Sunday, March 30, 2008 at 4:00 pm
3 Lieder, Op. 30 Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
Der Knabe mit dem Wunderhorn
Frank Kelley, tenor
Robert Merfeld, piano
Der Flüchtlinge, Op. 122, No. 2
Frank Kelley, speaker
Robert Merfeld, piano
Liederkreis, Op. 39
In der Fremde
Auf einer Burg
In der Fremde
Dominique Labelle, soprano
Robert Merfeld, piano
JW NOTE: I believe I actually sang this concert, stepping in for Dominique.
Also note that we're missing translations for the last four songs of this group.
Sonata No. 1 in F-sharp minor, Op. 11
I. Introduzione. Un poco adagio. Allegro vivace
III. Scherzo e Intermezzo. Allegrissimo
IV. Finale. Allegro un poco maestoso
Ya-Fei Chuang, piano
Three Poems by Emanuel Geibel, Op. 30
By happy coincidence, Emanuel Geibel published his first book of poems in 1840, the same year that Schumann experienced an outburst of song writing. Though he was not a poet of great variety and philosophical profundity like Goethe (who had died eight years earlier), he brought a new breath of imagery and style that Schumann grasped eagerly, both in 1840 and later on. The title of the first song, The youth with the magic horn, suggests a clear influence from Des Knaben Wunderhorn, the poetic collection assembled some three decades earlier by Achim von Arnim and Clemens Brentano, purporting to be a collection of German folk poems. It is that, in part, though many of the texts were “improved” by the editors on the way to print. But this collection soon became one of the most influential sources of romantic poetry, and Geibel’s own approach to the subject matter also led to one of the earliest song settings to take the evocative sounds of the horn and the image of German forests and the lively energy of youth in Schumann’s setting.
The second song, The Page, is more like a narrative ballad in which the young page promises eternal devotion to his lady. Although the sentiment is, if anything, somewhat overdone, nothing could be more likely as a statement of Schumann’s own devotion to Clara in last stages of their romance before he finally gained permission to marry her. And The Hidalgo is the song that burst out of him on the very day when he won his court case against her father, with the concession that, as soon as she turned 21 and therefore legally of age, her father would have no more power to stand in the way of their marriage. (She was only a month shy of the birthday when this news arrived.) Schumann immediately set Geibel’s poem about a romantic and heroic figure, whom he clearly identified with himself on that joyous day, August 1, 1840, and thus wrote one of his most vigorous and ardent songs (and it became for him a model of his later “Spanish” songs to other poems by Geibel).
Die Flüchtlinge, Op. 122, No. 2
When we see a listing of a musical work for voice and piano, we naturally think of a song, a lyric transformation of the literary poem into a predominantly musical genre. In any song, the composer translates the poet’s work, controlling the pace and the character of the poem—perhaps sensitively, perhaps destructively. (This is one reason why poets sometimes object to having their work set to music.)
But there is another kind of work that blends text and music, a type commonly employed in the theater linking music with the spoken voice. The technical term for this is “melodrama.” We have a familiar and effective example in the dungeon scene of Beethoven’s Fidelio. Indeed, virtually every dramatic film or television today gives us so many examples that we forget that it is an artificial construct. Outside of dramatic contexts, though, the idea of spoken declamation to musical accompaniment is less familiar, though there was a flurry of examples early in the 20th century, the best known of which is Richard Strauss’s setting for piano and speaker of Tennyson’s Enoch Arden. In such a setting, the speaker has far more flexibility with regard to pace, inflection, and accentuation than in a completely musical version.
Schumann wrote poetic “declamations” of this sort on several occasions. The first was a setting of a poem by Friedrich Hebbel in December 1849. Though Schumann had just set one of his poems for chorus and orchestra, the poet may have preferred the melodrama because in it the composer would not overrule the original metrical sense of his text. In any case, Hebbel found Schumann’s setting to be “extraordinarily beautiful.” Three years later Schumann returned to the melodrama for another pair of musicalized declamations published as Opus 122. The second of these sets an anonymous German translation of Shelley’s The Fugitives, with the piano suggesting the scene, a stormy seascape, and the changing emotional flow of the poem.
