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Hyperion Records

CDJ33109 - Schumann: The Complete Songs, Vol. 9 – Ann Murray & Felicity Lott

Recording details: January 2004
All Saints' Church, East Finchley, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Mark Brown
Engineered by Julian Millard
Release date: November 2004
Total duration: 77 minutes 6 seconds

'The simplest songs, often unpromising on the page, are done with touching ingenuousness and candour. Both singers are natural storytellers with a twinkling sense of fun' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Lott, Murray and Johnson tap stright into that tender warmth and intimacy—and there's the perpetual sense that these performers are close friends who love making music together' (Classic FM Magazine)

'In the piano pieces and songs alike, Johnson plays with luminous tone and a natural feeling for Schumannesque rubato. And as ever, his sleeve notes alone are worth the price of the disc' (Daily Telegraph)

'As you can probably gather from what I've written thus far, there's so much to enjoy and think about on this disc that it's hard to know just what to single out for further discussion or praise. Since every bit of the music is presented as winningly as possible, all in warm, natural sound that perfectly complements the Gestalt of the material, let me therefore just speed you toward your nearest vendor by saying that this disc could not be more highly recommended' (Fanfare, USA)

The Complete Songs, Vol. 9 – Ann Murray & Felicity Lott

This ninth volume in the Hyperion Schumann Edition brings us to music Schumann wrote for children, and what a delight it proves to be. The Op 79 Liederalbum für die Jugend—twenty-nine songs and duets composed in 1849—leads us on a journey through Schumann’s affinity with the mind and imagination of the musical child, a journey which here is sensitively puntuated by fifteen items from the Op 68 piano collection Klavieralbum für die Jugend. The complementary effect of the two makes for a satisfying, and generously filled, CD.

As ever, the disc is accompanied by a weighty essay on the music and its background from Graham Johnson.

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In our own day and age children’s music has become something of a commonplace. Most contemporary composers are more than willing to write for younger people; unless they are particularly inventive their work will cover ground already well trodden by their predecessors. It is difficult to believe that it was only in the last decades of the nineteenth century that music for, and about, children began to be taken seriously by mainstream British composers. At that time it was slowly becoming permissible for children of upper- and middle-class families in this country to study music seriously – seriously enough, that is, to entertain ambitions of a performing career. Everyone learned the piano, and piano music written for children became the vogue. The influence of Germany was paramount here, as it was in most areas of Victorian cultural life. Clara Schumann’s frequent British tours as a virtuoso pianist burnished her late husband’s reputation not only as a great composer, but as a wise and loving father to well-taught musical children. Schumann’s work in the genre of piano music for the young was an example to countless other composers. He had also written children’s songs (the raison d’être of this disc) but these were slower to find a niche in the British market, probably because of the language barrier.

Nevertheless, English composers soon began writing children’s songs of their own. In 1885 Robert Louis Stevenson published A Child’s Garden of Verses, poems which were set by Stanford in 1892. Women composers such as Liza Lehmann (a friend of Clara Schumann’s) showed a particular affinity to this genre. As youngsters’ own musical tastes and abilities were taken more seriously, vocal music for children ceased to be a backwater dominated by mediocre composers and lacklustre pedagogues. This corner of children’s music eventually caught up with the long-established traditions of children’s literature and became eminently commercial. In 1915 even Edward Elgar made a valiant, if rather stilted, effort to catch children’s attention with The Starlight Express. Later in the century Kodály, Bartók and Britten (among many others) created an important body of music for children that combined tuition and musical enlightenment with red-blooded joie de vivre. When Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland was published in 1862, it was noted (often with great disapproval) that it was a children’s story free from moralizing – the book was meant to entertain children rather than ‘do them good’. A century later Benjamin Britten played a similar role to Carroll in musical terms: he freed young singers from the classroom and Sunday school, and cast them in leading operatic roles.

In order to appreciate the changes in attitude over the last three hundred years one has to remember that ‘children’s music’ in the eighteenth century meant the travelling circus of the prodigy Mozart (or his astonishing English contemporary, William Crotch); the parading of these prematurely bewigged manikins represented the exploitation of childhood, surely, rather than its celebration. In the eighteenth century children were treated as miniature versions of grown-ups, and child musicians were judged by their accomplishments in the adult world. The shifts of perception between Mozart’s time and that of Britten were gradual, and the musicians and poets of Germany (which was a centre of well-organized middle-class family life) played a significant part in establishing this new genre. The first half of the nineteenth century was a time of transition and exploration in this field, and no one was more important in encouraging children to colonize their own musical world than Robert Schumann.

