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Gedichte der Königin Maria Stuart, Op 135
December 1852
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'Schumann: The Complete Songs' (CDS44441/50)
Schumann: The Complete Songs
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'Schumann: The Complete Songs, Vol. 3 – Juliane Banse' (CDJ33103)
Schumann: The Complete Songs, Vol. 3 – Juliane Banse
No 1: Abschied von Frankreich  Ich zieh dahin, dahin!
Track 29 on CDJ33103 [1'44]
Track 32 on CDS44441/50 CD10 [1'44] 10CDs Boxed set (at a special price)
No 2: Nach der Geburt ihres Sohnes  Herr Jesu Christ, den sie gekrönt mit Dornen
Track 30 on CDJ33103 [1'14]
Track 33 on CDS44441/50 CD10 [1'14] 10CDs Boxed set (at a special price)
No 3: An die Königin Elisabeth  Nur ein Gedanke, der mich freut und quält
Track 31 on CDJ33103 [1'40]
Track 34 on CDS44441/50 CD10 [1'40] 10CDs Boxed set (at a special price)
No 4: Abschied von der Welt  Was nützt die mir noch zugemess'ne Zeit?
Track 32 on CDJ33103 [3'06]
Track 35 on CDS44441/50 CD10 [3'06] 10CDs Boxed set (at a special price)
No 5: Gebet  O Gott, mein Gebieter, ich hoffe auf dich!
Track 33 on CDJ33103 [1'40]
Track 36 on CDS44441/50 CD10 [1'40] 10CDs Boxed set (at a special price)

Gedichte der Königin Maria Stuart, Op 135
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

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Details for CDS44441/50 disc 10 track 35
No 4: Abschied von der Welt
Recording date
15 November 1998
Recording venue
All Saints' Church, East Finchley, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Mark Brown
Recording engineer
Antony Howell & Julian Millard
Hyperion usage
  1. Schumann: The Complete Songs (CDS44441/50)
    Disc 10 Track 35
    Release date: September 2010
    10CDs Boxed set (at a special price)
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