Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Schumann - Liederkreis Opus 24

The engagement of Robert Schumann and Clara Wieck was a long and difficult one due to Clara's father, who did not approve.  He forbade the two from seeing each other, but the two lovers continued to exchange letters and meet in secret until Schumann took the case to court. It wasn't until the court decided in Schumann's favor that the two could marry in 1840.

Before 1840, practically all of Robert Schumann's compositions were for piano solo. Schumann had written a handful of lieder earlier in his career, but he admitted he was not much attracted to the form until the late songs of Schubert were published in about 1838. He studied Schubert's songs and was encouraged to try his hand at writing some of his own by his friend Felix Mendelssohn. His marriage to Clara gave him added incentive and inspiration to write about 140 songs in 1840, which has been called his Year Of Song.

The Liederkreis Opus 24 was the first song cycle that Schumann wrote, with the song cycles by Schubert used as his model. A song cycle is a set of individual songs that have a common element or subject that is shared in each song.  Schumann had an affinity for the early poetry of Heinrich Heine and used nine of them as the texts of opus 24.  Later in his career Heine began to reject the lyrical Romanticism of his earlier works and became satirical, full of caustic wit, and his radical political views caused his works to be banned by German authorities.  He would end his days as an exile in Paris. His change of style can be illustrated by two quotes that are far removed from his lyrical Romantic works:

  • Whatever tears one may shed, in the end one always blows one's nose...
  • Nor have I ever seen an ass, at least any four-footed one, that spake as a man, though I have often enough met men who, whenever they opened their mouths, spake as asses.

The theme of the cycle is the Romantic era idea of being in love with the emotions of elation, sadness, and tension that love brings.

1) Morgens steh' ich auf (Every morning I awake and ask)
A short song that can be thought to be an introduction, as it sets the tone for the rest of the songs. A simple melody with a simple accompaniment, it segues to the next song :
Every morning I awake and ask:
Will my sweetheart come today?
Every evening I sink and lament:
She stayed away again today.

All night with grief
I lay sleepless, waking, dreaming,
half asleep,
dreaming, I pass the day.

2) Es treibt mich hin (I'm driven here)
The nervous excitement and anticipation of seeing the loved one is reflected in the agitated piano part:
I'm driven here, I'm driven there!
In only a few hours I will see her,
the fairest of fair young women.
True heart, how heavily you pound!

But the hours are like lazy people!
They drag themselves.comfortable and sluggish,
creeping and yawn the whole way.
Rouse yourself, lazy fool!

A raging hurry seizes and drives me!
But the hours are not in love,
sworn to a secret, cruel conspiracy
they mock the lover's haste.


3) Ich wandelte unter den Baümen (I wandered among the trees)
Romantic poets tended to wander a lot, and here Heine wanders through the trees and has a dialog with the birds about his love:
I wandered among the trees,
suffering alone;
along came that old dream
and crept into my heart.

Who taught you this little word,
wee birds up in the heights?
Quiet! if my heart hears it,
then my pain will return.

"It came from a young woman,
who sang it over and over;
that is how we tiny birds learned
this pretty, golden word."

Do not explain this to me now,
you wee, cunning birds;
you wanted to steal my grief,
but I trust no one.

4) Lieb' Liebchen (Dear Sweetheart)
The link between love and death is also represented quite often in Romantic era poems, and here the poet compares his pounding heart to a carpenter that builds his coffin. The song is short, with but one musical sentencethat is repeated, but a careful listener can hear how Schumann adds interest by having the piano anticipate and play the ending of the sentence just before the singer sings it:
Dear sweetheart, lay your hand on my heart; 
ah, do you hear the hammering inside?
inside lives a carpenter, wicked and evil,
building my coffin.

He hammers and pounds day and by night;
it has been long since I could sleep.
Ah, hurry, Mister Carpenter,
finish so that I can sleep.

5) Schöne Wiege meine Leiden (Pretty cradle of my sorrows)
A song about love lost, as the poet leaves the town where his sadness occurred. A passionate, beautiful song with an ending played by the piano alone:
Pretty cradle of sorrows,
pretty tombstone of my rest,
pretty town - we must part, 
farewell! I call to you.

Farewell, holy thresh hold,
across which my darling would tread;
farewell! you sacred spot
where I first saw her.

I wish I had never seen you,
lovely queen of my heart!
Then it would have never happened,
that I would be so wretched now.

 I never wished to touch your heart,
 I never begged for love;
 all I wished was to lead a quiet life
 where your breath could stir me.

 Yet you yourself pushed me away,
 with bitter words at your lips;
 Madness filled my senses,
 and my heart is sick and wounded.

 And my limbs are heavy and sluggish;
 I'll drag myself forward, leaning on my staff,
 until I can lay my weary head
 in a cool and distant grave.

6) Warte, warte, wilder Schiffsman (Wait, wait, wild boatman)
Another about departure, with this one having the lover hustling to try to get on a boat to take him away:
Wait, wait, wild boatman,
I'll follow you to the harbor;
I am taking my leave from two maidens,
Europe and from Her.

 Stream of blood. run from my eyes,
 stream of blood, burst from my body,
 so that with this hot blood
 I can write of my agonies.

 Ah, my dear, why today
 do you shudder to see my blood?
 You've seen me pale, my heart bleeding,
 standing before you for years!

 Do you know the old song
 about the serpent in Paradise
 who, by wickedly giving an apple,
 threw our ancestors into misery?

Apples have caused every ill!
Eve brought death through them,
Eris caused the flames of Troy;
and you have brought both, flame and death!

7) Berg und Burgen schau'n herunter (Mountains and castles gaze down)
The Rhine River is a favorite of many German poets, and Schumann writes a piano part that flows like the Rhine as the singer compares his love with the river:
Mountains and castles gaze down
into the mirror that is the Rhine,
and my little boat sails with
the sunshine glistening around it.

Calmly I watch the play
of golden waves surging,
silently feelings arise in me
that I have kept deep in my heart.

With greetings and promises,
the splendid river beckons,
but I know it - gleaming above
it conceals death and night within itself.

Above, pleasure; at heart, malice;
River, you are the very image of my beloved!
She can nod with as much friendliness,
and smile so devotedly and gently.

8) Anfangs wollt' ich fast verzagen (At first I almost despaired)
A very short song of the survival of the poet despite his lost love:
At first I almost despaired,
 and I thought I would never be able to bear it;
but yet, I have borne it,
 do not ask me how.

9) Mit Myrthen und Rosen (With myrtle and roses)
The poet hopes his love will someday find his book of love songs and that the songs will tell her of his love:
With myrtle and roses so lovely,
 with cypresses and gold tinsel,
 I would decorate this book like a coffin
 and bury my songs inside.

 O if only I could bury my love there as well!
 On the grave of love grows the blossom of peace;
 it blooms and then is plucked, 
 yet it will bloom for me only when I am in the grave.

 Here now are the songs which, once so wild,
 like a stream of lava that flowed from Etna,
 burst from the depths of my heart,
 and sprayed glittering sparks everywhere!

 Now they lie mute like death,
 now they stare cold and pale as mist,
 but the old glow will revive them afresh,
 when the spirit of love someday floats above them.

In my heart the thought grows loud:
the spirit of love will someday thaw them;
someday this book will arrive in your hands,
my sweet love in a distant land.

Then shall the songs' magic spell be broken,
and the white letters shall gaze at you;
they'll gaze into your lovely eyes,
and whisper with sadness, and a breath of love.

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