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ClassicsOnline Home » SCHUMANN, R.: Lied Edition, Vol. 7 - Liederkreis / 3 Gedichte, Op. 30 / 6 Gedichte, Op. 36
It was not until 1840 that, after a courtship strewn with difficulties, Robert Schumann was able to marry his beloved Clara Wieck. This was his ‘Year of Song’, and Joseph von Eichendorff’s melancholy poems of fearful wanderings, images of nature and lonely nights were the perfect vehicle for Schumann’s Liederkreis, Op 39, which he described as his most romantic cycle. From the same year, Schumann’s Drei Gedichte, Op 30 conjure memories of medieval times. The narrative ballad Die Löwenbraut tells of a disturbingly violent love triangle, while the Sechs Gedichte, Op 36 evoke an idealised, fairy-tale image of Germany.
By David Denton
Robert Schumann (1810–1856)
Liederkreis, Op 39 • Three Poems by Emanuel Geibel, Op 30 • The Lion’s Bride, Op 31, No 1 • Six Poems from a Painter’s Songbook, Op 36
Robert Schumann is in many ways typical of the age in which he lived, combining in his music a number of the principal characteristics of Romanticism, as he did in his life. Born in Zwickau in 1810, the son of a bookseller, publisher and writer, he showed an early interest in literature and was to make a name for himself in later years as a writer and as editor of the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, a journal launched in 1834. His father encouraged his literary and musical interests and at one time thought of sending him to study with Weber, a proposal that was abandoned with the death of the latter, closely followed by the death of Schumann’s father.
Schumann’s career now followed a more conventional course. In 1828 he entered the University of Leipzig, where his attention to his studies was as intermittent as it was to be the following year at Heidelberg. He was eventually able to persuade his mother and guardian that he should be allowed to study music under the well-known piano teacher Friedrich Wieck, whose energies had been directed with some intensity towards the training of his own daughter Clara, a pianist of prodigious early talent. Schumann’s ambitions as a pianist, however, were frustrated by a weakness in the fingers, whatever its true cause, and his other musical studies had, at the very least, lacked application. Nevertheless in the 1830s he wrote a great deal of music for the piano, often in the form of shorter, genre pieces, with some extra-musical literary or autobiographical association. There was an affair with one of Wieck’s pupils, later broken off, but by 1835 he had begun to turn his attention to Clara Wieck, nine years his junior. Wieck had good reason to object to the liaison. His daughter had a career before her as a concert performer and Schumann had shown signs of instability of character, whatever his abilities as a composer might be. Matters were taken to an extreme when the couple resorted to litigation, in order to overcome Wieck’s opposition to what he saw as a disastrous marriage.
It was not until 1840 that Schumann was eventually able to marry Clara, after her father’s legal attempts to oppose the match had finally failed. The couple married in September, remaining first in Leipzig, although journeys took place for concert appearances by Clara, generally accompanied by her husband, whose position was of lesser distinction. In 1844 they moved to Dresden, where it seemed that Schumann might recover from the bouts of depression that he had suffered in the earlier days of marriage. Here again no official position seemed to offer itself and it was only in 1849 that the prospect of employment arose, this time in Düsseldorf, where Schumann took up his position as director of music in 1850. The years in Düsseldorf proved difficult. Schumann lacked skill in administration and conducting, and was subject to pressure from colleagues and from the Düsseldorf authorities. All this led to a complete nervous break-down in 1853 and final years spent in an asylum at Endenich, where he died in 1856.
In his earlier years Schumann had written a quantity of piano music, a reflection of his current musical preoccupations and, at first, his ambitions as a pianist. It was in 1840, his engagement with Clara on the verge of realisation, that he turned in particular to the composition of songs in a period that has become known as his ‘Year of Song’, the time in which he became most prolific in the form. In later years he continued to add to German song repertoire. In the first days of his marriage Clara had urged him to tackle more substantial forms, and the possibilities available to him in Düsseldorf, it seemed, brought a number of orchestral works in the space of a few years. In Düsseldorf he wrote his last songs in 1852, settings of words by Mary, Queen of Scots, and of poems by Kerner, whose verses he had first set in 1827, and by Heine, a poet to whose work he had often returned over the years.
Schumann’s Liederkreis, Op 39, consists of twelve settings of poems by Joseph von Eichendorff, a cycle that Schumann described as his most romantic, enclosing much of Clara within it. The texts are treated with some freedom. Born at Schloss Lubowitz, near Ratibor in Silesia, in 1788, Joseph Freiherr von Eichendorff enjoyed a varied career, with military service as a volunteer in the War of Liberation against Napoleon and appointments to various positions in government service until his retirement in 1844. Eichendorff was prolific as a writer, virtually throughout his life, with various studies of the history of literature and poems that combined his love of the countryside with the strong religious principles inherent in his Catholic family background. Schumann met him on various occasions in 1847, when he expressed his pleasure in Schumann’s settings of his poems, although the connection seems to have stopped there.
