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Robert Schumann (1810-1856)

The Complete Songs, Vol. 5 - Christopher Maltman

Christopher Maltman (baritone), Graham Johnson (piano)
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Label: Hyperion
Recording details: April 2000
All Saints' Church, East Finchley, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Mark Brown
Engineered by Julian Millard
Release date: February 2001
Total duration: 75 minutes 3 seconds

Most of the music on this album is also available as part of the specially priced box set Schumann: The Complete Songs: 'A landmark issue no serious collector should be without' (The Mail on Sunday).




‘Hyperion’s Schumann series continues to strike gold with a collection … that finds baritone Christopher Maltman on superb form … with this superbly executed recital, Maltman leaps in a single bound into the front rank of Lieder interpreters today. There are so many deeply satisfying performances here … it is difficult to know which to alight on for special praise. A perfectly balanced recording adds to one’s pleasure in listening to this generously filled CD, which is up to the high standard of this series to date’ (Gramophone)

‘This is a treasurable issue—generous in quality and quantity alike. As with the Hyperion Schubert Song edition one struggles for new ways of expressing one's admiration. Quite apart from the superb material, and the excellence of the performances, there is a booklet 122 pages long, packed with stimulating notes of great perception, accurate yet readable translations, small but clear illustrations and, most fascinating of all, a tabulated listing of the contents of Heine's books of verse, with against each the names of the composers who have set the lyrics. In a word: magnificent!’ (International Record Review)

‘This disc by itself is enough to establish [Maltman] as one of the genre’s most important recent exponents. This is a probing, generous Dichterliebe, full of detail and thoroughly engrossing from beginning to end – comments that in fact apply to everything on this disc. This disc is a strong contender for my Want List this year, and is very highly recommended’ (Fanfare, USA)

‘One of the most intelligently thought-out accounts of Dichterliebe on record’ (Varsity)

‘A magnificent achievement’ (The Singer)

‘There are so many delights to be found here, and the combination of a beautiful voice, Johnson’s superbly sensitive playing, and the intimacy of Hyperion’s benchmark recorded sound must surely propel this towards an awards ceremony or two. The Dichterliebe cycle is an intimate, deeply felt performance, winningly understated, and a great tribute to the intelligent musicality of both performers. It concludes a disc which absolutely bursts with goodies – 77 minutes of bliss’ (Amazon.co.uk)
It is often said that each great lieder composer had a bond with his own special poet, one collaborator favoured above all others. This is, of course, an over-simplification; but it is true, for example, that Schubert’s name is yoked to that of the sage of Weimar, although the composer never met Goethe, and despite the fact that almost all lieder composers, before Schubert and after him, also set Goethe’s verse. Hugo Wolf is paired first and foremost with a poet whom he never knew, Eduard Mörike, a number of whose lyrics had been set by Robert Schumann over forty years earlier. And Schumann’s name is forever associated with that of Heinrich Heine, a poet already set by Schubert in the immortal Schwanengesang, and later by everyone else including Franz, Brahms, Wolf and Strauss. But Schumann and Heine somehow seem a dream team (their collaboration certainly produced ‘such stuff as dreams are made on’) and the success of Dichterliebe has long bracketed them together in the mind of the musical public.

When the young Schubert first encountered Gretchen am Spinnrade, Goethe was in his middle sixties, already remote and Olympian perhaps, but still very much alive and part of the contemporary literary scene. For later song-composers the great poet was a cultural icon from the past, a mountainous obstacle not to be scaled without the deepest thought and preparation. As we saw in Volume 2, it was not until 1849, the hundredth anniversary of Goethe’s birth, that Schumann fully engaged with the great lyrics of Wilhelm Meister and Faust. In doing so he was making an obeisance to a father-figure of German literary and cultural history. This was a very different process from giving musical life to the poetry of an admired friend. Schumann had never met Goethe; he had not even attempted, as had Schubert, to make contact with him. For all the beauties of Schumann’s Goethe settings this distance somehow shows; reverence can result in a certain stiffness in bending the knee. A glance at the list of poets with whom Schumann had some personal contact (a clear majority of names) shows that, as a younger man at least, he was more at home with his contemporaries, and that he preferred to set modern verse by people nearer his own age.

