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8.574029 - SCHUMANN, R.: Lied Edition, Vol. 9 - Romances, Ballads and Melodramas (D. Roth, Eisenlohr)
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Robert Schumann (1810–1856)
Romances, Ballads and Melodramas

 

Like many other artists of his generation, Robert Schumann read widely. In this he was encouraged by his father, who had, by his own exertions and talents, established himself in Zwickau as a bookseller and publisher. From his father he took his interest in literature, together with a love of music. It was the latter that came to predominate. Schumann’s father died in 1826, leaving the resources for Robert Schumann’s continuing education, under the supervision of his mother and of a Zwickau businessman, Gottlob Rudel, a practical and necessary precaution. Schumann, his early schooling completed, went on to study law at the University of Leipzig and then at Heidelberg, showing no great aptitude or interest in the subject, while his leaning towards music grew. In Leipzig he met Friedrich Wieck, a man who had developed his own methods of piano teaching and had established himself both as a teacher and as a dealer in pianos. The connection with Wieck was of lasting importance to Schumann. It was through Wieck that he was able to persuade his mother and guardian to allow him to embark on a course of study under Wieck’s supervision.

The more systematic study of music offered by Wieck, on which Schumann embarked in October 1830, did not last. It was not long before Schumann began to find study with Wieck irksome and unsatisfactory. At the same time an injury to his right hand, apparently by use of a contraption of his own devising, referred to him in his diaries as a ‘cigar-box machine’, made any prospect of a career as a concert pianist impossible. In Wieck’s household, however, Schumann found time for other interests. Not only was he developing his gifts as a composer, particularly in music for the piano, but he also found time for a liaison with a certain Christel, followed by a brief engagement with a fellow pupil in Wieck’s establishment, Ernestine von Fricken, apparently the daughter of Baron von Fricken, but in fact the illegitimate child of his wife’s sister. The discovery of Ernestine’s parentage brought an end to the relationship and a shift in Schumann’s attentions, now directed towards the 16-year-old daughter of Wieck, Clara, taught and nurtured by her father, following his own particular pedagogical methods, and destined to become one of the leading pianists of the century.

Wieck forbade the relationship between Schumann and Clara, a liaison that continued and developed, resulting finally in Wieck’s attempt to bring matters to an end by recourse to litigation. In this he failed and in 1840, a year in which Schumann wrote many of his songs, after a period that had brought many piano pieces, the couple married. For some time Clara Schumann’s reputation overshadowed that of her husband. The first years of marriage had brought more ambitious compositions and in 1844 the couple, now with a growing family, moved to Dresden. Schumann had made use of his inherited literary proclivities in journalism, notably his Neue Zeitschrift für Musik that he had established in 1834 and which he had now sold. There were worries about money, and Schumann’s mental health was uncertain, with periods of depression. In 1847 he took on the direction of the Dresden Liedertafel, an amateur male vocal group, previously directed by Wagner and then by Ferdinand Hiller, who was now leaving for Düsseldorf. Schumann followed this appointment by establishing a larger choir, the Verein für Chorgesang, for which he wrote a number of works.

Dresden proved in many ways disappointing for the Schumanns, with a lack of the kind of professional musical activity that had been part of life in Leipzig. Schumann’s compositions won only varied success and in 1848 his publisher, Breitkopf & Härtel, complained that Schumann was not proving profitable. It was with this in mind and the apparent need for marketable compositions – as so often, for the amateur domestic market – that stimulated Schumann to write a whole series of such works, in particular for mixed voices, some 40 compositions in all.

The final years of Schumann’s life are well known. Hiller had decided to move on from Düsseldorf to Cologne. Schumann was to succeed him in the former position. Robert and Clara Schumann were well received in Düsseldorf, but gradually difficulties arose, largely through the perceived inadequacy of Schumann as an orchestral conductor, a skill that he had had little opportunity to acquire. Düsseldorf no longer seemed a fitting place to make their home. Matters came to a head with a recurrence of the nervous problems from which Schumann had suffered intermittently over the years. His attempt at suicide in 1854 led to his admission, as a voluntary patient, to a private asylum at Endenich, near Bonn. He died there two years later.