It is a measure of Schumann’s success in writing for, and about, children that many budding young pianists have first encountered his music as a personal discovery, a perfect fit for their youthful talents. After playing my first Schumann piece (admittedly one of the easier ones) I felt that I had embarked on a relationship with someone who was mysterious yet somehow accessible, one of those rare adults who assumes that a child is capable of serious thought. Schumann’s Kinderszenen (‘Scenes of Childhood’) ends with Der Dichter spricht (‘The poet speaks’); the title implies what I believe to be true – that Schumann can make his music suggest the contours of human speech. The sound of the composer’s own spoken voice is lost to us of course, but I fancy that it runs as a hidden thread through much of his piano-writing. As a young teenager I was unable to analyse this newly discovered intimacy, but he was already my Schumann; his music contained a secret message that I was convinced I could find, if only I looked hard enough (aided by a German dictionary!). With his wonderful musical titles, gobbledygook in secret code, it was Schumann who persuaded me to learn his language. What youngster could fail to be mesmerized by the titles from Kinderszenen, or a word like ‘Faschingsschwank’? Who could not thrill to the discovery that, for the initiates, ‘Wien’ is Vienna where Schumann’s ‘Carnival Jest Op 26’ took place? I took my first tentative steps into his world of poetry and allusion because it felt as though I had somehow been invited by him to do so. I daresay countless others have had similar experiences of this composer’s ability to encourage his admirers with a kindly posthumous presence.

In this way, a decade before I discovered an aptitude for working with the human voice in the lieder repertoire, it was Schumann’s piano music (and later Debussy’s) that introduced me to the notion of poetry-in-music where word and tone were somehow interchangeable. For any musical child, sensitive to literature, the revelation of this symbiosis is quietly overwhelming – an entirely different experience from the excitement of encountering the formidable Beethoven. When first meeting this colossus a child enters an entirely adult world in which it seems, if only at first, that words, especially murmured words, are neither spoken nor heard (see the commentary on the piano piece Fremder Mann – pages 37–8).

It is not that other great composers have been impervious to the young; children have always been with us, and it would be churlish to deny that since time immemorial certain musicians have been able to communicate with, and delight, their younger friends. In 1812 Beethoven wrote a movement of a piano trio, with scrupulously marked fingerings, for the young Maximiliane Brentano (nine years later she was the dedicatee of his Sonata Op 109); Schubert wrote a piano duet – Kindermarsch – for his young friend Faust Pachler of Graz to play with his mother. But these passing encounters with the children of friends could be no substitute for the actual experience of fatherhood where children are at home every day of the week. If we agree to leave Mozart in his separate century, Schumann was one of the very few of the great lieder composers to have a family of his own (admirers of Richard Strauss will have to admit that, as the father of an only son, he is no match for Schumann, the family man, with a brood of six surviving children). Schumann’s music mirrors his roles of passionate suitor, adoring husband and devoted father with transparent autobiographical honesty. The first two of these incarnations, with all their attendant joys and pains, are very familiar to those who have played the more celebrated piano pieces, or sung the famous lieder of the composer’s marriage year, 1840. The songs and piano pieces on this disc, however, show us Schumann in the third role; he is here in his late-thirties, and a sense of responsibility and nurture have been added to his emotional range. Indeed one would have to go back to J S Bach’s notebook for his Anna Magdalena to encounter pieces so lovingly written for family consumption; implicit in the music is the patient understanding that music must be fun and touching, or both, to engage the attention of a beginner.

We must first consider a set of piano pieces, already mentioned above, which makes no appearance on this disc. Schumann had written his Kinderszenen Op 15 in 1838 when his own children were only a gleam in his eye; but he already understood what might be called ‘the poetry of childhood’. He was quick to see the link between miniature people and musical miniatures, and how the whimsical fragment (which was his speciality) was ideally suited to the kaleidoscopic nature of children’s experience. It is clear that the composer was man enough to draw from his own childhood experiences – he was obviously on good terms with the child in his own nature. One is reminded of the stories about how he enjoyed dressing up as a ghost playfully to spook the much younger Wieck children, including Clara, when he was already in his early twenties (the genesis of Hasche-Mann and Fürchtenmachen from the Kinderszenen). Though easier to play than, say, Kreisleriana, these scenes of childhood are by no means pieces to be played by children. They are all musically demanding (the sophisticated simplicity of Träumerei is a test for any adult pianist) and sometimes technically tricky as well. They have, of course, survived effortlessly in the concert hall.

The years between 1838 and 1848 were, to say the least, full of remarkable musical activity with Schumann concentrating on lieder, symphonic music and chamber music in turn. He had long experienced the joys of fatherhood (his son Ludwig, his fifth child, was born in January 1848) but, in coping with the death, at sixteen months, of his son Emil in 1847 – albeit in an epoch when infant mortality was not unusual – he had also experienced the pain of being a parent. The Kinderszenen had painted the child’s world from the standpoint of a delighted and interested (although perhaps not involved) adult. Ten years later, in the Klavieralbum für die Jugend, Op 68 (from which fifteen items appear on this disc), Schumann looks at the world through the eyes of his own children. The work is hardly, if ever, heard complete on the concert platform. The pieces are shorter and less complex, but there are forty-three of them as opposed to the thirteen in Op 15. This set of miniatures shows a completely different attitude to the genre: children have been thrilled to play these pieces (‘The merry peasant’ being the most famous example), but these trifles have been welcomed less enthusiastically by professional pianists who require greater challenges for their appearances on the concert platform. A good many of the pieces are suited to the compass of smaller hands – specifically those of Schumann’s eldest daughter Marie. Some of them have purely musical titles (Melodie, Thema, Kleine Fuge) but the narrative ideas which animate much of this music indicate an undiminished ability to enter into the spirit of childhood: Schumann continues to play ‘games’ with that sense of wonder that marks him out from most other composers. This is as true of his children’s songs as it is of his children’s piano music. It is this sense of warmth and reality that differentiates his music from the infinitely more didactic collections of vocal collections for children by such eighteenth-century German composers as Hiller, Burmann and Reichardt.