It is not known to many of the admirers of Dichterliebe that Schumann and Heine met – only once it is true – but in the most amicable circumstances. The whole atmosphere of Schumann’s most famous song cycle seems to have depended on the events of one happy and auspicious day ‘Im wunderschönen Monat Mai’. In May 1828 Heinrich Heine, thirty years old, had been living in Munich for nine months. Things were going very well for him on the professional level; on the other hand there were early signs of ill-health which augured ominously for his long-term future. The powerful publisher and editor Cotta had sent Heine to Bavaria as co-editor of the Neue Allgemeine Politische Annalen. The poet, already famous for the mixture of poetry and reportage in his Reisebilder (1826) and for the lyrics of the Buch der Lieder (1827), had arrived in the city with letters of recommendation from Varnhagen von Ense of Berlin, as well as Cotta, and these gave him immediate access to the highest literary circles. There was a good chance, so he had been told, that he would land an appointment as Professor of Literary History at the University. ‘I live like a grand seigneur’ the poet wrote. On the other hand there were drawbacks: Heine detested the power of the Catholic clergy in Bavaria, and the attitudes of the population (which he took to be bigoted) were not to his north-German tastes. In addition, the whole town, rather like the Berlin of today, seemed like a building site. In those days the imposing city we know as Munich was still being constructed by King Ludwig I.

In comparison, Robert Schumann was an absolute beginner. A twelve-year difference in age between men of, say, fifty and sixty-two is nothing much, but it is a vast chasm between those of eighteen and thirty. The great composer-to-be had just completed his Abitur (or school-leaving certificate) in his Saxon home town of Zwickau. The examinations had gone extremely well and culminated in his being chosen to declaim one of his own poems (entitled Tassos Tod) to the assembled students of the Gymnasium. As a reward for his industry his mother allowed him to take his first substantial journey away from home. Perhaps she hoped that this experience would help focus the ambitions of her son who seemed uncertain what he should do with his life – a side of Schumann wanted to be a poet, another a musician, another a writer (his knowledge of literature was astounding for his age, even allowing for the fact that he had grown up in a family which owned a bookshop and printing-press). The more practical calling was that of the law, and Schumann was briefly to study that subject in Leipzig before commencing his serious musical studies.

But that is to jump ahead. Like many young people, Robert had his heroes, and in his youthful enthusiasm was not afraid to seek them out. One might have thought that it would have been his ambition to visit Goethe in Weimar; this would have been a much shorter journey for him. (In fact the young Mendelssohn was very much in touch with Goethe at this time, introduced to him by his teacher Zelter, and visiting the poet five times between 1821 and 1830.) But as yet Schumann had no influential music teacher, and in any case he was a fan of new writing. He somehow found out that Dr Heinrich Heine was living in Munich, and visiting this famous man was the chief purpose of the visit, the poet of gold at the end of the rainbow. Schumann’s travelling companion was Gisbert Rosen, a slightly older student who seems to have admired the same literary personalities. Rosen had already studied law for a year in Leipzig and was on the point of moving to Heidelberg. The affectionate tone of Schumann’s letters to Rosen betoken a close friendship and a meeting of minds. The pair set off in the Eilpost – the fast post service passing through Zwickau and connecting with Bavaria. They broke their journey in Bayreuth, a town that was as yet unaware of Wagner’s existence. Their purpose was to visit sites connected with the writer Jean Paul (1763-1825) and they made a pilgrimage to his grave (later years were to show how much of Jean Paul’s world Schumann had absorbed into his piano writing). From Bayreuth the students travelled on to Nuremberg, and thence to Augsburg. Here they stopped for a week as guests of Dr Heinrich Wilhelm von Kurrer, a chemist who had been a friend of Schumann’s late father. The daughter of the house, Clara by name, excited Robert’s attentions, and he professed himself deeply in love with her – the first but not the last time that a ‘Clara’ was to rouse him to ecstasies. Parting from the Kurrer household was difficult, but the young men were anxious to continue on to Munich and the final stage of what Robert later called a winzige Geniereise – a teeny journey in honour of genius. The admired Clara already had a fiancé, an actor by the name of Carl Krahe. No doubt much was forgiven him when he furnished the pair of travellers with an introduction to Heine himself. Krahe warned Schumann that Heine was a morose and misanthropic man who was disinclined to fit in with ordinary people, and that he had grown lofty and disagreeable with public success. Fortunately Dr Kurrer was able to furnish an introduction to another more accessible Munich resident, the well-known painter Clemens von Zimmermann.

Schumann and Rosen arrived in Munich on 5 May 1828 at five in the evening. Their first port of call the next day was to Professor Zimmermann. Schumann played the piano for the artist who returned the compliment by accompanying the boys to the Glyptothek (an art gallery still being built) where he gave forth his commentaries on important works of art, the Venus of Canova among them and, not unnaturally, Zimmermann’s own Destruction of Troy. (The influence of Goethe’s friend Johann Joachim Winckelmann had already established a tradition of art history, a field in which Germany has played a leading role ever since.) Schumann caught sight of Heine for the first time on 7 May. After a morning of shopping, bouillon for lunch, and billiards at the English coffee house (such details are among the joys of the terse entries in Schumann’s Tagebücher) the great man was glimpsed in the distance at a table in the ‘Goldener Kreuz’ inn.

