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In Karl Geiringer’s edition of 1933 this song is ascribed to June 1827, a date that has been long accepted by the scholars. However Ernst Burger in his Robert Schumann (1999) places it as early as 28 February 1827 – probably as a result of recent research. There is in any case much to be said for this: June 1827 predates Schumann’s musically inspiring encounter with Agnes Carus; on the other hand the February date would place this song fairly and squarely in the period of Schumann’s infatuation with Liddy Hempel. It is the only song of the Geiringer collection to Schumann’s own text (although Geiringer ascribes the poem to ‘Ekert’ – perhaps an early Schumann pseudonym) and the poem fits perfectly with the composer’s mood regarding Liddy at the time. Sehnsucht is also musically different from the others: harmonically less ambitious, this music has a real adolescent charm about it, not least because it seems so strongly influenced by Schubert.
Schumann’s lifelong predilection for starting songs mysteriously far away from the home key (cf the opening bars of Dichterliebe) is shown in a four-bar introduction (the vocal cantilena is in D major, but at the start we find ourselves suddenly in the key of E minor). Gently insistent dotted rhythms are upbeats to sighs and dying falls, as if the lover were knocking on the door of his beloved and finding no response. This prelude seems to have little to do with the main body of the song which is an irresistibly lilting melody which floats on the accompaniment’s rippling sextuplets. The music recalls the sweet naivety of the melodic lines in some of Schubert’s Hölty settings from 1816 – but these are songs which Schumann could not have known. The accompaniment brings to mind that of Die Gebüsche (Schlegel) which was only published in the 1885. But Schumann would almost certainly have been acquainted with the piano arrangements of numbers from Rosamunde that appeared as Op 26 in 1824. The mystery of the Geister-Chor (No 2) might have influenced the mood of his introduction to Sehnsucht, and the dactylic charm of the Hirten-Chor the main body of the song. The shape of Schumann’s vocal line also perhaps owes something to Frühlingslied (Schober), a part song, also in D major, published as Op 16 in 1823.
Whatever the song may owe to Schubert, Schumann is already his own man. It is no surprise to discover that he had attempted an opera some years earlier: Sehnsucht has much about it that suggests a bel canto aria with the bluster removed from it. The cadential points are decorated with turns in exactly the same way that we find Schumann gracing Er, der Herrlichste von allen twelve years later – a detail in his musical language which already signifies a tender, if imaginary, caress. One should not be tempted to make too much of such an early piece, but there are signs here of someone who has an in-built response to words: the lift of a sixth towards the heavens on ‘himmlischen’; the flattened harmony to illustrate the woebegone distance of ‘Ferne’; the sudden change into the supertonic minor for ‘Schweigende Sterne’. This all bodes well for the future. For this performance we have opted not to insert the two-bar postlude added by Geiringer.
Ich sah dich weinen! Ach, die Zähre
Schwamm auf des Auges Blau;
Und dieses Auge, dacht’ich, wäre
Ein Veilchen, nass vom Tau.
Ich sah dich lächeln; Saphirschimmer
Trat matt vor dir zurück,
Den regen Glanz erreicht’ er nimmer,
Der strahlt’ aus deinem Blick.
George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788-1824) Deutsch: Theodor Körner
I saw thee weep, the big bright tear
Came o’er that eye of blue;
And then methought it did appear
A violet dropping dew;
I saw thee smile – the sapphire’s blaze
Beside thee ceased to shine;
It could not match the living rays
That filled that glance of mine
George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788-1824)
For this song Schumann uses half of Byron’s poem, the single strophe printed above, entitled I saw thee weep, from Hebrew Melodies (1815). The composer took the translation from Volume One of Lord Byron’s Poesien published by his father, and bearing the imprint of the Gebrüder Schumann, Zwickau. This was the first of twenty-six ‘Bändchen’ or small format volumes of the English poet’s work issued by this firm between 1821 and 1827. Various translators were employed, including August Schumann himself for Beppo. This first volume opens with the Hebrew Melodies (issued as Israelitische Gesänge in this version by Julius Körner) and Die Weinende is the tenth poem. Schumann makes one small alteration to Körner by changing the first verb (‘seh’ – ‘see’ in the present tense) into the past tense (thus ‘sah’ – saw); in this way he is at one with the English original. On the obverse side of this page in Schumann’s source is Die Laute (Byron’s ‘My soul is dark’) which the composer was to set so memorably in 1840 under the title Aus den hebraïschen Gesängen in the Myrten cycle (see Volume 7 of this edition).