Schumann’s literary background is revealed in his choice of poems for musical setting. Whereas Schubert had found a special place among his settings for contemporaries, often from his own Vienna cultural circle, Schumann, almost equally prolific in the genre, showed a more cultivated taste. Among poets whom he admired was Heinrich Heine, whose fame was spreading, from his first publications in the 1820s. From a Jewish family, but, like the Mendelssohns, baptised as a necessary step towards an academic, legal or government career, Heine published his Buch der Lieder (‘Book of Songs’) in 1827, a work that established his literary position. It was in the following year that Schumann, now a university student, met Heine in Munich, where the latter was seeking, unsuccessfully, a university appointment. Schumann had secured an introduction to Heine, but was apprehensive about their meeting, in view of a certain acerbic strain in Heine’s work. The meeting was a success and Heine was able to show Schumann something of the city. Schumann’s first setting of poems by Heine was a song cycle of 1840, the year of Schumann’s marriage and of his ‘Year of Song’. There followed the Heine song cycle Dichterliebe (‘Poet’s Love’). Further Heine settings were included in some of the four-volumes of Romanzen und Balladen, the second of which opens with Die beiden Grenadiere (‘The Two Grenadiers’), the tale of two French soldiers, former prisoners, wounded and distressed at the defeat of their Emperor, Napoleon, their loyalty reflected in the strains of La Marseillaise, heard finally in the piano accompaniment. The second setting is Die feindlichen Brüder (‘The Hostile Brothers’), an allusive ballad that tells of two brothers, divided by their love for the same girl, both killed, one by the other, in a duel. The story finishes with the end of their family, echoed in a brief postlude. The collection ends with the setting of a poem by the Aargau schoolmaster and pastor Abraham Emanuel Fröhlich, Die Nonne (‘The Nun’), in which the stock figure of romantic legend, a nun, is left alone as others marry.

The first volume of Romanzen und Balladen, Op. 45 sets two poems by a leading writer of the period, Joseph von Eichendorff, a marked contrast to Heine in his generally pervasive optimism, his evocation of the countryside and his Catholic faith. The first of the three songs is a setting of Eichendorff’s Der Schatzgräber (‘The Treasure Seeker’), a moral tale, followed by Frühlingsfahrt (‘Spring Journey’), contrasting the fates of two young men, as they set out on the journey of life. The volume ends with a setting of Heine’s Abends am Strande (‘Evening on the Shore’), bringing a wider perspective and range of feeling.

Schumann had a particular affinity with the poet Adelbert von Chamisso, who, as a refugee from the French Revolution, settled in Prussia. A contributor to the Musenalmanach of 1804, he won a reputation as a scientist and botanist, but as a poet he may be chiefly remembered for his Frauenliebe und -leben (‘Woman’s Love and Life’), set by Schumann and, in part, by Loewe. Other poems associated with Chamisso set by Schumann include Lieder, Op. 40 nach Hans Christian Andersen und Adelbert von Chamisso (‘Songs, Op. 40 after Hans Christian Andersen and Adelbert von Chamisso’), settings of four poems by Andersen translated by Chamisso and a final Verratene Liebe (‘Love Betrayed’), a work which Schumann believed to be by Chamisso himself.

The songs have a certain narrative simplicity about them, echoed in Schumann’s settings. The 1840 Chamisso settings include a set of three poems, the third of which, Die rote Hanne (‘Red-haired Hanne’) is included here, a further vignette from Chamisso’s imagined world.

It was partly through financial necessity that, in the 1850s, Schumann turned once again to songwriting. It was in about 1850 that he wrote a setting of Schiller’s Der Handschuh (‘The Glove’), a poem first published in the 1798 Musenalmanach, repeating an anecdote from the Essais historiques sur Paris of Saint-Foix, a narrative ballad in a form of contemporary popularity.

At this period Schumann embarked on a form that he found original – that of melodrama, spoken dialogue over a musical accompaniment. The form was not new, but had enjoyed some popularity in the later 18th century with composers such as Georg Benda, echoed, briefly, by Mozart. Schumann’s works for declamation, with piano accompaniment, include a lurid tale of murder and retribution in Ballade vom Haideknaben (‘The Ballad of the Heathland Lad’), a setting of a poem by Christian Friedrich Hebbel. A second ballad sets a translation of a poem by Shelley, Die Flüchtlinge (‘The Fugitives’), evoking the turbulence of the sea as the lovers escape, its tragic implications gradually unfolding. A third work in this form again takes a poem by Hebbel, Schön Hedwig (‘Pretty Hedwig’), a narrative with a happier outcome.

Schumann showed a particular interest in Nikolaus Lenau, hoping to meet him, but was deterred by his own shyness. A depressive, Lenau spent his last six years in an asylum, dying in 1850, an event that allowed Schumann the chance to set six poems by Lenau, with a Requiem. The four Husarenlieder (‘Hussars’ Songs’) were set in 1851, texts of apparent simplicity that conceal more disturbing notions.

A final ballad is a setting in 1852 of Ludwig Uhland’s Des Sängers Fluch (‘The Singer’s Curse’), its story unwinding against an evocative accompaniment. This belongs to a series of settings, with or without chorus or orchestra, dramatic works that might suggest sketches for fuller operatic treatment.

Keith Anderson


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