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Dichterliebe, Op 48
May 1840; published in 1844
author of text

'Schumann: Dichterliebe & other Heine Settings' (CDA67676)
Schumann: Dichterliebe & other Heine Settings
'Schumann: The Complete Songs' (CDS44441/50)
Schumann: The Complete Songs
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'Schumann: The Complete Songs, Vol. 5 – Christopher Maltman' (CDJ33105)
Schumann: The Complete Songs, Vol. 5 – Christopher Maltman
No 01: Im wunderschönen Monat Mai
No 02: Aus meinen Tränen spriessen
No 03: Die Rose, die Lilie, die Taube, die Sonne
No 04: Wenn ich in deine Augen seh'
No 05: Ich will meine Seele tauchen
No 06: Im Rhein, im heiligen Strome
No 07: Ich grolle nicht
No 08: Und wüssten's die Blumen, die kleinen
No 09: Das ist ein Flöten und Geigen
No 10: Hör' ich das Liedchen klingen
No 11: Ein Jüngling liebt ein Mädchen
No 12: Am leuchtenden Sommermorgen
No 13: Ich hab' im Traum geweinet
No 14: Allnächtlich im Traume
No 15: Aus alten Märchen
No 16: Die alten, bösen Lieder

Dichterliebe, Op 48
Schumann had already set a complete cycle from the Buch der Lieder – the nine Junge Leiden poems which made up the Liederkreis Op 24, composed in February 1840. He had also chosen poems from the Romanzen section, as well as Die Heimkehr. Only the Lyrisches Intermezzo remained to be conquered. Schumann had ventured only once into these pages (for two settings of Die Lotosblume), but by May 1840 he had decided to give his serious attention to a new cycle based on this sequence.

They had first appeared in print in another context: Tragödien nebst einem lyrischen Intermezzo of 1823. The verse tragedies of the title were William Ratcliff and Almansor; these were placed on either side of seemingly autobiographical poems which traced the progress of an unhappy love affair. These highly personalized fragments (there are only three poems in the cycle in which there is no direct reference to the poet’s feelings) thus formed an ‘Intermezzo’ between two historical dramas. The title Lyrisches Intermezzo was retained even when the poems no longer fulfilled this function. The first poem (‘Im wunderschönen Monat Mai’) was added to the original sequence, almost certainly as late as 1827, for the publication of the Buch der Lieder.

Clara Wieck, and the struggle to win her hand in marriage, was Schumann’s inspiration in composing Dichterliebe. But endless paper and ink have been expended on the study of the feminine inspiration behind Heine’s lyrics. The great literary scholars of the late nineteenth century came to the conclusion that the Buch der Lieder was inspired by the poet’s love for not one, but two, of his cousins – daughters of his detested rich uncle Salomon: Amalie Heine (known as ‘Molly’) and Therese. There are bits and pieces of evidence supporting this conjecture (Heine’s love for Molly was real enough, but probably not long-lasting) but there are no documents which come anywhere near to explaining all the references and contradictions in the scenario of the Lyrisches Intermezzo outlined below. In his late memoirs the poet tells the story of his youthful love for redheaded Josefa, born into a family of executioners. Was this a redheaded herring on Heine’s part, or truthful? Like so much else about the earlier life of this enigmatic man, we shall never know.

The temptation to explain poems by connecting them directly to the poet’s relationship with women is something derived from Goethe scholarship where such matches are possible in many instances. This led scholars to assume that Heine’s poetry also arose from personal experience, but for the last fifty years this assumption has been discredited. Must we assume that the ‘I’ of the narrator’s voice is also the ‘I’ of the poet? In this case apparently not. Although there was a side to Heine himself which fostered the connection between his poetry and his life, at other times he debunked such theses. William Rose’s study of 1962 demonstrates that Heine could not possibly have written this poetry at the same time as he was allegedly enamoured with his cousins. The poet’s amorous adventures were more frequent (as were Schumann’s) than we shall ever know. Both men paid the price with venereal disease. To this extent there was a poisoning of the well of love; in Heine’s case there was also an ongoing difficulty in terms of his relationships with women until he found satisfaction of sorts in a marriage with a French woman who shared neither his intellect nor his interests. (The parallel with Goethe’s marriage is obvious.) Even if the poet constructed these lyrics from real memories, dreams and so on, it seems likely that the original female cast of characters was a large one, and it is this array which was probably reduced to the archetype of the faithless woman in the Buch der Lieder. Thus, although the earlier scholars ask us to believe in one, at the most two, beloveds (Amalie and Therese), Heine’s words and moods vary enough to suggest a broad range of emotional confrontations over a number of years. And this is apart from the distinct possibility that much of this work is derived from the poet’s fantasy and imagination.

Schumann could not have known these theories about Heine’s cousins. But his composer’s instincts would have told him that he had to reduce and focus the many and various impressions of the Lyrisches Intermezzo to make the listener believe in a Dichterliebe where the poet – his admired Heinrich Heine – could play the part of a hero, dignified even in grief. As the figure of the beloved appears in, and is met with, so many different moods in the poems, it would be best to keep her in the background, an elusive and mysterious figure in the poet’s memory.

The ‘story’ of Heine’s full sequence of poems (if it can be claimed there is a story at all) is a good deal more complicated than most Dichterliebe enthusiasts realise. In the following list there are no synopses given for the well-known texts of the song cycle itself (which in any case appear complete later in the commentaries). The purpose of this list is to illustrate how selective Schumann was in terms of shaping his own cycle where impressions and incidents arising out of the poet’s feelings of love and rejection were synthesised into a single masterly synopsis suitable for music.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 2001

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