SCHUMANN: Complete Songs Vol. 3 - Liederalbum fur die Jugend, Op. 79 / Lieder und Gesange I, Op. 27 (Dagmar Birwe/ Sibylla Rubens/ Stefanie Iranyi/ Thomas Bauer/ Uta Hielscher) (Naxos: 8.557076)
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Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
Album of Songs for the Young, Op. 79 • Lieder and Songs I, Op. 27
"Try, if you also have only a little voice, to sing from the page without the help of the instrument … But if you have a resonant voice, do not hesitate a moment in cultivating it, consider it as the finest gift that heaven bestows on you!" He who wants to cultivate a complete musical personality should not only strive for instrumental virtuosity, as on the piano, but should not neglect singing, Robert Schumann recommended in his Musikalischen Haus- und Lebensregeln (Musical House and Life Rules).
Schumann as a composer also sought to make a contribution to the instrumental and vocal training of the young. First in 1848, with his Album für die Jugend (Album for the Young), he published a work of musical pedagogy in a collection of piano pieces that united technical exercise with poetic content in music of increasing difficulty. This collection, which still today belongs at the heart of pianistic training Schumann followed a little later with a similarly planned Liederalbum für die Jugend, Op. 79, (Album of Songs for the Young), designated on the title-page of the first edition more succinctly as Lieder für die Jugend (Songs for the Young). For the settings Schumann chose specifically 'poems suitable for children and of course only from the best poets', and, as in his Album für die Jugend, his intention was 'to proceed from the easy and simple to the difficult'.
In its contents the cycle of themes to be followed begins in the world of children's ideas: the songs treat of animals, nature and daily life, the words are of gypsy lads and shepherd boys, of the sandman and the ladybird. The section 'For the Younger' is duly followed by 'For the Older', leading into a world of wider experience and feeling: to the pantheism of Goethe's 'Lied Lynceus des Thürmers'(Song of Lynceus, the Watchman) and to the mood of yearning of 'Mignon (Kennst du das Land [Do you know the land])': 'Mignon ends full of misgivings directing her gaze towards a more turbulent inner life.'
Musically too Schumann's album of songs offers increasing degrees of difficulty. At the beginning stand easily intelligible 'children's songs' in which the melody merely supports the piano harmonically and helps the singer. Here Schumann follows the tradition of pedagogically oriented collections of songs for children from the eighteenth century, found in such work as Johann Adam Hiller's. Many of the numbers are also to be taken as songs for performing together in the family circle. 'Mailied'(May Song) has a second voice ad lib, some numbers are for two voices, while 'Spinnelied'(Spinning Song) is for three, and in 'Weihnachtlied'(Christmas Song) at the end a chorus can join in with the refrain 'Hallelujah, Kind Jesus' (Alleluia, Child Jesus).
Nevertheless the collection develops from children's songs finally to pure art song, represented by the Mörike setting 'Er ist's' (It is he) and 'Mignon', which Schumann took as the first song in his Lieder und Gesänge aus Wilhelm Meister, Op. 98a(Songs from Wilhelm Meister).
For a young but little trained voice such numbers appear already too exacting: wide spaced and disjunct melodic lines, while the phrasing of the vocal lines and their interlinking with the piano part call for a trained interpreter. In musical life today, therefore, the songs from Schumann's Opus 79hold a marginal position: for young singers they seem in part overtaxing, but because of their pedagogic aims, on the other hand, they are artistically undervalued by adult singers.
The first numbers in particular seem too childish for performance by a concert singer. It may be argued, however, that Schumann's songs conjure up, not naively but in feeling, the innocent world of childhood. In content they are near Schumann's piano Kinderszenen, Op. 15(Scenes of Childhood), which present a wide-ranging idyllic reflection of childhood for adults. The title-page of the first edition, designed by Schumann's friend Ludwig Richter, shows a group of children singing and making music in a paradise of a natural setting of leafy tendrils with flowers, fruits and nesting birds. Left out of the account, however, is the fact that in his collection Schumann also took songs such as 'Die Waise'(The Orphan) and 'Zigeunerliedchen'(Gypsy Song), in which human suffering, the persecution of minorities and the cruelty of war are given concrete expression.
While the Liederalbum has altogether an idyllic charm, yet the circumstances in which it was written in the politically disturbed spring months of 1849 were distressing. The Dresden May rising that broke out when the Saxon king refused to accept the constitution worked out at St Paul's in Frankfurt, forced Schumann to escape with his family to nearby Bad Kreischa, where there was no trace of the struggles at the barricades in the capital city.
In a letter from these days Clara Schumann writes: 'Here it is heavenly, and we have never enjoyed spring more than this year amid all the troubles of the outside world. It is as if the terrible happenings have awakened quite opposite feelings in my husband, since he has recently written the loveliest, most peaceful songs, when everyone believed he would express himself in the most fearful battle symphonies.'
Schumann, although interested in political events, unlike Richard Wagner took no active part in the Dresden disputes. The circumstances of the time, however, are not without traces in the Lieder-Album für die Jugend. That the politically progressively minded Hoffmann von Fallersleben, banned at the time by the forces of reaction, is the poet most often set in Opus 79is a first indication of Schumann's political leaning. It is perhaps no accident too that two of the texts set from Schiller's Wilhelm Tell deal with the struggle for freedom and the death of tyrants; by 'Des Buben Schützenlied' (The Lad's Shooting Song) on Schumann's manuscript are the words '3rd May (Revolution in Dresden)'. Finally it may be noticed that almost a third of the songs have the theme of spring, not only to be attributed to the season in which they were composed. In the poetry of the period from 1815 to the revolution of March 1848 spring stands as a metaphor for the generally hoped for political 'spring of the people'.
In many numbers of the Liederalbum political connotations are expressed also in the music. 'Frühlingsbotschaft'(Spring Message), which characterizes the apparently quite harmless cuckoo as a hero who has put winter to flight, has Schumann providing a march-like setting. A rebellious undertone can be heard in the fanfare motifs of 'Des Knaben Berglied'(The Boy's Mountain Song), very apt for the quite undisguised freedom-fighting mood of the poem by Ludwig Uhland, a poet similarly counted among radical democrats.
Certainly these tendencies with regard to the whole collection of songs should not be over-emphasized. The delightful description of 'Schlaraffenland'(The Land of Cockaigne), the sentimental 'Sonntag'(Sunday), the playfully humourous 'Sandmann'or the gently raised forefinger in the Goethe setting 'Die wandelnde Glocke'(The Moving Bell) speak another language.
In the same year, 1849, in which Schumann composed his Liederalbum