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Hyperion Records

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Track(s) taken from CDJ33103
Recording details: November 1998
All Saints' Church, East Finchley, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Mark Brown
Engineered by Antony Howell & Julian Millard
Release date: July 1999
Total duration: 9 minutes 24 seconds

'An unqualified success … a glorious interpreter, warm-voiced and wholly in sympathy with the task in hand. The famous cycle Frauenliebe und Leben receives a peerless reading' (The Daily Telegraph)

'The care that has gone into the literary and musicological side of the project is perfectly matched by the musical results. Banse proves to be a wonderfully perceptive interpreter. In every respect this is a wonderful Lieder disc' (The Guardian)

'[Juliane Banse] is a born lieder interpreter. A must-buy for lieder lovers' (The Sunday Times)

'Banse's enchanting purity of line and ability to shape this music with the subtlest of tonal and dynamic inflections are a constant source of pleasure. Hyperion's standards of presentation are typically faultless' (Hi-Fi News)

Gedichte der Königin Maria Stuart, Op 135
December 1852
author of text
translator of text

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
The popularity of this cycle, Schumann’s last, has far exceeded that of any of the other late songs. The were written in a short period of calm at the end of 1852 – a disastrous year during which Schumann had been unable to compose for months at a time. The appointment as Music Director in Düsseldorf was a catastrophe, and his work as a conductor was considered a farce. A trip to Scheveningen seems to have done him some good, and there was a six-week gap during which his creative faculties returned – whether in full or only in part remains a question of some controversy. At Christmas he was able to present the completed cycle to Clara.

It is significant that once he had the energy to contemplate composition, his interests should have turned to another biographical song-cycle. Like Elisabeth Kulmann, Mary Stuart was a tragic figure whose poetry enabled her to speak in her own words; for her supporters she was a martyr, to her enemies an adulteress and murderer. Even after a quarter of a century these camps tended to divide along Catholic and Protestant lines. Could the Queen of Scots be better understood, even redeemed, through Schumann’s musical intervention? He had done his best to make the world aware of the sad story of Elisabeth Kulmann; here he was counsel for the defence for a more famous plaintiff. As a critic he had done so much to welcome Brahms, and many others, into the musical world; it seems that he still felt the need to champion those he thought deserving of his support.

And now from Elisabeth to Mary, with an off-stage role for another less angelic Elizabeth, the Queen of England. (The linking of these names would not have been lost on Schumann, always aware of such strange coincidences.) Schiller’s play Maria Stuart, for all its historical inaccuracies, had made Mary Stuart well enough known as a larger-than-life figure, but Schumann’s way of coming to her rescue was low-key. The cycle, in four of its five episodes, is lacking in overt histrionics and melodrama, and that is perhaps one of its strengths. Schumann succeeded in introducing Mary Stuart into the world of song, and with much greater success than anything achieved by Wagner with his scena entitled Les adieux de Marie Stuart (Béranger, 1840), and even Donizetti in his opera (Maria Stuarda, 1835) based on Schiller. The combination of history and understated pathos has held the recital stage with increasing regularity and conviction.

The span of the cycle is twenty-six years in a woman’s life – many more than that of Frauenliebe und -leben. There is no reference here to love between man and woman, nor to any of the Queen’s three husbands, source of the controversy surrounding her life, as well as of the accusations against her. Instead we see a young girl devoted to her adopted land of France, a young mother concerned for the legacy of her son, a proud imprisoned queen forced to write a pleading letter, the same prisoner some years later renouncing hope in life and, finally, praying before a fearful death. This is certainly an extraordinary Frauenleben expunged of the Liebe that was at the heart of Mary Stuart’s tragedy.

Schumann expected his public to know the life story of Mary Stuart, making sense of the biographical gaps. Today’s listener is probably equally well-informed. I apologise for the necessary abridgements and simplifications in the following chronology:

Mary Stuart was born in Linlithgow on December 8, 1542. The death of her father, King James V of Scotland, left her Queen of Scotland at the age of six days. She was sent to France when she was five, and she was brought up at the court of King Henri II. She was groomed for marriage to the Dauphin and, on the accession of François II in 1559, became, very briefly, the Queen of France, Scotland and England (the latter title claimed on her behalf because of the technical illegitimacy of Elizabeth Tudor). The death of the young and sickly François in 1560 left her a widow at eighteen and made her superfluous to the political plans of her powerful uncles, the Ducs de Guise. The Queen Mother, Catherine de Médici, was hostile to her and, although Mary wished to stay quietly in France, she was sent back to Scotland at one of the most turbulent moments in its history. In a state of uneasy truce with England, it was a land ravaged by religious strife. The Queen’s own Catholicism assorted ill with the country’s predominant Protestantism and its formidable spokesman John Knox. In comparison to life in the châteaux of the Loire valley, life in Scotland offered comparatively primitive living conditions, an immoderate climate, and much political and personal danger. Mary set sail from France for Scotland in August 1561. She was five months from her nineteenth birthday.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 1999

Other albums featuring this work
'Schumann: The Complete Songs' (CDS44441/50)
Schumann: The Complete Songs
MP3 £35.00FLAC £35.00ALAC £35.00Buy by post £38.50 CDS44441/50  10CDs Boxed set (at a special price)  
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