The original title of the published piano pieces of Op 68 was Clavierstücke für die Jugend. The title of Klavieralbum für die Jugend was a publisher’s idea, a secondary title that soon became the name by which the collection was generally known. During its inception the collection went through a number of different forms in Schumann’s mind: it had started off as a birthday present for Marie Schumann (who turned seven on 1 September 1848); the composer had decided to write pieces for his daughter because he thought that the music usually given to children to play was of poor quality. Schumann later had the idea of publishing ‘A Christmas album for children who like to play the piano’. This idea came too late for the publisher’s deadlines for the seasonal market, but it is surely the reason why the collection ends with a Sylvesterlied, a song for New Year’s Eve.

The Klavieralbum für die Jugend, Op 68, was clearly the inspiration for a follow-up, the Liederalbum für die Jugend, Op 79, the cycle recorded here. These twenty-nine songs and duets, composed in 1849, were only conceived because the 43 Clavierstücke had already seen the light of day, and had received a rapturous welcome from the public. ‘It has been selling’, wrote Schumann to his friend Franz Brendel, ‘like few or no other works of recent times.’ The sets were written within a year of each other, and from the same, uniquely Schumannian, creative impulse. There are many parallels between the two works, and a number of shared themes which obviously attracted the composer. For example, there are orphan girls in both sets (in the same tonality); there are pieces entitled Mignon in Op 68 and Op 79; there are May songs in each of the works, as well as pieces on Christmas themes. Apart from these similarities the collections delight us in the same way – they offer a profusion of delightful miniatures where the composer, like an artist making a succession of thumbnail sketches, amazes us with his ability to create atmosphere using the most modest musical means.

‘Modest’ is a key word here. In the songs Schumann is indubitably influenced by the two volumes of Kinderlieder published by the poet Hoffmann von Fallersleben (settings by various composers of his own children’s poems) in 1843 and 1845. In these collections the accompaniments are kept extremely simple. Indeed, this children’s music has the appearance of folk song arrangements, a hitherto ignored musicological genre which was beginning to be of importance to German scholars at this time. Simplicity is the order of the day, and in all of Schumann’s output there are no accompaniments as bare as many of those from Op 79. This is not to say that these lieder are easy to sing – far from it – but the settings mostly steer clear of preludes and postludes, and the pianist’s role is somewhat suppressed in favour of a nursery-like directness and economy. It is true that the composer is more expressive in the piano-writing as the set progresses – the tone becomes more serious and profound, and two poems by Goethe, no less, are introduced at the end of the work – as if we have worked our way from the lowliest class in the school to the highest. This mirrors the progress from easier to more difficult in the arrangement of the Op 68 piano pieces: the sub-heading of the first section (Nos 1–19) is ‘Für Kleinere’ (‘For the smaller ones’); the second half (Nos 20–43) is subtitled ‘Für Erwachsenere’ (‘For the more grown-up’).

The almost self-conscious simplicity of the piano-writing is problematic when the Op 79 songs are presented as a complete set in performance – a rare occurrence in any case. There is no evidence that Schumann ever intended this vocal anthology to be heard as a whole, any more than he expected the Op 68 piano pieces all to be performed at one sitting; instead these were anthologies from which a young pianist or singer might select something suitable of an evening for a domestic performance in front of their parents. The parents too were likely to have performed the music for their children. As part of the Hyperion Schumann Edition it is clear that there must be a complete recorded performance of the songs of Op 79 – the songs are too united in scale and style to be presented in any other way. But one cannot pretend that this is as straightforward a proposition as presenting a Dichterliebe, Frauenliebe und -leben or Liederkreis, all cycles which were designed to be performed, in their entirety, by grown-ups on the concert platform.

The Liederalbum für die Jugend is not long enough for a complete concert, neither is it short enough to be performed before the interval as half a concert; these twenty-nine songs, under sixty minutes of music, make an awkward three-quarters of an evening’s entertainment (or CD). The music inhabits a world of its own to such an extent that it is all but impossible to tack on a further twenty minutes of unrelated songs on disc, or in the concert hall. This would detract from the very special atmosphere – the world of a child’s imagination – built up over the evening. Therefore I have planned a performing version of the Op 79 cycle for this disc which retains the order of the songs as Schumann published them but interpolates, here and there, solo piano pieces from Op 68. The inclusion of some of this closely related piano music not only unites some of the themes shared by both opus numbers (allowing us to hear these songs and piano pieces side by side), but it also provides a variety of speed and mood missing from parts of Op 79. It must be admitted that (possibly in deference to its youthful performers) the Liederalbum für die Jugend contains rather too many songs in andante tempo, and rather too few piano introductions and postludes. The aggregate impression made by this collection can be samey, notwithstanding its inarguable delicacy and charm: no sooner has one song ended on a vocal cadence than the next strikes up with scarcely a moment of intervening pianistic preparation. Even with a pair of singers tackling Op 79 together (this casting makes sense because of a number of duets in the set) there is a certain lack of respite in these conjunctions – in most of the lieder repertoire singers are given breathing-space while the piano provides the contrasts and commentaries which allow the vocal music to shine in the best light.