If a poem from over the page belongs to a real Schumann song cycle, so this music seems to be only a page- turn away from the style of the mature master. The main image here is of tears, so that it should not surprise us to look at Schumann’s song about a single tear – ‘Was will die einsame Träne’ (1840, No 21 from Myrthen) and find the same key signature, a similarly dreamy atmosphere, and an almost identical opening chord. I do not suppose that Schumann consulted his earlier effort, but it seemed that his word-to-music vocabulary was formed early on – these chords had long suggested to him a suspended state of lachrymose melancholy. From the very beginning there is a sense of improvisatory freedom with chromatic sliding between the inner voices that might have been conceived for string quartet; this upward movement in the opening bar suggests the welling up of tears. When the voice enters we find a perfectly formed Schumannian arioso – that mixture of true melody and spoken inflection which was to become one of his trademarks. Meaningful doubling of the vocal line is another familiar feature, as is the mixture of piano passages which sing in melodic descant (note the flowering of a new melody at the mention of a violet) and then a change into throbbing chords sumptuously supported by bass octaves. One notes that the passage including the words ‘Saphirschimmer’ has an accompanimental texture that is identical to the famous ‘Diamantenpracht’ in ‘Ich grolle nicht’ (Dichterliebe, Volume 5 of this edition). The dying fall of the cadence makes an unusually feminine effect – the poet’s own ardent reaction is countered by a marvellous depiction of the girl lowering her eyelids in a demure manner. Thus might the respectably married Agnes Carus have deflected the besotted gaze of young Robert.
If the listener is tempted to think of Schubertian inspirations, that composer’s Goethe setting An die Entfernte from 1822 comes to mind; it actually shares a number of attributes with Die Weinende, including the shape of the opening of the vocal line and the use of arioso. The song was published only in 1868 however; here, not for the only time, is Schumann writing in the style of his beloved Schubert without realising quite how close he was to the music of his idol.
It is not clear what made Schumann turn to Jacobi, essentially an eighteenth-century poet, and not the sort of writer who normally appealed to him. Schumann was above all someone interested in contemporary poetry. Ernst Burger in his Robert Schumann (1999) ascribes this poem to Byron in a translation by Jacobi. However, the Viennese edition of Jacobi’s works from 1816 (the edition used by Schubert for seven elegant settings of the poet in the summer of that year) prints Erinnerung without any mention of the English poet.
In any case the lyric is gracefully insubstantial, and anyone might have written it. From the musical point of view this is perhaps Schumann’s most successful, because least fussy, single-page miniature from the period. After the disaster of An Anna II he has re-struck better form for a short sequence of swansongs in August 1828 (until, that is, the rebirth of his lieder composing genius in 1840). The introduction owes something to another song in triple time – Gesanges Erwachen – composed some weeks earlier. In the prelude a gentle little motif that unites dotted rhythms and triplets is turned this way and that, as if the pianist were holding a jewel to the light at varying angles, seeing slightly different facets and colours as he does so. Despite all this, this Vorspiel pivots obediently on the home key of B flat, a Schubertian detail. Once again it is the sweet trepidation of Schubert’s Das Mädchen which comes to mind.
Erinnerung is characteristic of the mature Schumann in that the vocal line is supported by flowing quavers which propel the music gently forward. The accompaniment sometimes hugs the vocal line, and sometimes departs from it, leaving the voice to float free of its constrictions. This is a technique that Schumann would continue to refine with increasing ingenuity during 1840. And we are also grateful for his temperance. A passionate virtuoso of his kind could easily have unleashed cascades of notes from the keyboard; it is pleasing to notice how this composer can always find a suitable scale for his compositions for voice and piano – in every sense. This was an innate sense of proportion to which a heavy-handed composer like Marschner could never aspire.
In Erinnerung one finds a texture that breathes, a balance between voice and piano that is luminous, a delicacy that is genuinely sweet without being sickly. In time Schumann would learn that high-lying music of this kind is more comfortable to sing when it is supported by a more substantial bass line; on other occasions he unearthed more memorable melodies. But much of what was to make him a great song composer is already here. Note the descriptive mezzo staccato chords under ‘O! sie fühlte jeden Schlag’. In this music we hear a heartbeat; twelve years later we will find the same image (and a similar pianistic response) in Süsser Freund from Frauenliebe und -leben.