Liederkreis, Op. 39
In 1840, Robert Schumann was looking forward to the likelihood of finally winning legal permission to marry Clara Wieck, over her father’s strenuous objections. A suit brought by the father in December 1839 had been largely decided in Schumann’s favor, though the court gave Papa Wieck an opportunity to prove allegations of habitual drunkenness against Schumann. Not until the following July was the case finally dismissed for lack of evidence, and the young couple began looking for an apartment in the expectation of soon receiving legal permission for the marriage.
In the meantime, Schumann’s happiness generated a wave of creative energy that showed itself in a frenzied outpouring of songs—his first song compositions in twelve years. In February he wrote most of the songs later published as Myrthen (Myrtles), Opus 25 and the Liederkreis (Song Cycle) to texts of Heine, Opus 24. Preliminary sketches for a never?finished opera interrupted the flow of song in March, but in April the pair spent a happy fortnight in Berlin. Schumann was so inspired that he turned out, within the month of May, his two greatest sets of songs: the second Liederkreis, Opus 39, twelve songs to poems of Eichendorff, and another Heine set composed at a feverish pace, that became twenty songs originally destined for Dichterliebe (Poet’s Love), of which four were later removed and published separately.
The Eichendorff settings are not, strictly speaking, a cycle, with an inherent plot, or at least the inkling of a narrative. Nonetheless they all share the poet’s romantic closeness with nature—a nature that always serves as an emotional backdrop for some aspect of human romantic love. Moreover, between a first version of the cycle and the final version usually sung today, Schumann changed the order of the songs so as to create an emotional progression from the dark brooding on In der Fremde to the ecstasy of Frühlingsnacht, which ends with an outburst that must have meant a great deal to the composer at just this time: “She is yours! She is yours!”
In der Fremde is one of many Eichendorff lyrics drawn from his prose fiction, where they are often presented as songs sung by the characters themselves to express their moods. In the present case, the singer was playing a guitar, and Schumann gives the piano a slow arpeggiando accompaniment to suggest this instrument. The singer recalls a distant homeland, and deceased parents, while anticipating sadly the inevitable quiet future of his own death. Intermezzo could hardly be more different; it is a luminous and happy love song that begins with a piano part syncopated off the beat, though the listener cannot tell this until the voice enters with its first note. The hymn-like harmony suggests a love that is almost transcendental.
Waldesgespräch recounts a meeting between a knight and a mysterious beautiful woman in the forest. Schumann works horn calls and the rustling of leaves into his accompaniment to set the scene. The song unfolds in dialogue between the two, the woman singing sadly of her disenchantment with men, who, she says, are all treacherous. The knight continues to admire her until he suddenly realizes that he is talking to the forest-witch known as the Lorelei, and she confirms that he will never leave the forest. Indeed, as the piano postlude suggests, the forest itself remains unchanged and mysterious, though the human figure has been utterly swallowed up.
Die Stille is a beautifully intimate and simple song, the private confession of a young girl of her utter happiness...and only one person should guess it.
Mondnacht is one of the greatest of all Schumann songs, a nocturne in which the piano part delicately suggests the shimmer of a full moon while the voice floats serenely, capturing the mood of stillness and rapture.
Schöne Fremde also deals with nocturnal images, but it is a night whose magic is created by the sounds, rather than silence--of treetops rustling to the passage of figures from ancient mythology, and a sense of impending mystery as the singer faces a future of utter happiness. The song ends the first half of the cycle on a high point that is only surpassed in outgoing energy by the last song in the cycle.
Auf einer Burg depicts an older castle and the statue of a knight with music that suggests the Medieval church modes and a slow rhythmic movement that emphasizes the distance between then and now. Even the view of the wedding party down below, on the river, keeps the subdued mood—but, then, Eichendorff ’s final word, telling us that the bride is weeping, fits the mood. In der Fremde, very different in character to the first song of this title, is light and delicate, evoking the delicate night-time sounds of nature, which in turn bring back memories from a past in which a loved one is dead—a fact we learn only in the last word of the poem.