I have chosen fifteen short piano pieces from Op 68 and threaded them between the songs in a sequence carefully planned in terms of theme, mood and tonality, avoiding placing piano music between those songs in Op 79 where the composer seems to have envisaged a segue. On this disc the songs of Op 79, taken as a set, are framed by a prologue (an unaccompanied duet written by Schumann to a verse by his daughter Marie) and an epilogue (a setting of Hoffmann von Fallersleben which did not find its way into Op 79, but which rounds off the recital in an appropriate manner – ‘to bed, comrade!’). The result is a sequence of music which is the right shape and length to be performed in the concert hall, and one which permits us a rounded, if not complete, survey of this extraordinary composer’s response to images of childhood. Taken together the two albums for the young (the whole of Op 79, and about a third of Op 68) enrich each other; they also reinforce our awareness of Schumann’s affinity, more pronounced that in any other composer of his time, to the mind and imagination of the musical child.

In this case, however, the musical child is more likely to have been a pianist rather than a singer. It is a feature of the Liederalbum für die Jugend that Schumann mixes two kinds of song: those which were the fruits of his own artistic expression (fully-fledged lieder such as Sonntag, Der Sandmann, Mignon which might have been found in one of his other opus numbers) and those which are character studies – songs in which Schumann distances his adult self from the subject in hand and writes songs which might be sung by, or on behalf of, children (Frühlingsbotschaft, Weihnachtslied etc). The set seems divided thus between songs for an adult to sing, and songs for children to sing. But even this, given the nature of vocal training, and the time it takes a singer to mature, is unrealistic. The fact is that none of the Op 79 songs are truly suitable for children’s performance in public, whereas many, if not all, of the piano pieces of Op 68 might be performed brilliantly by a gifted child pianist. Vocal development is slower than for all other musical disciplines; simplicity on the printed page may be a guarantee of easy pianism, but it is equally a guarantee of challenging vocalism. The more economical and simple the vocal line, the greater the breath control and legato it requires – seldom the strengths of young singers. Schumann seems not quite to have appreciated that for an inexperienced singer a quick and voluble song is much easier to perform than a slow and sustained one; he erroneously equates pianistic accessibility with vocal ease.

It is perhaps for this reason that the Klavieralbum für die Jugend had many more imitators than the album of songs – from a sheerly commercial point of view there were more young pianists looking for this kind of music to perform than there were singers. They had a better chance of success in performance; after all, concert halls are full of teenage pianists while there is a complete lack of professional solo singers who are under twenty. Schumann himself realized that if he was to continue writing music for young people it should be in the form of piano music, not songs. In December 1849 he wrote Zwölf Klavierstücke, Op 85, a set of piano duets ‘for small and big children’. In Düsseldorf in 1853 he composed Drei Klaviersonaten ‘für die Jugend’ Op 118. Each of these three sonatas is in four short movements and dedicated to one of his piano-playing daughters: the first for Julie ‘the sweet and charming’; the second for Elise ‘the light-hearted artist-in-life’; the third for Marie ‘mature at a young age and forthright’. A further work for piano duet – ‘six easy dance pieces’ published under the title Kinderball, Op 130 – completes the list of Schumann’s music for the young.

Here is a list of some of the piano works for, or about, children that were published in the wake of Schumann’s resounding success in the field. Apart from Niels Gade, who was Danish, these are all German composers:

Theodor Kullak (1818–1882): Kinderleben, kleine Stücke für das Pianoforte (1850)
Julius Rietz (1812–1877): Zwölf Kinderstücke (1856)
Niels Gade (1817–1890): Der Kinder Christabend (1860)
Carl Julius Eschmann (1835–1913): Musikalisches Jugendbrevier (1865) and Bilder aus der Jugendzeit (1878)
Stephen Heller (1813–1888): Notenbuch für Klein und Groß (1874)
Ferdinand Hiller (1811–1885): Jugenderinnerungen and Acht leichte Clavierstücke
Carl Reinecke (1824–1910): Aus der Jugendzeit, Notenbuch für kleine Leute and Musikalischer Kindergarten
Theodor Kirchner (1823–1903): Aus der Jugendzeit (1899)

This list could go on and on – and the same applies to children’s music from other countries. In French music one can only mention here a few famous names: Georges Bizet (Jeux d’enfants for piano duet, 1871), Gabriel Fauré (Dolly, also for piano duet, 1894), Claude Debussy (Children’s Corner, 1908) and Gabriel Grovlez (L’almanach aux images, 1911). All of these are clearly influenced by Schumann’s pioneering work.

In Russia, works by Tchaikovsky, Gretchaninov, Kabalevsky, and more recently Sofiya Gubaydulina have been written on children’s themes. None of these seems conceivable without Schumann’s example. Indeed, Tchaikovsky penned a Russian translation of Schumann’s Musikalische Haus- und Lebens-Regeln (‘Musical House- and Life-Rules’ – usually translated simply as ‘Advice to Young Musicians’); these were sixty-eight aphorisms which had originally been published as a four-paged appendix to the Klavieralbum für die Jugend. A selection of Schumann’s pearls of wisdom is printed in this booklet at the end of this commentary.