It seems likely that Schumann carefully chose these Kerner poems as a means of sending discreet messages of frustrated love to Agnes Carus. A code may be deciphered if the recipient cares to make the effort; if not, it remains a secret and no-one need know anything further. Writing passionate letters to a respectable married woman would have been out of the question. Instead, Kerner is Schumann’s mouthpiece – and her husband would surely not notice the intensity of these texts embedded in music. (The question remains open as to whether Agnes herself was able to read between the lines; it is likely she dismissed Schumann’s infatuation – probably obvious to all observers – with an indulgent laugh.) The composer is unable to press his suit, only to solicit her pity that her absence has left him so wretched. The poems refer to pleasures that are passing and too short, meetings which, once over, will leave darkness and cold where before there had been warmth and light.
When, as here, there is a reference to singing, the poem seems even more appropriate to his purpose because Agnes was a singer. In Kurzes Erwachen the poet’s awakening to the pleasures of birdsong has been all too short. When Agnes leaves Leipzig Schumann will feel that his May time has come to an end, and that summer has turned to autumn. Here Schumann simply appropriates the words of the poet as if he were the poet himself, something which he was to do throughout his career, and particularly in 1840 when he lined up the greatest names in German literature to give deeper resonance to his love for Clara Wieck. This appropriation is surely what separates the wordsetting of Schumann from that of Hugo Wolf: Schumann tends to change his poets into different aspects of his own persona, while it is Wolf’s delight to change persona with each poet.
This text is set as a modified strophic song – the first three verses are sung to the same music and there are alterations in the final strophe. Here the composer once again shows his feeling for miniature forms, his ability to take snatches of melody and work them up into something memorably atmospheric, if not actually memorable in terms of their constituent parts. In this mood Schumann can write a piece for children, or a quasi folksong; later works such as the Liederalbum für die Jugend Op 79 explore this vein in his creativity time and again. The key of D flat major imparts a soft glow of confidentiality. The reflective mood of Ich wandelte unter den Bäumen (track 17) is prophesied in this music; mezzo staccato chords in both songs suggest the sweetness and delicacy of birds and the fragmentary accompaniment (legato phrases which never quite build into something more substantial) reflects the fragmentary nature of birdsong itself. Schumann was to write a greater May song than this, but the ‘Monat Mai’ heard here is touching enough for the time being.
The setting of ‘ausgesungen’ is rather clumsy, but the majority of the vocal line is well crafted; the singer gracefully conjoins with the piano writing, and just as gracefully fades away. The most unusual moment in the song is right at the end: the setting of ‘entschwand’ is a musical translation of the word itself. The accompaniment takes over and echoes the wilting vocal cadence; each successive note seems to get softer and smaller as the song fades into nothing – a depiction of disappearance, and disappearing hopes in music, which seems startlingly original in this context. All in all, typical Schumann.
This is another song of Schubertian simplicity, strophic for three of its verses and modified in the fourth. Schumann must have searched carefully for this text, for his favourite theme of the moment was the singing of Agnes Carus. As a composer he is also a singer of songs, and his disinclination to continue in this role after the summer of 1828 is partly explained by the disillusionment expressed in these words: he has been awakened by love, and here he is left half mute by its absence. Only a shadow of his songs remained to him, and as we have already seen, he turned some of these into piano pieces in the following years.
On the other hand we must also imagine Agnes Carus performing this song, for so it was designed. There is no reference to a female inamorata here, only a forlorn state of mind, thus it is ideal for a woman to sing. An Anna had described a man’s feelings and, in any case, Agnes would have found Gesanges Erwachen much easier to perform from the musical point of view. Kerner’s words describe what Agnes should have been feeling if she were tortured with a love for Schumann that could find no other outlet than musical collaboration. In short, the composer who thought nightly of Agnes before going to bed (and probably after) could not help fantasising that she reciprocated his silent devotion and felt the same way. What young man devastated by meeting a woman would not hope that the devastation went both ways? By placing this song in her hands he was delivering her the perfect, ready-made confessional. In real life she had to keep respectably silent (‘Und in Trauern schweigt der Mund’) but how thrilling it would have been if she too was so lovesick that she scarcely wished to sing any more!
When Schuman wrote in August 1828 that ‘even she (Agnes) sang the most beautiful passages badly and didn’t understand me’ we might imagine her giving a sprightly performance of Gesanges Erwachen in full, healthy voice without so much as directing a single wistful glance in the direction of its creator. (Clara Schumann was later to prove the ideal collaborator in the exchange of such musical secrets, but then she was a much cleverer musician than Agnes, and also genuinely in love with Robert.) Agnes was scarcely aware that she was a leading character in Schumann’s song opera, and it seems she ‘lost the plot’.
