Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Masterpieces of Music: Robert Schumann, Part 3

Robert Schumann's music criticism was very different from the usual sort. It often consisted of a conversation among members of a small circle of enthusiasts including Schumann himself and his imaginary characters Florestan, Eusebius and Meister Raro (for more about them, see my previous post). His review of Chopin's op 2, variations on Mozart's "Là ci darem la mano" is a good example. Eusebius drops by with the score and they look it over with delight, play through it and go over to Meister Raro's to share it with him. Chopin himself thought the review rather bizarre! But I rather like Schumann's approach as it reminds me a little of Plato's dialogues in which a small group of characters strive through discussion to unearth some truths. Sanna Pederson, a historian of music criticism points out that this sort of 'framing strategy' encourages the reader to have strong empathetic responses to the music. The act of choosing a particular piece of music is an aesthetic judgement in itself and the quality of the discussion serves to balance out the more shallow applause of the concert hall or, to choose a more current example, those fawning promotional interviews with musicians on television.

Come to think of it, the creation of imaginary interlocutors aside, that is a bit like what I'm trying to do here!

Today I want to look at another remarkable piece by Schumann, his song cycle Dichterliebe, sixteen songs on poems by Heinrich Heine. The song cycle is a remarkable musical phenomenon, not least because the really great examples are few indeed: Beethoven's An die ferne Geliebte, op 98, dating from 1816 is the first, followed by Schubert's Die Schöne Müllerin of 1823 and Winterreise of 1827. The next important cycles are by Schumann, who composed them and a great number of other songs, one hundred and forty in all, in a furious burst of inspiration in 1840. The most highly-regarded of Schumann's cycles is Dichterliebe. Schumann had great regard for Schubert, especially his psychological quality, by which he meant 'momentary feelings' and mood and we find the same approach in his music. Of course, we should not jump to the conclusion that the momentary feelings and moods are autobiographical. Dichterliebe is a painful story of unrequited love, but in contrast, 1840 was the year that Schumann finally married his beloved Clara Wieck, so biographically, it was the time of his greatest bliss.

Here is the layout of the song cycle from Wikipedia:

  1. Im wunderschönen Monat Mai (Heine, Lyrical Intermezzo no 1). (In beautiful May, when the buds sprang, love sprang up in my heart: in beautiful May, when the birds all sang, I told you my suffering and longing.)
  2. Aus meinen Tränen sprießen (Heine no 2). (Many flowers spring up from my tears, and a nightingale choir from my sighs: If you love me, I'll pick them all for you, and the nightingale will sing at your window.)
  3. Die Rose, die Lilie, die Taube, die Sonne (Heine no 3). (I used to love the rose, lily, dove and sun, joyfully: now I love only the little, the fine, the pure, the One: you yourself are the source of them all.)
  4. Wenn ich in deine Augen seh (Heine no 4). (When I look in your eyes all my pain and woe fades: when I kiss your mouth I become whole: when I recline on your breast I am filled with heavenly joy: and when you say, 'I love you', I weep bitterly.)
  5. Ich will meine Seele tauchen (Heine no 7). (I want to bathe my soul in the chalice of the lily, and the lily, ringing, will breathe a song of my beloved. The song will tremble and quiver, like the kiss of her mouth which in a wondrous moment she gave me.)
  6. Im Rhein, im heiligen Strome (Heine no 11). (In the Rhine, in the sacred stream, great holy Cologne with its great cathedral is reflected. In it there is a face painted on golden leather, which has shone into the confusion of my life. Flowers and cherubs float about Our Lady: the eyes, lips and cheeks are just like those of my beloved.)
  7. Ich grolle nicht (Heine no 18). (I do not chide you, though my heart breaks, love ever lost to me! Though you shine in a field of diamonds, no ray falls into your heart's darkness. I have long known it: I saw the night in your heart, I saw the serpent that devours it: I saw, my love, how empty you are.)
  8. Und wüßten's die Blumen, die kleinen (Heine no 22). (If the little flowers only knew how deeply my heart is wounded, they would weep with me to heal my suffering, and the nightingales would sing to cheer me, and even the starlets would drop from the sky to speak consolation to me: but they can't know, for only One knows, and it is she that has torn my heart asunder.)
  9. Das ist ein Flöten und Geigen (Heine no 20). (There is a playing of flutes and violins and trumpets, for they are dancing the wedding-dance of my best-beloved. There is a thunder and booming of kettle-drums and shawms. In between, you can hear the good cupids sobbing and moaning.)
  10. Hör' ich das Liedchen klingen (Heine no 40). (When I hear that song which my love once sang, my breast bursts with wild affliction. Dark longing drives me to the forest hills, where my too-great woe pours out in tears.)
  11. Ein Jüngling liebt ein Mädchen (Heine no 39). (A youth loved a maiden who chose another: the other loved another girl, and married her. The maiden married, from spite, the first and best man that she met with: the youth was sickened at it. It's the old story, and it's always new: and the one whom she turns aside, she breaks his heart in two.)
  12. Am leuchtenden Sommermorgen (Heine no 45). (On a sunny summer morning I went out into the garden: the flowers were talking and whispering, but I was silent. They looked at me with pity, and said, 'Don't be cruel to our sister, you sad, death-pale man.')
  13. Ich hab' im Traum geweinet (Heine no 55). (I wept in my dream, for I dreamt you were in your grave: I woke, and tears ran down my cheeks. I wept in my dreams, thinking you had abandoned me: I woke, and cried long and bitterly. I wept in my dream, dreaming you were still good to me: I woke, and even then my floods of tears poured forth.)
  14. Allnächtlich im Traume (Heine no 56). (I see you every night in dreams, and see you greet me friendly, and crying out loudly I throw myself at your sweet feet. You look at me sorrowfully and shake your fair head: from your eyes trickle the pearly tear-drops. You say a gentle word to me and give me a sprig of cypress: I awake, and there is no sprig, and I have forgotten what the word was.)
  15. Aus alten Märchen winkt es (Heine no 43). (The old fairy tales tell of a magic land where great flowers shine in the golden evening light, where trees speak and sing like a choir, and springs make music to dance to, and songs of love are sung such as you have never heard, till wondrous sweet longing infatuates you! Oh, could I only go there, and free my heart, and let go of all pain, and be blessed! Ah! I often see that land of joys in dreams: then comes the morning sun, and it vanishes like smoke.)
  16. Die alten, bösen Lieder (Heine no 65). (The old bad songs, and the angry, bitter dreams, let us now bury them, bring a large coffin. I shall put very much therein, I shall not yet say what: the coffin must be bigger than the 'Tun' at Heidelberg. And bring a bier of stout, thick planks, they must be longer than the Bridge at Mainz. And bring me too twelve giants, who must be mightier than the Saint Christopher in the cathedral at Cologne. They must carry the coffin and throw it in the sea, because a coffin that large needs a large grave to put it in. Do you know why the coffin must be so big and heavy? I will also put my love and my suffering into it.)

And here is a performance of the cycle by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau in 1956:

As a young music student I learned and performed the fourth and seventh songs from this cycle and it is a delight to refresh my memory of them. Next time we will get into some of the details. In the meantime, enjoy!

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