There is a strange footnote to the success of the Klavieralbum für die Jugend. In 1860 a volume of songs was published by a musician named Johann Hermann, a pseudonym for Johann Hermann Budy. The publisher was Schuberth of Hamburg, who had originally issued the Klavieralbum, and who was well-known as a sharp businessman (from this same house came arrangements of Schumann’s Klavieralbum for violin and piano, cello and piano, flute and piano, and viola and piano). This new collection was entitled Neues Lieder-Album für die Jugend. 27 Lieder für eine Stimme … für grosse und kleine Kinder componirt von Robert Schumann. This was a volume of solo vocal arrangements of a selection of Schumann’s piano pieces. Excerpts from the Davidsbündlertänze and Symphonische Etüden appear with texts especially adapted to their melodies. No fewer than eighteen pieces from the Klavieralbum für die Jugend appear in this totally spurious volume of songs ‘by Schumann’. Completely new titles are furnished for these pieces (the public was deliberately led to think that these were genuine Schumann lieder, newly discovered in his Nachlass). Some of the poets are well known, such as Julius Mosen, Robert Reinick and Ludwig Bechstein. The piano piece Mignon (track eo) is somehow made to fit one of Goethe’s Mignon lyrics.

This entire publication was a travesty, and it must have irritated Clara Schumann and Brahms, keepers of the composer’s flame – and copyright, such as it was. Nevertheless, it proves that Schumann’s contemporaries regarded the Op 68 piano pieces as essentially vocal in character, and musically interchangeable with the songs from Op 79. This reinforces the earlier point that in much of Schumann’s piano music he seems to be speaking, or singing, to us. The combination of the two works, as in this recording, would not have seemed at all strange to Schumann’s contemporaries – after all, his early death meant that his music was a precious commodity in short supply. They seemed to believe that any arrangement of Schumann, in any shape or form, was justified by the public’s enthusiasm for his work.

Schumann’s reasons for undertaking the Liederalbum für die Jugend were partly commercial – he was keen to compose a vocal follow-up to the Op 68 piano pieces. But his determination to remain anchored in the world of children’s music is more complicated than it might seem: the composition of this work represented something of an escape, a retreat from the realities of life which included the worsening political situation everywhere in Europe since 1848, and in particular the revolution in Dresden which broke out on 3 May 1849. At this time the composer was already half-way though the composition of the Liederalbum. Terrified of conscription, or worse, he fled the city by rail with his family on 5 May and looked for refuge in various suburbs before he and Clara settled on Kreischa, a peaceful and beautiful little town south-east of Dresden. The actual danger could not have been great (no one was actually pursuing the Schumanns) and this flight from Dresden was organized with little expertise – one imagines Clara, rather than Robert, struggling with all the logistics. He completed the duet Frühlingslied on the evening of their arrival in Kreischa. Clara wrote to a friend: ‘Just when everyone thought he’d be breaking out into the most terrifying battle symphonies, there he is writing these dear peaceful little songs.’ She also noted her surprise that ‘horrors of the outside world’ should ‘awaken his inner poetical feelings in such a contrary way’. On 8 May the diary entry notes ‘terrible news’ on the political front, but also shows us that the song Die wandelnde Glocke had been composed. On 10 May the Schumanns travelled back for the day to Dresden where there were still all the signs of a ‘terrible revolution’. By 13 May the Liederalbum was completed with the composition of Goethe’s Mignon. Some time later Schumann wrote of this lied to his publisher Hermann Härtel: ‘I wrote the song under a certain amount of tension, and surrounded by noise-making children in Kreischa.’

Schumann was, in political terms, an armchair liberal. Like so many civilized men, and so many creative artists, he declined to join the fight; but he was glad it was being fought by others. Unlike Wagner, who raged at the barricades (and who had to flee Dresden for Switzerland on a false passport when the Prussians gained control), Schumann side-stepped any direct involvement with the revolution when it came to his own doorstep. He preferred to give moral support at a distance; he had written Three Freedom Songs for men’s chorus in April 1848, and in June 1849 he wrote his Four Marches for piano, Op 76, in a mood of the greatest fervour. But support for the ideals of the republicans remained theoretical rather than practical. Perhaps his choice of Hoffmann von Fallersleben (renowned for his outspoken liberal ideals) for so many of the texts in his Op 79 was something of a covert act of sympathy. Schumann might have regarded his support of Hoffmann in this way as a kind of subversion – supporting the ideals of the left, without actually endangering himself and his family. These poems were of course inoffensive in political terms, but it is clear that Hoffmann was ‘one of us’ in Schumann’s mind, and not only because of his poetical gifts. The rather bellicose Uhland poem might well have been chosen for political reasons, and Wilhelm Tell, from which the two Schiller settings were chosen, is the story of a famous revolutionary. Ulrich Mahlert has pointed out that nine of the twenty-nine songs in Op 79 are songs about spring (a number of them by Hoffman von Fallersleben), and that spring is a metaphor for revolution, particularly in the Vormärz period. The thawing of the ice-age of oppression is symbolized by the arrival of a new season and new hope. ‘Springtime of nations’ was an entry in Schumann’s own diary when he noted the dawning revolutionary mood of March 1848. It is certainly true that the idea of spring plays a surprisingly large part in the set in thematic terms.

