FoM Recordings

Robert Schumann: Liederkreis, Op. 39 & Dichterliebe, Op. 48

William Sharp, baritone
Kenneth Slowik, fortepiano

FoM 20-002

This recording of Schumann’s two most famous “canonical” song cycles would seem at first to pair disparate entities. The “Eichendorff” Liederkreis, op. 39, comes from the long tradition of “Wanderer” cycles documenting a young man’s adventures in the wide world, whereas Dichterliebe, op. 48, takes as its artistic conceit the stages of a failed love affair. Yet both groupings, composed in direct chronological succession to one another, touch at common points on many levels. For one thing, Schumann served as the literary creator of both collections, choosing and ordering the poems himself to fashion their sequence of events. For another, both song cycles had a relatively long and somewhat arduous compositional genesis, each undergoing a substantial revision before it took the shape we know today. And finally, both collections make persistent use of irony to achieve their artistic effect at all levels: within the individual poems themselves, in the juxtaposition of those poems, and then in the interaction of text, melody, and piano writing that reveals Schumann as a master of the Lied.

Schumann’s output of Lieder resulted initially from financial exigency. During the 1830s he published exclusively works for the keyboard, many of them constructed by gathering piquant miniatures into collections meant to former larger wholes (such as Papillons, Carnaval, the Davidsbündlertänze, or Kinderszenen). We value these highly today, but Schumann’s early works for piano mystified or downright offended contemporary audiences. The composer lamented of his own Carnaval in an 1840 performance by Franz Liszt, “Much of [the piece] may charm this or that individual, but the musical mood changes much more quickly than the general public (which doesn’t want to be startled at every turn) can follow. . . . Though [Liszt] played with such great sympathy, so brilliantly, that it may have struck some individuals, the general audience remained unmoved.” Neither did the sheet music sell, either because of the music’s oddity or on account of its technical difficulty.

The distinctive writing in Schumann’s piano miniatures prepared him perfectly, however, to capture the varying moods of poetry in songs. Nobody expected these to last more than a couple of minutes, and their texts justified the very eccentricities that seemed inexplicable in instrumental music. Forced to prove in a court of law that he could make enough money from composition to marry Clara Wieck against her father’s strenuous objections, Schumann discovered in 1840 that he could produce and market Lieder quickly and successfully. He wrote proudly to his intended in May 1840, “In this half year I earned close to 400 Thaler from my compositions. It is amazing: I produce no book of songs of five sheets [10 pages] for less than 6 louis d’or [ca. 34 Thaler].” Not only did Schumann possess the musical background to write exceptional songs, he also had a wide and discerning knowledge of German literature. He chose from among recent masters (Heine, Eichendorff, Rückert) and more sentimental modern favorites (Chamisso, Kerner), all of whom were becoming touchstones of a liberal republican nationalism. Educated German middle-class consumers held this literature in high esteem and provided a ready market for solo vocal sheet music that set such poetry. Schumann penned roughly 125 songs in 1840—almost half of his entire output, which he expanded a bit more in 1841–42—and then published them over a period of seven years until his second efflorescence of Lieder composition began in 1847.

We must always understand that the Lied is a literary experience as much as a musical one, and we can translate the word itself either as “lyric” or “song.” In fact, during Schuman’s day, poets regularly gave public readings of their Lieder before literary societies as well as releasing them in print. Musical Lieder, whether published in cycles or miscellaneous collections, formed one of the many varieties of Hausmusik—compositions made primarily for talented amateurs to perform at home. One or two Lieder might occasionally appear on a concert program (along with a scattering of opera arias, individual pieces of chamber music, and then, if an orchestra was available, a symphony). But Germans during Schumann’s day never considered Lieder the province of professional singers and musicians, let alone appropriate in a public setting devoted entirely to them. The Liederabend (a professional chamber-music concert devoted solely to songs) as we know it today did not make its appearance until the 1860s. Accordingly, op. 48 did not appear on the concert stage as a cycle until April 1861, op. 39 in May 1863. The original domestic musical and literary milieu of Lieder is crucial to our understanding of how and why Schumann composed them and assembled them into volumes for public consumption.

. . . This Romantic world appears most vividly in Mondnacht (roughly “Moonlit Night”), in which the view of a common natural scene has unimagined consequences. Schumann’s setting suspends all sense of motion for the first two stanzas of the poem through a series of incessantly repeated notes in the piano, a constant repetition of a single melodic phrase for each couplet, and a lack of clarity about the centering key. Our wayfarer has happened on the edge of an open field during a night with a bright, full moon. But Eichendorff describes this as heaven “kissing the earth,” moving the earth to dream of heaven. And he then draws a picture of even more improbable causation from this event: a breeze arises and moves gently over tassels of grain, “so starry-clear was the night.” The ultimate effect on the beholder is entirely unexpected: his soul leaves his body and flies over the landscape “as if flying home.” Schumann underlines this uncanny experience, expanding the melodic range (“spread[ing] wide its wings”) and finally confirming the actual key to bring the setting “home” (“nach Haus”). Many critics consider this song the most perfect and beautiful combination of text, melody, and instrumental writing in the history of the German Lied. Schumann then builds on the events of Mondnach by relating in ecstatic tones (“Beautiful Foreign Lands”) that the “fantastic night” portends a “great happiness to come” that concludes the first volume of the cycle.

--from Jon W. Finson's liner essay "Robert Schumann and the Creation of Romantic Irony"

Listen to Mondnacht from Schumann's Eichendorff Liederkreis Op. 39

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$16.00 + $2.98 shipping and handling
On this album: 

Robert Schumann: Liederkreis, Op. 39, on poems by Joseph von Eichndorff

[1] In der Fremde [I]

[2] Intermezzo

[3] Waldesgespräch

[4] Die Stille

[5] Mondnacht

[6] Schöne Fremde

[7] Auf einer Burg

[8] In der Fremde [II]

[9] Wehmut

[10] Zwielicht

[11] Im Walde

[12] Frühlingsnacht

Robert Schumann: Dichterliebe, Op. 48, on poems by Heinrich Heine

[13] "Im wunderschönen Monat Mai"

[14] "Aus meinen Tränen sprießen"

[15] "Die Rose, die Lilie, die Taube, die Sonne"

[16] "Wenn ich in deine Augen seh"

[17] "Ich will meine Seele tauchen"

[18] "Im Rhein, im heiligen Strome"

[19] "Ich grolle nicht"

[20] "Und wüßten's die Blumen, die kleinen"

[21] "Das ist ein Flöten und Geigen"

[22] "Hör' ich das Liedchen klingen"

[23] "Ein Jüngling liebt ein Mädchen"

[24] "Am leuchtenden Sommermorgen"

[25] "Ich hab' im Traum geweinet"

[26] "Allnächtlich im Traume seh' ich dich"

[27] "Aus alten Märchen winkt es"

[28] "Die alten, bösen Lieder"