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ClassicsOnline Home » SCHUMANN, R.: Lied Edition, Vol. 5 - Frauenliebe und -leben, Op. 42 / Gedichte der Konigin Maria Stuart, Op. 135 / 7 Lieder, Op. 104
This fifth disc in the Naxos series of the complete Schumann Lieder features one of the key works of the entire 19th century song repertoire, Frauenliebe und -leben (AWoman’s Love and Life). Written during the summer of 1840, at a time when Schumann and his wife-to-be Clara Wieck were fighting her father in court over their right to marry, these bitter-sweet, passionate yet intimate settings embody a nineteenth-century patriarchal conception of love and marriage, when a woman was expected to be submissive and deferential. For all the sexist overtones, however, the sincerity of feeling expressed in these songs is never in doubt and Frauenliebe und -leben continue to be among Schumann’s most popular works.
By David Denton
Schumann’s Frauenliebe und -leben (A Woman’s Love and Life) is a seminal work that every great female singer would wish to record, and most of them have done so. The score charts the love of a young girl, her eventual marriage and finally widowhood, and requires the singer to move through those ages. It is a male chauvinist view of womanhood where she is subservient at all points of life to the man she loves. The bright voice of German soprano Sibylla Rubens rather gets locked into a diffident teenager and stays there throughout the work. It is a problem that all sopranos face, all the most famous recordings having come from mezzos who have greater option of aging the voice. That said, Rubens certainly feels the words and the grief of the eighth and last song. Intonation is impeccable and tempos are well chosen. The composer was more kind to a woman’s plight in his setting of five poems by the trouble Mary Queen of Scots, again a work that sits more happily in the mezzo range as the Queen confides in her listener. Schumann was equally sympathetic to the seven poems of Elisabeth Kulmann in his Seven Lieder, a girl who died at the age of 17, the composer going to the heart of the fanciful poetess. Here Rubens is ideally cast, and I much enjoy the Six Songs to various texts published under opus 107. Uta Hielscher is a responsive rather than dominant pianist, but, when Schumann permits, she adds colours to underline the texts. Immaculately recorded in conjunction with Bavarian Radio, and it was probably their needs that dictated its short length.
Robert Schumann (1810-1856): Frauenliebe und -leben, Op. 42
7 Lieder, Op.104 • Poems by Mary Queen of Scots, Op. 135 • Six Songs, Op. 107
If it were not for the current ambiguity of the term, the songs that are the focus of the present selection of works by Schumann could be succinctly referred to as “Frauenlieder” (women’s songs). Today’s feminist movement takes this to mean songs written by women tackling traditional stereotyped rôles with the feisty tone of the women’s liberation movement. Things were rather different in the courtly love song of the Middle Ages when “women’s songs” were written by men purely as rôle-play in which the author put himself in the woman’s place as lover and object of courtship.
This is similarly the case with Robert Schumann’s setting of the cycle Frauenliebe und -leben (A Woman’s Love and Life), the poetry of which was conceived by Adalbert von Chamisso as a selfcontained whole. Having already set Was soll ich sagen, a single text by the poet, as early as Opus 27, Schumann returned to his lyrical poetry again in July of 1840. Perhaps it was no coincidence that he found inspiration at this point in the subject of Frauenliebe und -leben in particular, as events in Schumann’s own life must have played a part in the choice of text: about this time it became apparent that soon nothing could stand in the way of his marital union with Clara Wieck. The court case brought by Clara’s father, Friedrich Wieck, with the intention of preventing the marriage, was decided in Schumann’s favour.
The woman’s rôle that Chamisso slips into does not correspond in any way to the stance of present-day feminist “women’s songs”, but reflects the patriarchal mentality of the nineteenth century manifest here by submission on the part of the woman. The nameless constant lover in these poems describes herself as “a lowly maid” who at first idolizes the man from afar as “a high and wonderful star”. When he chooses her to be his bride, she resolves “to serve him” and “give myself thereto” as a matter of course.
The poetry follows a course of development from the initial tentative admiration to the certainty of being loved by the man she worships. Schumann’s music matches the development perfectly. Initially the singer gives an entirely reserved and diffident account of her feelings (“Seit ich ihn gesehen”) over a hesitant, constantly interrupted sarabande rhythm in the piano. The tempo increases from larghetto, through innig lebhaft (deeply spirited) to mit Leidenschaft (passionately) until the third song, in which what, admittedly, are the last remaining qualms intermingle with the exuberance of love.
In the seventh song the development proceeds from betrothal and marriage to the joys of motherhood at which point the peripeteia is reached: once this high point has been reached, a sudden downfall follows with the early death of the husband in No. 8. Over a chord of D minor, marked sforzato, the voice part declaims “Now you have given me the first pain…” as if turned to stone: cantabile writing is abandoned in favour of recitative-like declamation supported by the most sparing harmonies from the piano.
Though not set by Schumann, a ninth poem with which Chamisso concluded his sequence of poems depicts the woman, now grown old, reminiscing about her own youth when faced with her granddaughter who has just fallen in love. Schumann takes no account of this turn of events, but sets an alternative verse for her in much the same tone; he then closes the cycle with an extended postlude for the piano in which telling reference is made to the first song which, though with means other than those of a poet, likewise expresses the idea of constantly returning to “a woman’s love”.
Lyricism abounds in Schumann’s setting, as well as an emotional inwardness: the word innig (heartfelt) is used explicitly four times in the tempo indications and expression marks. A match made more in heaven, and belonging there rather than in this world, is portrayed to the bitter end. Schumann dispenses with one of the poet’s verses again in the sixth song, probably in order to avoid disrupting the poetic mood. Here, the mother enlightens the bride about the true nature of matrimony in rather down-to-earth fashion.