This song is linked to another Kerner setting from twelve years later – Stille Liebe Op 35 No 8. Even the text has similarities – “Könnt ich dich in Liedern preisen’ (If I could only praise you in song). The superb introduction in falling sequences which opens that masterpiece is prophesied by the wistful triplets of Gesanges Erwachen; in both songs the pianist’s fingers seem to be searching the keyboard for a tonality worthy of the forthcoming vocal flowering. Even in the earlier song the manner of introduction is utterly individual and stamped with the RS hallmark; the music for Stille Liebe in E flat may be more concentrated and dense, but Schumann’s poetic drift is already unmistakable in the A flat song of 1828. A penchant for casting a vocal line in which triplets end almost every bar is arguably less impressive. Nevertheless, this is a good example of Schumann’s ability to weave atmosphere from slender, though pleasant, melodic resources.
The changes in the final strophe interrupt the flow of the vocal line with piano interludes which substitute for the voice. It is as if the will to sing is slowly being drained from the poet’s being. The piano’s echoing of ‘ach! nur kurz’ is especially touching. The way in which the accompaniment changes to gently pulsating quaver chords at ‘und vom aufgeweckten Lieder/Hallten diese Töne kaum’ suggests a time shift as well as a solemn ceremony, a funeral cortege perhaps for the death of song.
Schumann’s astonishing affinity with the lieder of Schubert, often without realising it, is also demonstrated here. Like Gesanges Erwachen, Schubert’s Das Mädchen (Schlegel) begins with a triplet falling on to the barline followed by two longer note values; this is then repeated in a touching sequence. The expressive language shared between the two composers here illustrates the wistful sighs of those who doubt that their love is reciprocated. The Schubertian will be haunted by the introduction to Gesanges Erwachen until he has made this connection. And yet we have to admit that Schumann could not possibly have known Das Mädchen, composed in 1819, but published only in 1842.
This poem is part of a six-poem sequence entitled Episteln, purporting to be letters sent by one Andreas to his beloved Anna. (That Anna and Agnes are both duo-syllabic names beginning in ‘A’ would not have been lost on Schumann.) Only in the sixth poem is Anna herself given a voice after Andreas has been killed on the battlefield (in the fifth poem, see An Anna II later on this disc). As a final twist it emerges that Anna herself is dead (and probably has been from the beginning of the sequence); in the rather ghoulish conclusion she awaits her bridegroom as his pale bride on the other side of the great divide. Kerner chose not to reprint the Episteln in the 1834 edition of his Dichtungen. Schumann is of course much more interested in a living woman than a dead one. He cuts Kerner’s first two strophes; the poem begins ‘Liebes Mädchen’ – an unsuitable address to Agnes, a married woman. The theme is of waiting at a distance for some sign from the beloved, and all in vain. Some of the information contained in the two strophes not set to music is useful in setting the scene: from his vantage point on the high mountain Andreas fancies that he can see Anna’s house in the valley below, and that she can see him; in the second verse he imagines that he sees Anna coming towards him, but no, he has been deceived by a white flower waving in the distance. In waiting for a sign from the beloved’s window, at the same time as having some of the characteristics of an obsessive stalker, this character has something in common with the young miller in Morgengruss from Die schöne Müllerin. ‘I have waited so long’ says the aching Schumann/Kerner, and throughout this beautiful and original song we sense the lack of a resolution of the story, as well as of the relationship (or nonrelationship) between the young composer and his singer. Schumann is prepared to let the text waft the music whichever way it may, and it is this waywardness which must have worried Professor Wiedebein, the music’s first critic. The song is like a long improvisation, and in this music we can sense, perhaps better than in any other song by Schumann, what it must have been like to sit in the twilight and listen to him musing at the keyboard – perhaps embroidering his piano playing with a vocal line crooned in his voix de compositeur.
The comparison that comes to mind here is not Schubertian, but rather with Schumann himself. Twenty-one years later (in 1849) he was to compose Meine Rose to a poem of Lenau (Hyperion Schumann Edition, Volume 1). This is a much more compact song than An Anna, but the two works have much in common. Both are in a languid compound time where the piano leads off with a cantabile melody, while the voice sings in unpredictable descant, now taking on the characteristics of an aria, now running words together in the manner of recitative. Both songs are tenderly addressed to women with whom the singer is in love in a hopelessly adoring way.
