SCHUMANN, R.: Liederkreis, Op. 24 / Dichterliebe, Op. 48 (Thomas Bauer/ Uta Hielscher) (Naxos: 8.557075)
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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 hadcompleted his studies at the Zwickau Lyceum, he set out,before his planned university law course, on a greatjourney to South Germany. A letter of introduction securedfor him a meeting with the already famous Heinrich Heine,who was then staying in Munich. Schumann had alreadycome to know Heine's Buch der Lieder, published the yearbefore, and had drawn his own conclusion from the poemson the character of the poet: 'I imagined', Schumann'sreport of the meeting goes, 'in Heine a sullen, misanthropicman, who stood above men and life, rather than associateclosely with them. But I found him completely different ...
he met me in a friendly way, like a human, GreekAnacreon, he pressed my hand ...; only on his mouth wasthere a bitter, ironic smile ...'.
At this period it was not yet apparent that Schumannwould be counted one day among the ideal composers ofsettings of Heine's poems, poems that completely suit thecadences of folk-song, yet interrupted by disillusioningchanges of mood. In the foreground in Heine's poems areoften unhappy love affairs, but behind this long-familiarmotif lies more: modern world-weariness, and suffering atthe short-comings of contemporary society.
While he was at school Schumann had written someromantic songs, but in the 1830s he only published pianopieces, although he felt the form to be increasinglyrestrictive. It may be that above all his love for ClaraWieck and the prospect of his coming marriage removedthis creative block towards the end of the decade:'...singing and playing makes me almost dead now; Icould die in it. Ah, Clara, what a happy thing it is to writesongs; I have missed it for a long time', Schumann writesin a letter of 22nd February 1840 to his fiancee. The resultof inspiration was enormous: in Schumann's proverbialYear of Song, 1840, he wrote almost 140 settings in a realburst of creativity, more than half of the total number of hissongs.
An important source of inspiration for Schumann wasHeine's Buch der Lieder, from which over a quarter of thesongs written that year were taken. From the outsetSchumann created song cycles: the nine songs of theLiederkreis, Op. 24, consisting of nine poems, form agroup in the Buch der Lieder. Later editions have omittedsome songs from the cycle and ignored the fact thatSchumann had written a sequence of songs in arch form,each song related to another, and starting and finishing inthe ninth song Mit Myrten und Rosen (With myrtle androses) in the key of D major. Furthermore the range ofexpression extends from the inner ecstasy of Ich wandelteunter Baumen (I wandered among the trees) to thedramatic excitement of Warte, warte, wilder Schiffmann(Wait, wait, savage boatman) and the epigrammaticbrevity of Anfangs wollt ich fast verzagen (At first I wouldalmost despair), which is built on simple chord sequencesin the bass.
Still more popular is the cycle Schumann composed inthe space of a week at the end of May 1840, Dichterliebe,Op. 48, settings from the Lyrisches Intermezzo of the Buchder Lieder. From Heine's 66 (in later editions 65) poemsSchumann had originally marked an extensive group of 28texts for setting, of which unfortunately only twenty songswere written. Schumann omitted four of these from thepublication and first issued them years later as part of Opp.
127 and 142.
The title Dichterliebe (Poet's Love), which isSchumann's, is a concise summary of its contents. Theperson who speaks in the individual poems is identifiedwith the poet and at the same time the disappointed lover,whose beloved has married another. The figure of thewoman remains shadowy, and at the centre stands the poetin his moods of despair and anger, transfigured memoriesand sadness.
Schumann's setting follows Heine's sequence withminor changes, and offers a concentrated picture of theLyrisches Intermezzo. At the beginning come memories ofthe start of the affair, yet doubt soon insinuates itself as tothe honesty of the beloved: 'Doch wenn du sprichst: ichliebe dich! / So muss ich weinen bitterlich' (Yet when yousay; I love you! / I must weep bitterly) it says in the fourthsong. Despair changes to anger also in the seventhplacatory 'Ich grolle nicht' (I bear no grudge), whichSchumann rightly sets with a forceful piano part ofcomplaint and revolt against the declaration of the speaker.
The poet now gives in to his pain, but also finds alleviationin the dream vision, and finally wins, through hismourning, distance from what has happened in thesixteenth song, Die alten, bosen Lieder (The old, badsongs).
The exactly calculated sequence of original keyscorresponds to this arch of emotions. With the uncertainswing between F sharp minor and A major in the first songthe cycle starts in the range of sharp keys and sinks downinto B flat; the crux is reached with the C major of Ichgrolle nicht. Through G minor, E flat major and B flatmajor we reach the desperate E flat minor of Ich hab' imTraum geweinet (I wept in my dream), where through theenharmonic 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 Csharp minor; the postlude, notated in D flat major, standsfor C sharp major, the dominant major of the initial F sharpminor. The next unhappy love affair could follow the samepattern, or, as Heine himself says, 'Es ist eine alteGeschichte, 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 thebeginning is given not to the singer but to the pianist. Innone of the other song-cycles of Schumann is such anindependent r??le given to the piano. Not only do theindividual songs often have extended postludes, but thefinal postlude has rather the independence of a separatepiece. It reflects and meditates on the whole cycle, andnotably picks up again the piano ending of the twelfthsong, Am leuchtended Sommermorgen (In the shiningsummer morning). It also looks back again at the first song,Im wunderschonen Monat Mai (In the wonderful month ofMay), offering a contrast to the rising figures there and adefinitive return to tranquillity in its harmonically openending.
It has often been said that Schumann's Heine settingslack the poet's characteristic irony. It is not true, however,that Schumann had no feeling for this side of Heine'spoems. Certainly there is a distinction: Heine's irony lies inthe unexpected turn that the text takes; Schumann's irony,where he develops it, is realised not as a musical point thatflares up in a single moment but as an over-all tensionbetween the vocal part and the piano accompanimentthroughout the song. In the eleventh song, for example, thescornful liveliness of the piano part is in glaring contrastwith the breaking heart of which Heine speaks, and just asunconcernedly in the ninth song the dance-music playsaway in the background while the poet suffers the sorrowof love.
Schumann's Der arme Peter, Op. 53, No. 3 (PoorPeter), first published in 1845 also comes in all probabilityfrom 1840. Heine's basic theme of disappointed love is tobe found again in a group of three songs, or, rather,dramatic scenes. Schumann's setting in the voice part andthe piano accompaniment emphasizes the simple folk-songstyle. As in the ninth song of Dichterliebe we are firstbrought to the scene of a ball, where the beloved danceswith the poet's rival. The second part, an arioso and inrecitative style, lets poor Peter express his despair, whilethe final part sees him from a distance staggering towardsthe grave, in the solemn rhythm of a Saraband.
Like Der arme Peter, Belsazar, Op. 57, is i