About this Recording
8.557075 - SCHUMANN, R.: Lied Edition, Vol. 1 - Liederkreis, Op. 24 / Dichterliebe, Op. 48
English  German 

Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
Liederkreis, Op. 24 • Dichterliebe, Op. 48 • Der arme Peter, Op. 53, No. 3 • Belsazar, Op. 57

When the eighteen-year-old Robert Schumann had completed his studies at the Zwickau Lyceum, he set out, before his planned university law course, on a great journey to South Germany. A letter of introduction secured for him a meeting with the already famous Heinrich Heine, who was then staying in Munich. Schumann had already come to know Heine’s Buch der Lieder, published the year before, and had drawn his own conclusion from the poems on the character of the poet: ‘I imagined’, Schumann’s report of the meeting goes, ‘in Heine a sullen, misanthropic man, who stood above men and life, rather than associate closely with them. But I found him completely different … he met me in a friendly way, like a human, Greek Anacreon, he pressed my hand …; only on his mouth was there a bitter, ironic smile …’.

At this period it was not yet apparent that Schumann would be counted one day among the ideal composers of settings of Heine’s poems, poems that completely suit the cadences of folk-song, yet interrupted by disillusioning changes of mood. In the foreground in Heine’s poems are often unhappy love affairs, but behind this long-familiar motif lies more: modern world-weariness, and suffering at the short-comings of contemporary society.

While he was at school Schumann had written some romantic songs, but in the 1830s he only published piano pieces, although he felt the form to be increasingly restrictive. It may be that above all his love for Clara Wieck and the prospect of his coming marriage removed this creative block towards the end of the decade: ‘…singing and playing makes me almost dead now; I could die in it. Ah, Clara, what a happy thing it is to write songs; I have missed it for a long time’, Schumann writes in a letter of 22nd February 1840 to his fiancée. The result of inspiration was enormous: in Schumann’s proverbial Year of Song, 1840, he wrote almost 140 settings in a real burst of creativity, more than half of the total number of his songs.

An important source of inspiration for Schumann was Heine’s Buch der Lieder, from which over a quarter of the songs written that year were taken. From the outset Schumann created song cycles: the nine songs of the Liederkreis, Op. 24, consisting of nine poems, form a group in the Buch der Lieder. Later editions have omitted some songs from the cycle and ignored the fact that Schumann had written a sequence of songs in arch form, each song related to another, and starting and finishing in the ninth song Mit Myrten und Rosen (With myrtle and roses) in the key of D major. Furthermore the range of expression extends from the inner ecstasy of Ich wandelte unter Bäumen (I wandered among the trees) to the dramatic excitement of Warte, warte, wilder Schiffmann (Wait, wait, savage boatman) and the epigrammatic brevity of Anfangs wollt ich fast verzagen (At first I would almost despair), which is built on simple chord sequences in the bass.

Still more popular is the cycle Schumann composed in the space of a week at the end of May 1840, Dichterliebe, Op. 48, settings from the Lyrisches Intermezzo of the Buch der Lieder. From Heine’s 66 (in later editions 65) poems Schumann had originally marked an extensive group of 28 texts for setting, of which unfortunately only twenty songs were written. Schumann omitted four of these from the publication and first issued them years later as part of Opp. 127 and 142.

The title Dichterliebe (Poet’s Love), which is Schumann’s, is a concise summary of its contents. The person who speaks in the individual poems is identified with the poet and at the same time the disappointed lover, whose beloved has married another. The figure of the woman remains shadowy, and at the centre stands the poet in his moods of despair and anger, transfigured memories and sadness.

