No 1: Morgens steh' ich auf und frage
No 2: Es treibt mich hin
No 3: Ich wandelte unter den Bäumen
No 4: Lieb Liebchen, leg's Händchen
No 5: Schöne Wiege meiner Leiden
No 6: Warte, warte, wilder Schiffmann
No 7: Berg' und Burgen schaun herunter
No 8: Anfangs wollt' ich fast verzagen
No 9: Mit Myrthen und Rosen
In ‘Morgens steh’ ich auf und frage’ Heine frets while Schumann dreams wistfully—and sleepwalks on tiptoe. Reverie gives way to feverish expectancy in ‘Es treibt mich hin’, where the mounting impatience of the singer’s final phrase (an echo, perhaps, of ‘Der Jäger’ from Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin) continues through the syncopated postlude. Introspection returns in ‘Ich wandelte unter den Bäumen’, where the birds’ reply to the poet’s melancholy questioning is signalled by a dip to a remote and unreal-sounding new key. In ‘Lieb Liebchen, leg’s Händchen’ the lover grimly equates his heartbeat—depicted in the piano’s offbeat chords—with the hammering of his coffin-maker. The mention of the carpenter provokes an ominous modulation, while the voice hesitates an instant before pronouncing the dread word ‘Totensarg’—coffin—a tiny but devastating dramatic stroke.
The next two songs form the cycle’s anguished central climax. Heine’s ‘Schöne Wiege meiner Leiden’, with its cradle/ grave antithesis, is an ironic, embittered farewell to Hamburg, the city of the poet’s doomed affair with his cousin Amalia. The image of the cradle is a cue for a ravishing, rocking lovesong—one of the great Schumann tunes. As elsewhere in the Liederkreis, the composer initially softens and sweetens the poet’s bitterness; but at the song’s centre the distorted harmonies and dislocated rhythms suggest a mind tottering on the edge of madness. ‘Warte, warte, wilder Schiffmann’, with its pounding keyboard octaves, astringent harmonies and frenetic vocal line, is perhaps Schumann’s most violent song, matching Heine’s hysterical vehemence and, for once, his taunting self-mockery. Relief comes with the smiling, sunlit barcarolle, ‘Berg’ und Burgen schaun herunter’, though by retaining the same undulating melody for the final verse Schumann here glosses over the deceit and treachery evoked in the poem. While Heine suffers, Schumann again seems to be dreaming of his beloved Clara. The weary, stoical ‘Anfangs wollt’ ich fast verzagen’, based on a Lutheran chorale that Bach used in several cantatas, is in effect an introduction to the final ‘Mit Myrthen und Rosen’. Here Schumann’s surprisingly optimistic response to Heine’s desolate lines is soon shadowed by chromatic harmonies; then, at the vision of the future, the music quickens and quivers with expectancy before dissolving into nostalgic reverie. A happy ending or a sad delusion? Schumann’s palpitating, elusive music keeps us guessing, as it did in the cycle’s very first song.
from notes by Richard Wigmore © 2012