The final key to the composer’s attitude to how far he may have permitted himself to become politically involved seems to lie in his choice of text for the penultimate song in Op 79. In selecting the watchman Lynceus Schumann chooses to side with someone who looks at the world and finds it beautiful, no matter what. This is the song of an observer, rather than a doer; in fact, Lynceus’s plight, like Schumann’s in this instance, is that he can only observe, he cannot become involved with any direct action. The only help he can give lies in the use of his powerful eyes. The words in Faust directly following this lyric, the description of the destruction of the home of Philemon and Baucis, seem to condemn the same kind of revolutionary upheaval which Schumann had seen in Dresden.

Schumann’s withdrawal into a childlike universe of his own making was fruitful enough as far as the composition of Op 79 was concerned, but it was surely an ominous omen of his tendency to turn his back on reality. Schumann’s deteriorating ability to deal with the problems of the real world in a decisive manner is possibly an early sign of the illness that would lead to his complete mental breakdown and eventual death.

The poets of Schumann's 'Liederalbum für die Jungend'
When he was first planning this work Schumann wrote a letter to his publisher: ‘I have selected poems appropriate to childhood from the best poets and arranged them in order of difficulty.’ In fact the arrangement was not nearly as easy as that, and went through various versions. In these Schumann was wearing his teacher’s hat: the logic of pedagogical progress, more than musical cohesion, seems to have been his chief consideration. As discussed above, Dresden was in the middle of a revolutionary upheaval. It is therefore no surprise that he selected so many poems in the set (ten in all, over a third of the total number) from the work of a famous revolutionary poet, August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben (1798–1874), who was among other things an expert, not to say a pioneer, in children’s literature. Hoffmann’s life had been devoted to political causes and political poetry, landing him in severe trouble with the Prussian authorities. As I have already pointed out, Schumann shared Hoffmann’s left-wing sympathies. The poet’s controversial and forthrightly held views made for an unsettled and itinerant life; he was widely travelled and astonishingly prolific.

It was Hoffmann himself (together with his collaborator Ernst Richter) who had approached Schumann at the end of 1843 asking him to contribute a setting to their Fünfzig neue Kinderlieder. Mendelssohn had already been enlisted to the cause (he provided the duet Maiglöckchen und die Blümelein) as had Nicolai, Reissiger and Spohr. For this anthology Schumann was asked to set Hoffmann’s Soldatenlied, which he did. (This unjustly neglected little song, which belongs to no set or opus number, closes this disc.) Schumann’s acquaintance with Hoffmann by letter clearly made him look at the poet’s writing with new enthusiasm; he almost certainly re-read volumes of poetry that had already been published. The complexity of Hoffmann’s publishing history, and his different editions of poetry, are a continuing source of headaches to the bibliophile. There are four editions of Gedichte, each different from the other. The Gedichte of 1843 and 1853 are sources of Brahms songs. Schumann probably knew the first two collections:

Gedichte (1834): This contains Frühlingslied, Frühlings Ankunft, and the text for another Hoffmann setting, Mein Garten, not included on this disc.

Gedichte (1837): This contains Der Abendstern, Frühlingsbotschaft and Sonntag. It also contains the text for Brahms’s song Von ewiger Liebe (‘Dunkel, wie dunkel in Wald und in Feld’) which has been mis-attributed to Josef Wenzig for over a century.

For the probable sources of Hoffmann’s contribution to the Liederalbum we have to turn to his two books of children’s song published in landscape format ‘with both original and well-known tunes’. His Fünfzig Kinderlieder (1843) includes: No 2 Frühlingsbotschaft, here set to a Lower Austrian folk melody; No 28 Der Abendstern, set to a folk melody; No 31 Sonntag set by F Jacob; No 39 König Frühling (Schumann changed the title to Frühlingslied) set to an old French air; and No 41 Wie gut bin ich dir! (Schumann changed the title to Schmetterling) set to a Silesian tune.

In the Fünfzig neue Kinderlieder (1845) are No 1 Hinaus ins Freie set to a Silesian folk melody; No 4 Frühlings Ankunft set by A Marr; No 15 Frühlingsbewillkommnung (Schumann changes the title to Frühlingsgruss) set as a Silesian folk melody; No 40 Vom Schlaraffenland set to a Silesian melody; and No 45 Die Waise set to a folk melody. Some of these poems are to be found nowhere else in Hoffmann’s published lyrics which suggests that Schumann availed himself of the complimentary copy of the music (including his own freshly printed song Soldatenlied as No 22) which was presumably sent to him in 1845.

There was clearly an old-fashioned side to Schumann which believed that a musical work intended for the education of German children should contain a certain number of ‘great’ German poems with something of a patriotic tone of voice. The composer clearly found an anthology to help him in his search. This was Liederbuch des deutschen Volkes (‘Song Book of the German People’), which was edited by Karl von Hase and published in 1843. This is the source of no fewer than seven songs in Op 79. Among these are the two poems by Friedrich Schiller (1759–1805), one of Schubert’s (and Germany’s) greatest poets, but a stranger to Schumann (at least as a song composer) until 1849. Schumann composed the famous ballad Der Handschuh (‘The Glove’) in that year, as well as the two songs from the play Wilhelm Tell recorded here. These are two set-pieces for young people: the shepherd who sings Des Sennen Abschied, and the feisty boy, William Tell’s son, who sings Des Buben Schützenlied.

