wife of a musician who did much to further the music of Wagner, whose children she bore and whose wife she finally became.
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