If we have not read the complete Episteln, the listener has last caught sight of Andreas in An Anna I where he watches Anna’s window from the hilltop. Now we find him fatally wounded in a war of which we know nothing, and welcoming the pale messenger to take him ‘home’ – the halls of death in which Anna already resides. The juxtaposition of this chromatically sentimental musical style with the very word ‘Schlachtfeld’ merely sounds silly, as if Roger Quilter were attempting to set the harrowing First World War poems of Wilfred Owen. Of course there are Victorian ballads which attempt this sort of tear-jerking, but if they are not risible they somehow survive within their own limited emotional world. But this is Schumann, we expect more of him.
One can only speculate that this song was written to celebrate (if that is the right word) the death of his passion for Agnes Carus, a musical means of bidding her farewell. In listening to this music we can almost hear the young composer’s enthusiasm for the medium draining away. This has resulted in a certain slap-dash attitude; the interlude between the first and second verses contains perhaps the least convincing (and laziest) modulation that he was ever to write. These awkward bars did not survive the song’s new incarnation as the second movement of the Piano Sonata in F sharp minor Op 11 (1833 -1835). This movement is subtitled ‘Aria’ and marked ‘senza passione, ma espressivo’. The song is in F major (more than high enough for a tenor) but the piano piece is transposed into A major with radiant results – instrumental music capable of surmounting its curious vocal origins.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 2003
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