Another poem taken from Hase’s anthology is Spinnelied which is quoted in the musical edition as a ‘fliegendes Blatt’ (a ‘flying leaf’, thus a poem whose source is not precisely known). Its heading in the Liederbuch des deutschen Volkes is Volkslied, aus dem Knaben Wunderhorn. Mailied, Die Schwalben and Kinderwacht are all further such ‘fliegende Blätter’ taken from the same Hase anthology.

Thank to recent scholarship, some of these ‘flying leaves’ have come to rest after a hundred and fifty years. Schumann would never have known that the anthologized Mailied is by Christian Adolf Overbeck of Lübeck (1755–1821). Research has also revealed that Kinderwacht was the work of Melchior von Diepenbrock (1798–1853), a theologian, and later a cardinal. Die Schwalben was penned by a poetess named Auguste von Pattberg (1769–1850), but the lyric became absorbed, like so many others, into the famous Arnim-Brentano anthology, Des Knaben Wunderhorn. This three-volume collection achieved its greatest fame much later in the century in connection with Gustav Mahler’s songs. Schumann took two poems for Op 79 directly from this source, Käuzlein (originally spelled ‘Keuzlein’) and Marienwürmchen. Despite its inclusion in Des Knaben Wunderhorn (where the heading is ‘Mündlich’, implying a word-of-mouth source) the poet of Marienwürmchen is now thought to have been Caroline Rudophi (1754–1811).

Schumann took one more of his Op 79 songs, Der Sandmann, from an anthology for children. This was the newly published Alte und neue Kinderlieder, Fabeln, Sprüche und Räthsel (‘Old and new Children’s songs, Fables, Sayings and Puzzles’, 1849) by Georg Scherer (its frontispiece is printed on the back of this booklet). This became one of the most famous of all children’s books in German publishing history, and its illustrations by a wide range of artists added a lustre entirely missing from earlier works of the kind, for example the Hase anthology. The poet of Der Sandmann, acknowleged in tiny print in an index at the back of the book, was Hermann Kletke (1813–1886). He was born in Breslau but spent time in Vienna (where he befriended Lenau) and Berlin (where he became the editor of the Vossiche Zeitung). Kletke was famous in his time as a collector of fairy tales and fables.

For the two settings of Emanuel Geibel (1815–1884) – Zigeunerliedchen I and II and – Schumann turned to the source of two works for vocal ensemble that he also composed in 1849: the Spanisches Liederspiel, Op 74, and the Spansiche Liebeslieder, Op 138. The texts for these songs are to be found in Geibel’s Volklieder und Romanzen der Spanier (1843). In this book there is a section (LII) entitled Zigeunerliedchen – ‘Little Gypsy songs’. This consists of thirty quatrains, each separated by a short line. Geibel explains that his source for these rather wayward strophes was the British authority on gypsy life, George Borrow (1803–1881). Geibel allows Borrow to explain the poems in a footnote: ‘The Gypsy poetry consists of quartets or rather couplets, but two lines being discernible, and those generally imperfect, the vowels alone agreeing in sound. The thought, anecdote, or adventure described is seldom carried on beyond one stanza in which everything is expressed which the poet wishes to impart … which style of composition is by no means favourable to a long and connected series of thought.’

Perhaps Schumann was unable to understand Borrow’s point, quoted by Geibel in the original English. As a result, the first of Schumann’s Zigeunerliedchen (the third, fourth and fifth of the printed quatrains) makes strange reading. We attempt to make a story of these three verses, as did the composer. This is more or less possible, but we are confused by the change of narrator (a shift from the third to the first person) between verses 1 and 2. It is likely that the poet never intended any of these verses to be run into each other. The second of Schumann’s two Zigeunerliedchen is even more of a mystery. The first strophe (‘Jeden Morgen, in der Frühe’) is the eighth of these gnomic Zigeunerliedchen. It is repeated as the song’s third verse. But the source of the second verse remains unknown. Perhaps it is an addition by Schumann himself. There is a short biography of Geibel printed in the commentary booklet for Volume 6 of the Hyperion Schumann Edition (CDJ33106).

There are no fewer than five distinguished literary figures who are represented in Op 79 by a single song: Uhland, Mörike, Rückert, Hebbel and Andersen. In these choices we can see Schumann’s desire to add a range of literary distinction to his vocal enterprise. Ludwig Uhland (1787–1862) of Tübingen was the embodiment of German Romanticism and one of the greatest of the German poets. Yet Schubert set only one of his poems (the famous Frühlingsglaube) and so did Schumann – the simple and strophic Des Knaben Berglied. Brahms set Uhland four times (including the famous Der Schmied) but it was left to Richard Strauss in his ten Uhland songs to explore a side of this poet ignored by other composers.