Wehmut comes from an Eichendorff story in which a character comes to the door of another and hears him singing within “to a moving melody.” It is a song that blends happiness and pain in a way that is a specialty of Schumann’s. The song begins with four phrases essentially repeating in a limited range. When it opens up to a greater span, it represents a touch of joy that is soon repressed. Zwielicht, which comes from the same Eichendorff story, is a somber night song that serves as a warning against infidelity in the story. The deceitful friend is presented in the syncopated bass line and leaping octaves, but in the end Schumann pulls back to a private, intimate kind of recitative, as if making a private promise to himself.
Im Walde begins with a gentle 6/8 lilt as the singer recalls a vision of a wedding procession passing through the forest, but the mood changes when the singer realizes belatedly that the image is gone and the present full of dark and foreboding. Frühlingsnacht is Eichendorff at his most joyously visionary: everything around—the night air, the birds, the scent of blooming flowers—join to create a mood of wondrous delight in new-found love. Schumann builds the ecstasy in the vividly rhythmical piano part the supports the singer’s joyous outburst.
Sonata No. 1 in F-sharp minor, Op. 11
Almost all of Schumann’s music—even that in the traditional “abstract” musical forms like sonata and symphony— carries poetic connotations. It is no surprise that his piano sonatas (Op. 11, 14, and 17) should have been conceived and largely composed while he was also working on the last and greatest of his étude compositions, the Symphonic Études, and that all of these works involve extra-musical ideas shaped into expressions of sonority, harmony, melody, and rhythm. Though he admired Beethoven enormously, Schumann did not compose his sonatas with anything like the method of the older composer. Indeed, the F-sharp minor sonata has been called a tone poem. And Schumann was so bold as to publish the work all but anonymously. Only his inner circle could have guessed that a spacious, demanding, bold composition whose title-page carried only the words “Piano Sonata. To Clara, from Florestan and Eusebius,” could be by the rising composer Robert Schumann. Clara, of course, is Clara Wieck, the enchanting young pianist who was eventually to become the composer’s wife, and who inspired the largest proportion of his music. Indeed, it was about that time that she had definitely driven from his mind all earlier romantic attachments that he concentrated on this sonata. “Florestan” and “Eusebius” are pseudonyms reflecting aspects of Schumann’s own personality: Florestan (the name comes from Beethoven’s opera Fidelio) is the outgoing and daring hero, willing to risk all for triumph. Eusebius is the gentler, more internalized, poetic part of Schumann’s personality. At times Schumann signed some of his critical reviews by one name or the other, and often he seemed to imply a conversation between these two personae, both in his writing and in his compositions. As the title-page of the sonata indicates, he thought of both figures as represented in this music. Schumann’s music is frequently filled with private references, either through the use of musical puns and names spelled out in notation, or through quotation of or reference to other music. He begins this sonata with a bold, rocking figure under an assertive, fanfare-like melody. But soon this gives way to a gentler theme—anticipating the theme of the slow movement, which he had drawn from an earlier song of his own. The main section of the first movement, Allegro vivace begins with a figure in the bass that was composed by Clara in one of her early piano pieces; to this, Schumann appends music from his own unpublished “Fandango” to create the main thematic ideas. In so doing, he links himself with Clara musically already a few months before they make a public avowal of their love. The figure from Clara’s theme also turns up underneath the lyrical second theme. The slow movement’s heading “Aria” points to opera, at least in its expressive scope. And though the lyricism of the music seems to come from “Eusebius,” Schumann recalls the rhythm of Clara’s theme from the first movement in figures that did not appear in the original song from which he drew this material. Both “Florestan” and “Eusebius” appear in the Scherzo and Intermezzo, but Florestan himself dominates the finale, with its vigorous energy and its virtuosic piano writing, which astonished the traditional virtuosos of the older schools but delighted Liszt, who hailed the sonata in a very favorable review in Paris. The sheer virtuosity required by the final movement reminds us that Schumann—like almost everyone else in his time—was greatly influenced by the playing of Paganini, and that Schumann had been conceiving a novel at this period
(never finished) in which Paganini would be one of the characters. For this, his first outing in one of the “higher” musical forms (as compared to the miniatures he had been composing earlier), Schumann found his own path—not remotely resembling that of the great model Beethoven, but one in which he could fuse his life, his love, his imagination, and his desire for technical virtuosity into an astonishingly original work.