The remaining song-cycles and collections on the present recording belong amongst Schumann’s late works. All of them were composed during the period following Schumann’s move to Düsseldorf in 1850, where he took up the post of municipal music director. Unlike the majority of works written in 1840, the “year of song”, these late vocal works could not have enjoyed greater popularity. Because of this, posterity has since viewed them with suspicion, as they supposedly show signs of flagging inspiration and imminent psychological decline.
In the case of the Kulmann Lieder, Op. 103, Schumann has even been accused of an error of judgement in his choice of text. This studiously ignores the fact that, although the authoress of the text may be little regarded nowadays, at that time she enjoyed recognition and encouragement from Goethe and Jean Paul. Here we are dealing with “women’s songs” in the strict sense, in that the texts are the work of a woman, namely that of the German-Russian poetess Elisabeth Kulmann, who, in her time, was something of a child prodigy. From an early age she displayed an outstanding aptitude for many diverse languages and appeared in public with translations as well as her own poetry.
When she died at the age of only seventeen in 1825, the Empress Alexandra Fedorovna and the Grand Duchess Helena Pavlovna had a monument erected on her grave with the following inscription: “The first Russian [female] to learn Greek, who understood eleven languages, spoke eight, and, though but a young girl, was nevertheless an excellent poetess”. After her death, her only language teacher, Karl Friedrich von Grossheinrich, published the Sämmtliche Gedichte (Complete Poems) of Elisabeth Kulmann, though the extent to which Grossheinrich edited the originals remains uncertain.
Robert Schumann was fascinated as much by the lyric poetry as by the person of Elisabeth Kulmann, “one of those fantastically gifted souls such as only seldom appear in the world”; her portrait hung in his study. His Op. 104, written in 1850, bears the superscription: Seven Songs by Elisabeth Kulmann in Memory of the Poetess; he added biographical notes and a brief commentary to the musical text. Schumann arranged the individual numbers himself, at times omitting verses and allowing the biographical setting to come through.
From a stylistic point of view, these songs leave an inconsistent impression. On the one hand, the quality of simplicity in a folk-like tone is supposed to be a reflection of the writer’s girlish nature, but, on the other hand, other characteristics speak against this impression: witness certain individual strokes of originality in the rhythm of the voice part and accompaniment, and several unexpected harmonic progressions. The naïve cheerfulness encountered in the Jugendalbum, Op. 79, (Album for the Young) is found here only in No. 4, Der Zeisig (The Siskin), while a note of longing for distant things is to be heard, for instance in “Viel Glück zur Reise, Schwalben! (Good Luck on Your Travels, Swallows!) that then becomes a striving towards the hereafter in “Reich mir die Hand, o Wolke” (Give Me Your Hand, oh Cloud). The closing number “Gekämpft hat meine Barke” (My Little Boat Has Fought) anticipates Elizabeth’s own death. Schumann added: “Thus she left us as easily as an angel crossing over from one shore to the other, but leaving traces of a heavenly vision behind in radiant outline over a wide distance.”
Further condensing and concentration of the musical language to the point where the writing becomes completely bare and simple characterises the music of the song-cycle Op. 135. The poems are by Mary Queen of Scots (although their authenticity is contested) in the translation by Baron Gisbert Vincke. These are settings of elevated language in which the tread of the poetic metre forms a background to the prosaic setting with its flexible rhythm that favours asymmetry; this is particularly noticeable in the first song.
Schumann abandons memorable melodic writing in favour of melodic contours for the voice that retreat into near anonymity. It is the piano’s function to effect the change to a musical “arte povera”, as it lays all pianistic aspiration aside. In the two prayerful songs, Nos. 2 and 5, Schumann restricts the rôle of the piano part, reducing it almost entirely to that of accompaniment. The upper part in the piano follows the voice for the most part and comes to the fore only with a few prominent brief or modulating motifs; the long pre- and postludes of the compositions from the year of song are now entirely absent. However, those who point the finger at these as examples of unimaginative Lieder fail to grasp Schumann’s intention: the elaborate simplicity of the Mary Stuart Lieder accounts for the meaning of the poems in that the existential declares itself free of artifice.
The present selection of Lieder is rounded off with the collection of songs Op. 107, also written in Düsseldorf. Titus Ullrich, a poet from Schumann’s new place of residence, is allowed to have his say alongside Eduard Mörike and Paul Heyse; Schumann had first encountered Ullrich in Berlin. A number of these settings can be linked, unquestionably, to those from the year of song: Herzelied (Heartbreak), for example, in which Ullrich’s verses invoke the unhappy Ophelia in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, manifests its own entirely selfcontained atmosphere. The motif of unrequited love, famously employed in Dichterliebe, appears again in Ullrich’s Die Fensterscheibe (The Windowpane), though that hidden trait of ease and irony is now absent, which Heine had once made use of to distinguish the broken-hearted.
Once again many of the songs gain vividness and a dramatic quality from Schumann’s consistent use of motifs: Mörike’s Gärtner (The Gardener), for instance, with its galloping dotted triplets, the rhythm in the accompaniment symbolic of the Leibsrösslein, or Paul Heyse’s Spinnerin (The Spinstress), with its constantly bustling groups of semiquavers. In Wolfgang von Königswinter’s Im Wald (In the Wood), the once happy tone of the wanderer is transformed into a defiant march of the lyrical ego that roams through the countryside “so alone and full of pain”. Schumann closes his song collection with an “evening song” by Johann Gottfried Kinkel, a composition that maintains its wavering character through the vocal line maintaining strict time over an accompaniment in triplets.
English version: Neil Coleman
Sung texts and translations can be found at www.naxos.com/libretti/557078.htm
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