An Anna has rather more of a planned shape than it may seem: each of the five strophes initiates a subtly different mood, sometimes associated with a change of tempo. One is tempted to think that Schumann’s formal model here was Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte – a cycle of six linked songs, diverse yet unified.
1: ‘Schwärmerisch’ (Rapturous). The key is B major, but characteristically Schumann begins in E major, not allowing the song to reach the tonic key until the beginning of the second verse. This is deliberately unsettling. It is as if the singer is on tiptoe scanning the horizon for any sign of reciprocation, and reacting accordingly. The sudden opening of Anna’s window occasions a quickening of the heartbeat, and thus a quickening of the vocal line. Moments that need to be savoured are correspondingly elongated: the poet’s ‘stehst du’ is shamelessly changed to ‘stehest du’ and repeated in a rising sequence of ecstatic quavers. After this the line ‘Berg und Tale ein stiller Friedensengel’ takes on a dream-like quality (‘träumerisch’) resolving into the peaceful serenity and purity of C major. This is followed by a single bar of interlude which leads via F sharp7 into B major.
2: ‘Bewegter’ (Faster). At last we find ourselves in the tonic key. Suddenly the tension and uncertainty yield to a slow dance, an idyll of nature. That this music has an element of delusion and derangement (cf Schubert’s Täuschung from Winterreise) is also somehow evident. The lilting accompaniment hops and skips like the prancing of birds on pliant branches. The voice takes on a new energy. As the transfixed Andreas scans that distant window (or what he takes to be Anna’s window at any rate) the moon appears. The separated quavers that have continued through the accompaniment now represent pinpricks of the stars.
3: There is no change of tempo here, but all sharps are cancelled by naturals and the music moves into the minor mode as the poet realises his helplessness. The opening line of this verse ‘Steh’ ich einsam in der Ferne’ retains its dance rhythm despite the change of harmonic colour. (It is worthy of note that Kerner’s repetitions of ‘einsam’ are not taken up by Schumann; it is usually the composer who repeats words, not the poet!) The first line of the verse is, very unusually, repeated by the poet at the close of this third stanza. This gives rise to a strangely transfixed vocal line in longer note values which recalls the writing in oscillating sixths of Der Fischer. (Schubert sometimes achieves a magical effect – a suspension in the passage of time – using similarly otherworldly alternations of tessitura, as at the end of the song Memnon.) Schumann is second to none in making of his protagonists victims who attract our sympathy– he was to do this most successfully in Heine’s Dichterliebe. The narrator of An Anna strikes us as a handsome poet who deserves better of the woman with whom he is in love. One must remember that most of this song’s listeners would have no idea of its broader context, and that Anna is unable to respond because she is already dead.
4: Langsamer (Slower). This section is a sequence of blessings on the distant beloved. The second beat (in falling triplets) of the introductory prelude contains the cadential phrase from Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte (bars 8, 18, 28, 38 of that work, and passim) which is often to be found in Schumann’s later songs, including Mit Myrthen und Rosen (track 22) on this disc. The vocal phrases in semiquavers take on a fervent quality, and the introduction of trills in the piano writing is marvellously effective – they somehow raise the level of tension as if the singer were walking on an emotional tightrope. This too is a Beethovenian characteristic.
5: ‘Solenne’ (Solemn) Schumann changes Kerner’s ‘Sprachen’ to ‘Sprechen’. Two bars of arioso culminate with a sudden break in the musical thread. This ‘Weh! O weh!’ signifies a sudden realisation that all his efforts and prayers are hopelessly in vain. The last two bars of the song are marked ‘Largo’. There is a solemn return to B major and the right-hand piano writing anticipates the vocal line with a cantabile phrase worthy of a Bellini mad-scene sung by Callas. Poor Andreas has done so much to attract Anna’s attention, he has sent so many messages, he has waited for so long and with such patience, and yet she has not noticed, she has not heard. In modern parlance, she just hasn’t got it. We can somehow imagine Schumann writing out the final phrase of this song for Agnes Carus and thinking ‘Du hast es nicht vernommen’ – ‘After all these songs you still haven’t realised what I feel for you’. And if Agnes was unable to understand these messages, perhaps it meant that she was unable to feel for him, or his music. (Criticism of her singing in his diaries is not long in coming!) It is notable that this realisation does not occasion a minor-key rant. The eloquence of the final trill in the lower reaches of the piano has a haunting power. There is nothing quite like this even in the lieder of Schumann’s maturity. The adoring Andreas does not turn away in bitter disappointment; ever faithful, he is doomed to keep watch on that distant window across the valley for the rest of time.