This work is the sequel to the Spanisches Liederspiel Op 74. By his own admission (letter to Kistner, 30 April 1849) Schumann had found the rejected items from that cycle (Nos 5 and 9 of the Spanisches Liederspiel) ‘charming’. The existence of two such stray pieces would have been an incentive to find another framework for them; and of course there were further poems from the Volkslieder und Romanzen der Spanier which had caught his eye. Thus songs that had been composed in March 1849 were supplemented by music composed in November of the same year. In what he termed ‘a cycle for one and more voices’ he was proud of himself for having found a new vehicle for vocal music, a small riposte to the overweening experiments of Wagner which threatened to engulf the world of music as Schumann knew it. The political upheavals of 1848 were a watershed which showed that a conservative position alone was insufficient to safeguard the values of the past. Schumann was sympathetic to the rhetoric of the left, but he was a conservative in other ways. For much of his maturity Schumann aimed to counter Wagnerian developments with new ideas of his own, even if they were modest by comparison: one thinks of the Scenen aus Goethe’s Faust – a work acknowledged at last as truly innovative – which proposes an alternative to opera. The three Liederspiele of 1849 (the Rückert Minnespiel was the other) attempt to promote a new order in song-recital terms. It is fun to think of them as a sort of democratic singers’ co-operative, chamber-music works which call on singers to forget their star status in the interests of their colleagues. Another new touch in this cycle (a modification of the format for Op 74) was to take away a single pianist’s possession of the keyboard; even this now had to be shared with someone else as a piano duet. A version for solo accompaniment was published only in 1860.
The Spanische Liebeslieder is essentially a work in G minor (six out of ten numbers) with episodes in the relative major (two items in B flat major), the submediant (E flat major) and a large central panel in the dominant (the Romanze in D major) which acts as a pivotal point between the two halves of the cycle and ushers in the dance in G minor which introduces Part Two. Op 138 is more even-handed than Op 74 in terms of allocations of songs to individual singers: the soprano, alto [recte mezzo soprano] and bass [recte baritone] each have a solo; the two tenor soli are shorter and written as if mirror-image halves of a single song; there is a duet each for the women and the men, and one concluding quartet. The tonal scheme and the casting makes the Spanisches Liebeslieder a neater and more consciously constructed cycle than the earlier Spanisches Liederspiel.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 2002