The Eichendorff Liederkreis, a set of songs imbued with melancholy, opens with In der Fremde (In a Foreign Land) , with its image of the traveller returning to his former home, soon to be forgotten there for ever. The second song, Intermezzo , is of love in absence, while the dramatic Waldesgespräch (Conversation in the Wood) , a poem taken from Eichendorff’s novel Ahnung und Gegenwart (Premonition and Present Time), brings romantic imagery in the lonely rider in the wood at night and the voice of the witch, Lorelei. Die Stille (Silence) , the poem drawn from the same source, treads gently, to be followed by the meditative Mondnacht (Moonlit Night) . Schöne Fremde (Beautiful Foreign Land) , the poem taken from Eichendorff’s novel Dichter und ihre Gesellen (Poet and His Companions), brings further romantic imagery of the forest and the night, a song, as always followed by Schumann’s postlude, whether in confirmation or contradiction of what has gone before. Auf einer Burg (In a Castle)  brings the picture of an ancient building, overlooking the Rhine, which brings its own final touch of drama. The title In der Fremde (In a Foreigh Land)  is used again for the eighth song, with its little stream running throughout, accompanying a song of final sorrow. Wehmut (Sadness)  sings of the sadness of things and Zwielicht (Twilight)  brings feelings of dread as the light fades. Im Walde (In the Wood)  brings deftly nuanced contrast between the opening and the setting of the final words, and the cycle ends with the optimism of Frühlingsnacht (Spring Night) .
Emanuel Geibel has lost something of his former popularity. He was born in Lübeck in 1815 and returned there later in life, after sixteen years in Munich as one of the poets encouraged by Maximilian II of Bavaria. A poem in praise of Wilhelm I of Prussia ended his stipend in Munich and led to his return to Lübeck. Geibel’s first volumes of poetry were published in 1840 and 1841, and his Spanisches Liederbuch (Spanish Songbook) provided texts later set by Hugo Wolf and by Schumann, the latter’s vocal settings of 1852 published posthumously. Schumann’s settings of three poems by Geibel were, again, written in 1840, and dedicated to Josephine Baroni-Casalcabò (née Countess Castiglione). The first song, Der Knabe mit dem Wunderhorn (The Boy with the Magic Horn) , suggests the seminal folk-song collection of Arnim and Brentano, the boy, with his horse and his magic horn, a cheerful wanderer. The second poem, Der Page (The Page) , again brings memories of an earlier time, as the page of the title recounts his duties and unsatisfied love. The set ends with Der Hidalgo , in which the Spanish gallant of the title, a Don Juan, describes his exploits, in all their variety.
Die Löwenbraut (The Lion Bride)  is the first of a group of three poems, a ballad by Adelbert von Chamisso, a writer of French origin, who, with his parents, had taken refuge in Prussia from the French Revolution. He served as a page to Queen Friederike Luise at the court of King Wilhelm II and then in the Prussian army. His parents returned to France, but he remained in Prussia, remembered chiefly for his Das Schloss Boncourt (Château Boncourt), recalling his childhood home, destroyed in 1790, and the poems set by Schumann, Frauen-Liebe und -Leben (Women’s Love and Life).
The story of the ballad is told in the minor, its climax marked by the harsh rhythms of the piano. The words of the girl are in the tonic major until her last stanza, which reverts to the minor.
Robert Reinick was a painter and a poet. Born in Danzig in 1805, he spent the years from 1838 to 1841 in Italy, and in 1844 settled in Dresden, where he met Schumann, assisting the latter in devising a text for Genoveva. Reinick was known for his woodcuts, some of which were used to illustrate his poems. His activities are reflected in the title Sechs Gedichte aus dem Liederbuch eines Malers, Op 36 (Six Poems from the Song Book of a Painter), drawn from his Lieder eines Malers mit Randzeichnungen seiner Freunde (Songs of a Painter with Marginal Illustrations of His Friends). The songs are dedicated to the singer Livia Frege. Sonntags am Rhein (Sundays on the Rhine)  offers an appealing picture. It is followed by Ständchen (Serenade)  and Nichts Schöneres (Nothing Lovelier) . It is only with the fourth song, An den Sonnenschein (To the Sunshine)  that there is, in the last line, a touch of bitterness, as the poet reproaches the sunshine for its profligacy, a change of mood barely reflected in the music. Dichters Genesung (The Poet’s Recovery)  leads to territory dramatically explored by Schubert, as the poet rejects the enchantments of the Elvenqueen and the set of songs ends with Liebesbotschaft (A Message of Love) , a tranquil expression of the romantic metaphor that saw the phenomena of nature as messengers of love.
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