Hyperion Records

Sommerruh, WoO7
The background to the setting of this poem gives a fascinating insight into exactly how free Schumann could be when it came to the setting of words by lesser-known authors.

The poet Christian Schad, the son of a miller, was trained in Leipzig (where, being much younger than Schumann, he would have been aware of the composer’s established reputation). After he had obtained his doctorate of philosophy, Schad was appointed headmaster of a school in Kitzingen am Main. He became editor of a sequence of issues (1850, and then 1852–7) of the Deutscher Musenalmanach and he published his own poems and a translation of Shakespeare sonnets. Schad was in contact with Schumann by letter as early as 1847, enclosing copies of his poems for approval and possible setting. There is no evidence that Schumann took these writings seriously, but he seems to have remained in polite contact with Schad nevertheless. When Schad wrote to the composer concerning the possible publication of a newly commissioned song as a supplement to an almanac of national circulation (the Deutscher Musenalmanach for 1850, to be published in time for Christmas 1849), Schumann became a more engaged correspondent. The composer gently suggested that perhaps Schad would suggest a lyric by an established poet like Uhland, but the setting of one of his own poems by Schumann was clearly regarded as an editor’s perk. Although Schad had long ago sent his Gedichte to Schumann (a set entitled Liederfrühling), the composer had to admit he had mislaid them: could Schad send him new copies? Instead of sending the older printed collection the poet forwarded a group of his poems that were going to appear in the same almanac. Because the deadline was only a matter of days, Schumann swiftly chose one of these for musical setting.

Schumann apologized to the poet by letter, explaining that he was only able to use some of the proffered lyric: Schad’s poem begins ‘Traumverschönte Sommerruh/O wie reich, wie gut bist du’. Schumann contracts this, without turning a hair, to the much simpler ‘Sommeruh, wie schön bist du!’. The next three lines of Schad appear unchanged in Schumann, and three further lines (beginning ‘Klare Glockenklänge klingen’) are also included. After this the remainder of the Schad poem is simply jettisoned, nine lines of it, and Schumann himself composes the rest of the poetic substance, from ‘Welch’ ein Leben, himmlisch Weben!’ to the end—which admittedly consists of many a repeat of ‘wie schön bist du!’, a phrase that is not even genuine Schad. The original poem is published on p. 392 of the Musenalmanach. Because of Schumann’s adaptations, it varies rather spectacularly from the words for the musical setting that Schad was now forced to publish (the deadlines were tight) as a fold-out supplement at the back of the same edition of his almanac (see illustration). We have no record of the poet’s reaction to Schumann’s alterations; there might even have been a row.

It is perhaps because of this that Clara Schumann, after her husband’s death, sufficiently doubted the worth of this music to have a heated argument with Johannes Brahms concerning its inclusion in the Gesammtausgabe volume of the vocal duets. It is fortunate that Brahms’s good opinion of the music won the day. Perhaps she remembered her husband’s struggle with the original text (or possibly Schad’s ungrateful reaction), but in musical terms it is one of the most atmospheric of duets. The key is a gently glinting A major, the marking Nicht schnell. Lazy triplets accompany a sensual melodic line (relaxed in effect, but very hard to sing) which is Schumann’s equivalent of ‘Summertime, and the living is easy’. There is a sunny laziness to this music that is a superb realization of the words. The absence of the bass-clef tessitura (until the final verse that is) permits the weaving of a cat’s cradle of sound between the hands, and all in the treble clef. This is not music of organic development, it is music where time is made to stand still to magical effect.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 2007

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