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Welcome to Hyperion Records, an independent British classical label devoted to presenting high-quality recordings of music of all styles and from all periods from the twelfth century to the twenty-first.
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John Anderson, mein Lieb! Wir haben uns gesehen, Wie rabenschwarz dein Haar; Die Stirne glatt und schön Nun Glätte nicht und Locke Der schönen Stirne blieb, Doch segne Gott dein schneeig Haupt, John Anderson, mein Lieb!
John Anderson, mein Lieb! Wir klommen froh berg auf Und manchen heitern Tag Begrüssten wir im Lauf! Nun abwärts Hand in Hand Froh wie’s berg auf uns trübe, Und unten sel’ges Schlafengehn, John Anderson, mein Lieb.
Robert Burns (1759-1796) Deutsch: Wilhelm Gerhard
John Anderson, my love! When we first saw each other, Your locks were like the raven, Your brow was smooth and fair; But though now your brow’s not smooth And your head has no curls, May God still bless your snowy head, John Anderson, my love!
John Anderson, my love! Happily we climbed the hill, And many a cheerful day We greeted as we walked! Happily hand in hand we now descend The hill that we once struggled up, And at the foot we’ll find blessed sleep, John Anderson, my love.
In the preceding song on this disc, Zum Schluss – the final song in Myrten – the bridegroom speaks lovingly to his new wife, envisaging even greater happiness in later years. But in real life the idyll predicted in this rapt song never came to pass. The bridegroom, albeit a genius, became older and more eccentric, and was enfeebled, both physically and mentally, by encroaching illness; this was not, in reality, the perfect marriage of musical legend. But time after time there are indications in the music that Schumann was abundantly grateful for his wife’s indulgence, even if he seems to have felt that he had done little to deserve it (cf the mood of Mein schöner Stern from the Minnespiel, Op 101).
If Zum Schluss puts words into Robert’s mouth immediately after the wedding, this little partsong, immensely touching in its powerful simplicity, imagines the love of a long-married woman for a husband who is no longer youthfully handsome, but who remains infinitely dear. Was Clara as fond of her husband after nine years of marriage to someone who had taken her away from her life as a concert pianist and who was moody, terrified of illness (both real and imagined), and not much help in the day-to-day task of raising seven children? The answer is probably ‘yes’, and that Robert believed himself to be loved unconditionally. Some modern critics, however, would argue that Clara was already at the end of her tether by the time Schumann came to write this music in 1849. Certainly the other Robert, Burns that is, projected himself into his own future (although he failed to survive into old age) and wrote words which he would most like to have heard whispered into his ear as an old man.
The lyric shows the Scottish poet at his incomparable best. These words from 1790 (of which the German translation is a pale imitation) ring true: they embody a devotion which seems doughtily, and understatedly, Scottish whilst avoiding the sentimentality of Darby and Joan – an English stereotype originating from twenty-five years earlier. The greatest fear of old and impoverished married couples was enforced transferral to the parish workhouse; in Victorian times wives were separated from their husbands, and the parting of devoted old couples was one of the cruellest aspects of a heartless system. There was a similar heartlessness in the doctors refusing Clara Schumann permission to visit her husband during the two years he was incarcerated in the asylum at Endenich; she was reunited with him only as he lay dying.
When gathering together the various works that make up this disc I was unhappy with the sudden contrast between the mood of Myrten at its close, and the hectic underlay of Tanzlied (track 32), so cheery on the surface, and so desperate on a deeper level. Burns had featured so strongly in Myrten that it seemed appropriate to allow a tiny choral epilogue to the cycle, albeit composed in the same year as Tanzlied, as a bridge between Opp 25 and 78. We might imagine that we are allowing a wife to express her devotion as a female counterpart to Zum Schluss, albeit many years later. The composer set the poem twice (Schumann remained true to Gerhard, despite the availability of a superior translation of the poem by Freiligrath), the first being the more extended and slightly more elaborate G major setting of Op 67 No 5. It is in this shorter E major setting, however, where the mood of the lyric is best caught in part-writing that is both simple and unusual (note the chordal setting of ‘Anderson’ where the subdominant chord of A major in the STA voices is underpinned by Bs in the bass). A touch such as this truly pulls at the heartstrings. Not for the first time we marvel at this armchair traveller’s ability to create folk music of his own, and that in this and other cases it gives the illusion of springing from isles he never visited, and from a culture with which he could only acquaint himself through books.