Uhland’s friend and fellow Swabian Eduard Mörike (1804–1875) was still biding his time to await the composer of his destiny – an immortal link with Hugo Wolf and his 53 Mörike settings which he did not live long enough to experience for himself. Schumann had almost certainly discovered this delightful poet in 1838, the year his poems were published, but the songs Die Soldatenbraut and Das verlassene Mägdlein date from 1847. The song on this disc, Er ist’s, was composed in 1849 alongside all the other Op 79 songs. Schumann’s boast to his publisher that he had sought out the ‘best’ poets is made immeasurably more credible by the inclusion of Mörike in this anthology.

Fortunately Schumann could not resist the temptation to include his beloved Friedrich Rückert (1788–1866) in this collection, even if it was only for the single bloom of Schneeglöckchen. Here was a writer, poet of married life and conjugal devotion, who had been the composer’s spiritual companion (they never met) since 1840 and the heady days of the composition of Myrten. The song cycle from Rückert’s Liebesfrühling, Op 37, is to be found in the Volume 4 of the Hyperion Schubert Edition where there is also a biography of this poet. As thoroughly as Schumann knew his Rückert, the vast number of verses written by this poet ensured a surprise at every turn. It is likely that this was yet another of the poems Schumann encountered for the first time in Leopold Hase’s Liederbuch des deutschen Volkes.

Friedrich Hebbel (1813–1863) was more famous as a playwright than a poet. Schumann envisaged him as librettist for his opera Genoveva, but those plans came to nothing. The most substantial Hebbel works by Schumann are two melodramas for actor’s voice and piano (Schön Hedwig and Ballade vom Haidenknaben) which will appear in a later volume of the Hyperion Schumann Edition, as will the writer’s biography. Das Glück is one of Schumann’s most delightful duets, taken from the 1842 edition of Hebbel’s poems, the first of his two collections. It is a paradox that this most light-hearted of pieces should come from the pen of perhaps the most self-consciously serious of all the composer’s collaborators.

In 1840 Schumann had set almost an entire song cycle (Op 40) to the poetry of Hans Christian Andersen (1805–1875). These four translations by Adalbert von Chamisso from the original Danish provided one of his most unusual and penetrating vocal works. Andersen was better known as a fabulist than as a poet, but Schumann must have acquired the complete edition of his works that was issued in German translation in 1847. In this Gesammelte Schrifte, volumes 26, 27 and 28 are given over to Andersen’s poems. In the first of these there is a long verse-poem entitled Der Weihnachtsabend – ‘Christmas Night’. Several characters are included in this little drama – the names of the children are Waldemar, Jonna and Louise. Before the story becomes complicated by spirits dancing out of their graves (there is always a dark edge to Andersen’s work) the words of Weihnachtslied are spoken in chorus by ‘poor children on the street’. The piece is thus related to the theme of orphans which seems to have haunted this composer’s conscience.

Schumann knew that the best testimony to the poetic qualities of his song collection would be the inclusion of three settings of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832). He wrote to his friend Emanuel Klitzsch: ‘At the end comes Mignon, on the threshold of a more complex emotional life.’ In 1849, the centenary year of the poet’s birth, it was virtually impossible to avoid this colossus – and, to be fair, by 1849 (the year of the Scenes from Faust, and of the nine songs from Wilhelm Meister) Schumann had little fear of setting Goethe’s words to music. One has the distinct impression, however, that he had been exceedingly diffident about Goethe in earlier years. The inclusion of a few poems from the West-östlicher Divan in the Myrten of 1840 does little to convince us that he is at ease with Schubert’s great collaborator. Nevertheless, Schumann eventually became a fine and important Goethe composer; with so many poems to choose from he deliberately limits his possibilities by seeking out two children’s poems from the master’s work, one male and one female. Die wandelnde Glocke is a merry fable to frighten a naughty boy – though not too seriously. Mignon, the haunting character from Wilhelm Meister, is a visionary adolescent girl: here she sings the famous lyric which describes her longing to return to Italy, her homeland. Both of these poems are to be found in the first volume of the Goethe edition owned by Schumann, the famous Ausgabe letzter Hand (1827–1832), the last edition of his work supervised by the great man himself. The enthusiasm with which this Wilhelm Meister song was greeted by the fastidious singer Livia Frege must have encouraged Schumann to press ahead with further Mignon settings, and songs for the Harper as well. These were composed in June 1849 and published as Op 98a. (Schumann’s Mignon has the unique distinction of appearing in two opus numbers – as the last of Op 79, and the first of Op 98a.)

A much more unusual choice is that of the poem for the penultimate song, a setting from the second part of Faust entitled Lied Lynceus des Türmers. This is to be found in Volume 41 of the comprehensive Goethe edition in Schumann’s possession. Carl Loewe had published a beautiful setting of this text in 1834, and it is this perhaps which inspired Schumann to do the same, although he was busily involved with studying Faust for reasons of his own (see commentary below). This is far from a child’s poem; indeed it is the work of an old man, Goethe himself, who is coming to the end of his long and fruitful life, and who is grateful for everything he has seen. As the cycle is drawing to its close, Schumann inserts an aria for a great old sage. The idea of a young person performing a song like this seems directly contrary to its entire spirit, but this is a poem to which a child may listen with wonder.

Graham Johnson © 2002

Other albums in this series
'Schumann: The Complete Songs' (CDS44441/50)
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'Schumann: The Complete Songs, Vol. 10 – Kate Royal' (CDJ33110)
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