Schumann’s setting follows Heine’s sequence with minor changes, and offers a concentrated picture of the Lyrisches Intermezzo. At the beginning come memories of the start of the affair, yet doubt soon insinuates itself as to the honesty of the beloved: ‘Doch wenn du sprichst: ich liebe dich! / So muss ich weinen bitterlich’ (Yet when you say; I love you! / I must weep bitterly) it says in the fourth song. Despair changes to anger also in the seventh placatory ‘Ich grolle nicht’ (I bear no grudge), which Schumann rightly sets with a forceful piano part of complaint and revolt against the declaration of the speaker. The poet now gives in to his pain, but also finds alleviation in the dream vision, and finally wins, through his mourning, distance from what has happened in the sixteenth song, Die alten, bösen Lieder (The old, bad songs).

The exactly calculated sequence of original keys corresponds to this arch of emotions. With the uncertain swing between F sharp minor and A major in the first song the cycle starts in the range of sharp keys and sinks down into B flat; the crux is reached with the C major of Ich grolle nicht. Through G minor, E flat major and B flat major we reach the desperate E flat minor of Ich hab’ im Traum geweinet (I wept in my dream), where through the enharmonic modulation (B major instead of C flat major) in the fourteenth song there is a return to sharp keys. Through E major we come in the final song to its relative C sharp minor; the postlude, notated in D flat major, stands for C sharp major, the dominant major of the initial F sharp minor. The next unhappy love affair could follow the same pattern, or, as Heine himself says, ‘Es ist eine alte Geschichte, doch passiert sie immer neu’ (It is an old story, but it always happens anew).

The cycle ends in a different way: the return to the beginning is given not to the singer but to the pianist. In none of the other song-cycles of Schumann is such an independent rôle given to the piano. Not only do the individual songs often have extended postludes, but the final postlude has rather the independence of a separate piece. It reflects and meditates on the whole cycle, and notably picks up again the piano ending of the twelfth song, Am leuchtended Sommermorgen (In the shining summer morning). It also looks back again at the first song, Im wunderschönen Monat Mai (In the wonderful month of May), offering a contrast to the rising figures there and a definitive return to tranquillity in its harmonically open ending.

It has often been said that Schumann’s Heine settings lack the poet’s characteristic irony. It is not true, however, that Schumann had no feeling for this side of Heine’s poems. Certainly there is a distinction: Heine’s irony lies in the unexpected turn that the text takes; Schumann’s irony, where he develops it, is realised not as a musical point that flares up in a single moment but as an over-all tension between the vocal part and the piano accompaniment throughout the song. In the eleventh song, for example, the scornful liveliness of the piano part is in glaring contrast with the breaking heart of which Heine speaks, and just as unconcernedly in the ninth song the dance-music plays away in the background while the poet suffers the sorrow of love.

Schumann’s Der arme Peter, Op. 53, No. 3 (Poor Peter), first published in 1845 also comes in all probability from 1840. Heine’s basic theme of disappointed love is to be found again in a group of three songs, or, rather, dramatic scenes. Schumann’s setting in the voice part and the piano accompaniment emphasizes the simple folk-song style. As in the ninth song of Dichterliebe we are first brought to the scene of a ball, where the beloved dances with the poet’s rival. The second part, an arioso and in recitative style, lets poor Peter express his despair, while the final part sees him from a distance staggering towards the grave, in the solemn rhythm of a Saraband.

Like Der arme Peter, Belsazar, Op. 57, is included by Heine among his Romances. In this poem the biblical story from the Book of Daniel is told, of the proud Babylonian King Belshazzar who desecrated the sacred vessels of Jehovah and to whom there appeared writing on the wall that he could not understand: an ill omen for the one who read it.

Schumann’s setting of 1840, later published as a Ballade, shows the wide range of his song settings from the first. In accordance with the subject the vocal part is declamatory rather than lyrical, yet Schumann at the same time allows the pattern of varied strophic form to appear, combining the 21 couplets of Heine into four large sections. The last line is set as a distanced epilogue: the tempo slows to an Adagio, in which, almost in recitative over clear chords harmonically leading into the final disclosure, Belshazzar’s death by the hand of his own servant is revealed.

Gerhard Dietel
English version by Keith Anderson

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