SCHUMANN, Elizabeth: Brahms / Mendelssohn / Schumann: Lieder
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Elisabeth Schumann (1888-1952)
Lieder by Mendelssohn, Schumann and Brahms
'The presentation of a song demands something, which cannever be attained by study, however long and conscientious, unless a naturalgift is there. It is the gift of delivery or exposition, the gift of creatinganew, by its union with music, the vision inherent in the poetry of the words:to bring it, as nearly as that is possible, visually as well as audibly beforethe hearer's sense. It would be idle to ask me any code of rules to that end; Ido not believe that any such rules exist. My view is rather that themasterworks of song embody within themselves some secret powers; it is to theheart of these that we must seek to penetrate if we are to grasp their fullsignificance.'
The above extract, which makes a successful connectionbetween the successful rendering and true interpretation of song to a singer'spoetic instinct, is found in Elisabeth Schumann's book German Song
. (Althoughthe book was actually written by Leo Rosenek, the ideas were essentially hers.)Elisabeth Schumann had an intuitive understanding of poetical texts. Even inschool, where she was mostly bored, she never had difficulty interpreting thepoetry she had to read.
Born in Merseburg, Saxony, in 1888, she had been surroundedby music from the start: her father, Alfred Schumann, was a music teacher andcathedral organist of Merseburg; her mother, Emma, possessed a beautiful thoughuntrained voice, and would often sing locally. When Emma practised her songs ororatorio arias with her husband accompanying, little 'Lies' was allowed in theroom, where she would crawl around under the piano and join in singing. At acharity event when she was four years old, someone suggested that little Lies mightlike to sing something to the gathering. She was lifted onto a table where sheproceeded to sing a folksong, a Lied by Schubert and two by Robert Franz. Her voicewas extraordinarily expressive for her age, and she was applaudedenthusiastically. It was then that Alfred Schumann realised that his daughter'stalent needed to be nurtured.
After having piano and music-theory lessons with her fatherand later with Otto Reubke in Halle, Elisabeth Schumann went to study singingin Dresden and Berlin. Her training was primarily operatic, and by the time sheauditioned successfully for the Hamburg Opera at the age of twenty, she hadstudied 35 r?â??les. She began her operatic career in Hamburg in the autumn of1909, and had the opportunity to work on Lieder
with various conductorsand repetiteurs, including Otto Klemperer with whom she had a scandalous loveaffair. At the time she was married to her first husband, Walther Puritz, andafter he whipped Klemperer in public, the lovers eloped. Some months later shewas reconciled with her husband; a year later, her only child was born. It wasnot long, however, before she discovered a shared love of Lieder
withCarl Gotthardt, conductor and coach at the Hamburg Stadttheater. His exquisitepiano-playing and understanding of both poetry and music brought her very closeto him, and they became lovers. This affair led to the complete breakdown ofher marriage, and in November 1918 she was divorced from her husband. Fourmonths later she married Karl Alwin, a young conductor who had joined theHamburg Opera just over a year earlier. Their marriage lasted more thanfourteen years (when both artists were engaged by the Vienna State Opera), andtheir relationship was extremely productive. Not only was the restless, livelyAlwin much more ambitious for his wife than she was for herself, but he was abrilliant pianist, the perfect partner for learning, practising and performingthe Lieder
repertoire. There was one drawback: Alwin admired his wife somuch that he could not always be objectively critical. Fortunately at theVienna State Opera there was an elderly repetiteur named Ferdinand Foll who hadbeen a close friend of Hugo Wolf. Through working with him Schumann gained muchinsight into the significance of the union between words and music.
of Franz Schubert dominated Elisabeth Schumann's repertoireboth in recital and in the recording studio. The German Romantic composers whoimmediately followed Schubert also figured prominently, and this anthologybrings together all of the soprano's pre-war recordings of Lieder
byFelix Mendelssohn, Robert Schumann and Johannes Brahms. In her bookGerman Song
, Elisabeth Schumann contrasted the Lieder
of Schubertand Schumann, remarking that their choice of texts alone is a clear index oftheir differing thought and feeling. 'Schubert, in his amazing versatility,seized on poetry of almost every order - merry, grave, lyrical, dramatic,elegiac, and mystical. The great majority of the poems which Schumann set arelyrically romantic. Characteristic is his leaning towards the tender andgentle, even tragic, moods, towards spiritual grief turning to introspection orresignation'. She wrote further: 'If our view of Schumann as a truly lyricalcomposer needs confirmation, we find it in his choice of texts for the majorityof his songs, and especially for the best of them; they are almost all takenfrom the out-and-out romantics... It is such purely lyrical songs which revealSchumann's gifts at their best, and win for him his place among the greatestcomposers of German song'. RegardingBrahms, Elisabeth Schumann noted his 'two-folded leaning towards the lyricallyromantic and the tragically dramatic'. She also observed that 'texts which aretoo realistic or which, like ballads, recount actual happenings, did not appealto him'. As for twoof Brahms's songs included on this disc, she wrote: "'An eine ?â"olsharfe' mightwell be described as the first song of Brahms's maturity. In contrast to HugoWolf's treatment of it, he has given the song a more compact shape and, by therecitatives at the beginning and in the middle section, lent it something of ariosocharacter. It reveals, like many another song, Brahms's strong leaning towardsthe romantic". Of 'Vergebliches Standchen', Schumann wrote: "It has sufferedfrom so many inartistic performances that it has fallen into some disrepute asa song of no great worth... The rustic character of the melody misleads many asinger into some monotony of performance which no more contributes to itseffectiveness than the exaggeratedly pointed interpretation given by others, asthough the piquant suggestions in the text - and there are several - brought itdown to cabaret level. How far removed from any such thought was Brahms's conceptionof the song is clearly shown in the many dynamic shades of expression indicatedfor its performance".
Apart fromthe last eleven Brahms songs on this disc, all the items on this disc were madewhen Elisabeth Schumann was a member of the Vienna State Opera, the happiest,and in operatic terms, the most successful time of her career. She made her London debut in Covent Garden in 1924, singing Sophie in Der Rosenkavalier
. Shesang several more seasons at Covent Garden, and her popularity led to manyrecitals in London and throughout Britain. Except for Mendelssohn's 'AufFl?â??geln des Gesanges', all the Lieder
on this disc were recorded in London, mostly at EMI's Abbey Road studios. Despite her initial fear of its discerningpublic and her dislike of its cold, damp climate, she grew to love England. In the last year of her life she decided to make London her permanent home. Sadly,she died in New York on 23 April 1952, only a few days before her planned move.
The lasteleven Brahms Lieder
on this disc were made in the summer of 1938 duringa very difficult time in Schumann's life. On 12 March 1938, the day Hitler marchedinto Vienna, she had to leave her beloved adopted city to em