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Die gute Nacht, die ich dir sage
This song by Clara was probably not revised by Robert in his role as husband and editor as it was published neither in his lifetime nor hers. If this music is the unexpurgated Clara we have to ask the obvious question why it seems to be stronger, and more individual, than those included in Op 37. It may be a matter of chance, of course, but there is already some evidence that Schumann smoothed away certain aspects of Clara’s work in the interest of musical grammar and coherence. In certain cases, in comparing one version with another (the Heine settings for example), we find we prefer the quirks of the original. In the same way, in the Suleika lyrics set by Schubert, Goethe ‘improved’ Marianne von Willemer in a fashion that many scholars now find to be no improvement at all.

This was the fourth song that Clara wrote in June 1841 as a present for her husband’s 31st birthday. The other three, as we have heard, were included in their shared Liebesfrühling cycle, his Opus 37, her Opus 12. Robert had already written nine songs, and Clara’s four made a grand total of thirteen – an awkward number for a cycle. It was inevitable that something would have to go, and this song was de-selected, as it were. It was Robert who arranged the order of the cycle in preparing it for publication, and to be fair to him one must concede that the mood of this musical goodnight is different from anything else in the work. It cries out to be placed in a valedictory position – as on this disc – but Schumann obvously wanted to end Op 37 with an uplifting duet – So wahr die Sonne scheinet. It is for this reason that this song had to wait until 1992 for publication – a grave pity as it is one of Clara Schumann’s most moving works.

The mood is simple (the marking is ‘Sehr einfach’, the key F major) and the piano writing is hushed and peaceful. Clara forgets her pianistic virtuosity, or rather suppresses it, as if in the interests of not disturbing the neighbours at a late hour. The gentle melody, at first supported by rapt dotted minims, seems to be addressed directly to the calm and loving gaze of her husband. The mutual adoration of the couple is palpable in this music. This is a feeling that goes beyond erotic passion: one senses a longing that has been stilled in its superficially passionate sense, only to enter deeper into the soul.

Mention of an angel brings a new Bewegung to the music. (One is reminded of the subtle invasion of gently-moving quavers at the entry of the angels in Wolf’s Wir haben beide lange Zeit geschwiegen from the Italienisches Liederbuch.) After ‘geht ab und zu’ there is a delightfully appropriate interlude of wafting quavers, the pianist’s right hand weaving away in murmuring thirds. These imperceptibly flapping wings gradually stir the music into more extrovert expression; with this there is a change into D flat major for the words ‘Er bringt sie dir und hat mir wieder / Den Gruss gebracht’. This shift of tonality, and a vocal line higher in tessitura, limns the flickerings of passion, domesticated and tamed to an extent, but neither forgotten nor extinguished. The reciprocity of this exchange of greetings is mirrored by another piano interlude, a figure of descending thirds in different registers – first in the mellow tenor timbre of the husband, then the higher soprano response of his spouse. Then the same quaver thirds, at first in contrary motion, meet in the middle of the keyboard and nuzzle ever closer together until they become the same notes an octave apart in perfect unanimity of thought and feeling.

The stage is set for the poem’s final two lines, as if the song comes to a close with the couple, hand-in-hand, calmly ascending the stairs of their home, and so to bed. Now there is a new expansiveness in the music. The poignant and expansive melody of ‘Dir sagen auch des Freundes Lieder’ recalls not so much Schumann’s style as that of Brahms, an anachronistic (not to say prophetic) impression strengthened by the richness of the music’s texture, and the depth and resonance of the piano’s languid but deeply-felt arpeggios in the bass line. The wafting angels’ music returns to bless the final ‘jetzt [‘nun’ in Rückert] gute Nacht’ and dematerialises before our ears as the left hand (now floating into the regions of the treble clef) meltingly conjoins with the descending thirds of the right. Thus we hear a strong, but wordless, musical symbol of union, absolutely right for a song of this discretion. There is more to the postlude however: a pair of two-bar phrases which complement each other – the first higher than the second – as each of the partners muses separately on their happiness. The expressive curve of these matching phrases is more than worthy of Robert himself, as is the elongated cadence which brings the song to a conclusion with a loving murmur, a whispered endearment too soft for us to overhear. Everything about this music breathes privacy and intimacy. It is a real jewel, yet to be discovered, among the Rückert settings of Liebesfrühling.

from notes by Graham Johnson 2000

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Details for CDJ33104 track 31
Recording date
28 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, Vol. 4 Oliver Widmer & Stella Doufexis (CDJ33104)
    Disc 1 Track 31
    Release date: May 2000
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