Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Schumann - Romanzen & Balladen Vol. IV, Opus 64 No. 3 'Tragödie'

Many poems of Heinrich Heine (1797-1856)  have been set to music by many German composers, most notably Schubert and Schumann, as well as composers of other nationalities. Heine's early lyrical style made his poems very attractive to composers in the 20th century also.

Robert Schumann, who was not only a gifted composer but a competent man of letters, first
set music to Heine's poetry in 1840 when Schumann composed at least 138 songs.  By that time Heine had moved away from his earlier lyric Romanticism and wrote works that reflected his radical liberal politics. After struggling to make a living writing and struggling against heavy censorship in the German states, Heine traveled to Paris in 1831 and remained there the rest of his life.

Schumann composed two well-known song cycles on Heine's poems. The first was Liederkreis that consists of 9 song settings and Dichterliebe (A Poet's Love) based on 16 poems from Heine's Lyrisches Intermezzo. Schumann set other poems of Heine's as well, notably in his 4 volumes of Romanzen & Balladen. The 4th volume, Opus 64, consists of three songs, two by Eduard Mörike and one, Tragödie by Heine. These songs were composed between 1841-1847. Schumann was well acquainted with Heine's work before 1840 and the two met in Munich in 1828 and Schumann described their meeting in a letter:
Heinrich Heine
I imagined him to be, after the sketch of Herr Krahe, a crochety, misanthropic man, who would be more likely to stand, as if too sublime, above mankind, than to huddle against it. But how different I found him and how different he was, than I had conceived him to be. He engaged me in a friendly fashion, like a humane Greek Anacreon, shook my hand cordially, and took me around Munich for several hours -- none of which I would have expected from a man that had described the Reisebilder(Travel Pictures); there lay only upon his mouth a bitter, ironic smile, but a lofty smile over the trivialities of life and a scorn for the petty person; yet that bitter satire, that one so often perceives in his Reisebilder, that deep, innermost resentment at life that penetrates to one's very marrow, made his conversation very pleasing to me.
Heine's later radical political writings may have turned Schumann against him, for the setting in Opus 64 is the last time Schumann set a Heine poem to music. Tragödie is in three sections:

I.  Rasch und mit Feuer (Quickly and with fire) -  In the key of E major, the piano reflects the passionate, confident song of the soloist as he tries to convince his love to run away with him, as his love will give her everything she needs.  In typical Romantic excess, the singer tells her if she doesn't  go with him she will regret it and have nothing.

Oh fly with me and be my love,
Rest on my heart, and never rouse;
And in strange lands my heart shall be
Thy fatherland and father's house.

 But if you stay, then I die here,
And you shall weep and wring your hands ;
And even in your father's house 
You shall be living in strange lands.

II.  Langsam (Slowly)  -  The original poem by Heine had the following heading printed with it:
A genuine folk-song; heard by Heine on the Rhine.  In direct contrast to the first section,  the story of the two lovers is told by the soloist as narrator. The over-confidence of the singer in the first section is replaced by the reality that after the two ran away together without telling even their mothers or fathers, there lives together was one of sadness and wandering and they withered and died as blossoms nipped by frost. In E minor, the piano begins the song with a sigh. The accompaniment has set the stage and continues with sparse, disconnected staccato chords that increase the starkness of the singer as they matter-of-factly relate the short, sad tale. The piano has a final, very soft sigh to end the section.

The hoar-frost fell on a night in Spring,
It fell on the young and tender blossoms . . .
And they have withered and died.

A boy and a girl were once in love ;
They fled from the house into the world
They told neither father nor mother.

They wandered here and they wandered there.
They had neither luck nor a star for guide . . .
And they have withered and died. 
III. Langsam - The final section is in C major and is a duet for tenor and soprano. The soloists and piano begin together as the story continues in music that reflects the words; a tree full of birds and soft breezes grows over the grave of the couple. Another couple sit under the tree, grow silent and begin to weep without knowing why. As in the second section, the matter-of-fact style of the words that tell the story creates a mood of starkness, but in this section the starkness is played off music that is gentle and like a folksong. The duet is short, the piano has a solo as it gently works its way to the end.  As the music progresses to the end a rather jarring A-flat resolves to a G and the work ends with a C major chord.

Upon their grave a tree stands now
With winds and birds in every bough ;
And in the green place under it
The miller's boy and his sweetheart sit.

The winds grow tender, soft and clinging,
And softly birds begin their singing.
The prattling sweethearts grow silent and sigh,
And fall to weeping neither knows why.

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