Hyperion Records

Fünf Stücke im Volkston, Op 102
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The Stücke im Volkston occupy a very different world from any of the other works on this programme; perhaps they proved more challenging to Schumann, since they took him over two weeks to compose—considerably longer than any of the others. Having heard him earlier in dream-fantasy mode, singing songs of love and night, creating a large classical structure, and then looking back to the distant past, we now encounter Schumann writing in a ‘popular’ spirit, in a simpler harmonic and rhythmic style that (to a certain extent) emulates folk music. Perhaps here the effects of the revolution can be heard after all; it is conceivable that Schumann, that most rarefied of beings, was trying to establish his credentials (as in several of his vocal works) as a ‘man of the people’.

The first piece is subtitled ‘vanitas vanitatum’, a favourite saying of Schumann’s; it may owe something to a poem of that name by Goethe, which tells the tale of a drunken, one-legged soldier. The second movement, in F major—Schumann’s happiest or most consoling key—sounds like a lullaby, rocking gently between three- and four-bar phrases. The heart of the work lies in the central third movement, its sparse, tragic accompaniment recalling a song from Dichterliebe: ‘Ich hab’ im Traum geweinet’ (‘In a dream I wept’). The fourth piece is joyous, carefree—even triumphant. But we are not given a happy ending: the finale is positively fierce—a portrait of a monster, perhaps? A good German monster, who will drag off to a grizzly end any child who misbehaves in any way. Quite right.

from notes by Steven Isserlis © 2009

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