Sunday, April 6, 2008 at 4:00 pm
Fünf Stüke im Volkston, Op. 102 Robert Schumann
Rafael Popper-Keizer, cello
Judith Gordon, piano
Bünte Blätter, Op. 99
Albumblätter I: Zeimlich langsam, sehr gesangvoll
Albumblätter II: Schnell
Albumblätter III: Ziemlich langsam, sehr gesangvoll
Albumblätter IV: Sehr langsam
Albumblätter V: Langsam
Judith Gordon, piano
Dichterliebe, Op. 48
Im wunderschönen Monat Mai
Aus meinen Tränen sprießen
Die Rose, die Lilie, die Taube, die Sonne
Wenn ich in deine Augen seh'
Ich will meine Seele tauchen
Im Rhein, im schönen Strome
Ich grolle nicht
Und wüßten's die Blumen, die kleinen
Das ist ein Flöten und Geigen
Hör' ich das Liedchen klingen
Ein Jüngling liebt ein Mädchen
Am leuchtenden Sommermorgen
Ich hab' im Traume geweinet
Allnächtlich im Traume seh' ich dich
Aus alten Märchen winkt es
Die alten, bösen Lieder
William Hite, tenor
Judith Gordon, piano
Fünf Stücke im Volkston, Op. 102
The winter of 1848-49 was a most prolific period for Schumann following some years of poor mental health which made composing difficult in the extreme. After completing his one opera, Genoveva, which had taken most of 1847 and the first eight months of 1848, he turned at once to the project of writing some incidental music for Byron’s Manfred. By mid-October he had practically finished the overture, and he sketched music for the entire first act on a single day (November 6), completing the score on November 23. From this point there was no stopping him.
Among the works that poured forth over the next five months—often taking only two or three days from conception to completion, was a series of pieces for various combinations of instruments for small chamber ensembles, usually duos or trios. Most of these, too, were conceived as cycles of miniature musical poems, linked by key and by expressive shape. These works included a piano duet, Bilder aus Osten (Pictures from the East), completed the day after Christmas. Three days later he began a set of Waldscenen (Forest scenes) for piano; they were finished in a week. After spending much of January touching up details of the opera, he spent two days (February 11-12) writing the Phantasiestücke for clarinet and piano, four days (February 14-17) on the Adagio and Allegro for horn and piano, and three days (February 18-20) sketching the Konzertstück for four horns and orchestra, which was completely scored by March 11. Most of March he spent writing choral romances and ballads, as well as the Spanisches Liederspiel, a cycle of vocal solos, duets, and quartets. The first week of April was devoted to revising his first two piano trios for publication. Finally on April 13-15 he composed the Fünf Stücke im Volkston (Five Pieces in Folk Style) for cello and piano. The outbreak of revolution in Dresden (on May 3) put a temporary halt to this creative outburst. Even then, once he had withdrawn to a place where he would not be forced to take part in the revolutionary activity, which held no appeal for him, Schumann returned to composition.
Thus the five little pieces for cello and piano come near the end of a string of works turned out in a constant stream. It appears as if Schumann scarcely signed the manuscript of one work before turning to a fresh sheet of music paper and beginning another. The Pieces in Folk Style are small lyrical works in Schumann’s most characteristic style. The title tells us at once that Schumann is basing his work on melodies that are created to sound folklike—simple and immediately accessible. They play to Schumann’s greatest strength as a composer, a fresh and unabashed lyricism. At the same time, Schumann’s unusual phrase structures and the interaction between the two parts prevents the music from ever becoming predictable. It is fresh and enlivening.
Bunte Blätter, Op. 99
Most of Schumann’s collections of shorter piano works that he assembled into a larger set for publication, were composed pretty much in a single rapid act of creation. The effect was that of a necklace strung with the most varied and colorful jewels, each serving as complement and contrast to the next. As its high opus number suggests, Bunte Blätter (Motley Leaves) took its present form rather late (it was published in 1851), but its fourteen individual elements were not created together. In this instance, Schumann went back through older compositions pulling out numbers that, for one reason or another, he had not previously used. He joked about these pieces as the “chaff ” of his output, and he originally planned to issue them individually or in small groups with different colored covers (thereby justifying the title of the set). The pieces included here range chronologically from about 1834 (for No. 6, which had been composed for Carnaval and then dropped from that work) to a half dozen composed in the late 1830s when Schumann was in Vienna, feeling very much alone far from Clara, and spent many hours at the piano improvising and composing, to a number of pieces composed in the 1840s—the Scherzo (No. 13) that he had intended to include in a symphony that was never finished, and the closing quick march, which was written at the time of the four marches published in 1849, possibly as a reaction to the previous year’s revolutionary activities in Germany. Perhaps the two most interesting in terms of their other connections are No. 4, a simple album leaf making use of a theme that Schumann often associated with Clara, and which he here wrote with an accompaniment filled with either F-sharp or E-sharp (which he might have intended to stand for the two sides of his personality, Florestan and Eusebius). Johannes Brahms later adopted it—perhaps owing to its symbolic significance—as the theme for his Opus 9 variations. And the most significant part, at least for Schumann himself, was No. 1, which he wrote as a Christmas greeting for Clara, recalling an earlier Christmas that was significant to both of them: Do you remember Christmas Eve three years ago and how passionately you embraced me? You seemed to be almost frightened at the way in which you let yourself go sometimes. It is different now, for you are assured of your love and know me through and through. Though Bunte Blätter is more of an anthology of short pieces than a carefully constructed grouping (such as Carnaval), it was favorably enough received that Schumann decided to assemble another such collection of keyboard miscellanea, as he did three years later for his Opus 124 Albumblätter.
Dichterliebe, Op. 48
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, when the pair spent a happy fortnight in Berlin, Schumann composed the second Liederkreis, Opus 39, to poems of Eichendorff. And in the last week of May he returned to Heine and composed, at a feverish pace, the twenty songs originally destined for Dichterliebe (Poet’s Love), of which four were later removed and published separately. Of the four major song cycles thus composed within three months, Dichterliebe is the only one to contain an implicit story, created through Schumann’s arrangement of the Heine texts in a way to suggest a young lover whose sentiments are not returned and who gradually realizes the illusory nature of his passion. Finally, with considerable bitterness, he symbolically buries his emotional torments. Heine’s texts are small gems of German lyric poetry, though their frequent ironic tone is often muted in Schumann’s settings. The sixteen songs that comprise the final cycle are linked by melodic and harmonic connections tying the whole together from beginning to end. The final epilogue for the piano allows the lover’s bitterness to achieve a degree of consolation. Schumann is, of course, one of the most original and inventive of all composers for the piano, and the accompaniments of his songs show an independence (though always intertwined with the voice part) that marks an important stage in the development of the German art song. Moreover, the presence of the text makes the emotional tone of each small unit in the whole even more explicit than had been the case with his earlier piano works built up of numerous small movements. His reaction to Heine’s text is immediate and varied, ranging from the utmost delicacy to powerful declamation.
© Steven Ledbetter (www.stevenledbetter.com)