At last we come to the tiny little song which played an important part in turning Schumann’s thoughts towards composing the Liederalbum für die Jugend in the first place. ‘In the beginning there was Soldatenlied’, as a scholar has recently written about Schumann’s connection with the poet, the single most significant thing in the development of Op 79 (see commentary on the poets above).
In Hoffmann’s Gedichte of 1834 the poet’s son makes an appearance in a cycle of ten poems. The original heading of this one, the third, was ‘The way in which Sigismund played at being a soldier was sung as follows’. The references to ‘Mein Bub’’ (‘my boy’) cast the proud father as observer. For the poem’s appearance in his Fünfzig neue Kinderlieder (to which Schumann was invited to contribute this song) Hoffmann puts the words directly in the mouth of the child. The music seems an ideal piece of children’s music; it is easy to sing and play, but it also has a remarkably catchy tune. The musical structure develops in such an inevitable way that the final punch line (‘Zu Bett, Kamerad!’) has the panache of a coup de grâce, albeit executed with a wooden sword. The curtain falls. Sleep the commander has spoken, and we must all go to bed.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 2004