The big day of the meeting with Heine was May 8th. The poet lived in the Rechbergschen Palace on the Hundskugel. The two young visitors were shown by a servant into a large and beautiful room lavishly hung with pictures by living Munich artists – and told to wait. The decoration of the room showed a highly developed taste, the sign of a cultivated man of the world (whether this was Heine’s own collection is, however, doubtful). The fact that Schumann and Rosen were made to dally for some time in this impressive antechamber must have made them rather nervous. At this point young Robert, already warned by Krahe, must have been expecting to meet someone hardly approachable, someone formidably clever with a sharp and acerbic tongue, and so disinclined to company that the most that any unknown visitor could expect was a few dismissive and unfriendly words. It seems that Rosen too had been expecting a very short meeting; in fact he had arranged to meet a friend later in the morning, so sure was he that Heine would grant them the minimum of time in audience.

But it was Heine’s way with visitors (as it was with his readers) to confound expectations, to play with what seemed to be a likely outcome and turn it on its head. If the rich and famous expected to be met with his admiration he could be pointedly rude; and if two poor students expected to be brushed aside he would treat them as kings. In a similar way, what begins as a Heine love lyric can turn into a poem of hate and censure at the last moment with a twist of the verbal dagger – the so-called Stimmungsbrechung. If the poet perhaps deliberately kept his young guests on edge as they waited to see him, he was charm itself when he eventually appeared. His merry mood enchanted Schumann and there was no sign that the great man wanted to terminate the meeting. The fact was that the poet was probably rather lonely in Munich and welcomed the chance to bask in the admiration of cultivated, if naïve, young men who had nothing to do with the power politics of the Bavarian capital. Rosen excused himself to keep his appointment which left poet and composer together; at the end of the day Schumann wrote in diary telegraphese of a conversation that was geistreich (a word meaning witty, ingenious, intellectual). He refers to Heine as an ironisches Männchen (ironic little man) with a liebenswürdige Verstellung (agreeable outward demeanour). The poet proposed that they spend some time taking in the Munich sights. Heine and Schumann then met up again with Rosen in the Leuchtenberger Galerie. Many years later Rosen’s reminiscences of this meeting (recounted to Wasielewski) suggest the hindsight of someone who no longer approved of the idol of his youth. He said that Heine gave both his guests ample opportunity to sample the scurrility of his notions; his inexhaustible wit was both admirable and laughable. The conversation took a serious turn when the group stopped to look at an armchair belonging to Napoleon which was on display in the gallery. Here Heine spoke of the life of the emperor whose tragedy was that he had never finished his life’s work. He had freed Europe from the domination of the Catholic Church and the reactionary clergy, and these were now once again rearing their insolent and ugly heads.

One might have imagined how much Franz Schubert – another of Schumann’s enthusiasms – might have been fascinated by this conversation which would have been a dangerous one in Metternich’s Vienna, where the walls had ears. At the time Heine was also one of Schubert’s more recently discovered enthusiasms, and the composer was working on settings from the Reisebilder, songs which would later be published as part of the Schwanengesang. As a normally patriotic teenager Schubert had rejoiced in Napoleon’s defeat in the Befreiungskrieg (1813), but the restoration of the Austrian monarchy had quickly led to one of the most repressive regimes in Europe, a veritable police state with Church and state hand-in-glove in controlling the very thoughts of the populace. In Vienna too there was an unspoken nostalgia among artists and intellectuals for the enlightened rule of Joseph II, and the short period following the Befreiungskrieg when it seemed Austria would have a democratic government. When the Reisebilder was read aloud by Franz von Schober for the Schubertians in January 1828, Heine’s enthusiasm for Napoleon was evident, as well as the poet’s lack of enthusiasm for the present conditions in the German states. One of the members of the circle, Franz von Hartmann, noted his admiration for the poet’s talents in his diary (12 January 1828) but also commented on Heine’s ‘false tendencies’ (i.e. Napoleonic enthusiasms). It is fairly certain that Schubert did not disapprove of Heine for the same reason.

In much of Germany there was greater freedom of speech than in the Austrian police state. (Nevertheless, exactly three years later Heine was to abandon Germany forever for the France of Louis-Philippe, the Citizen King.) Schumann too was an admirer of Napoleon and so were his parents. His mother had even written a poem about the emperor and the young Schumann had written an unfinished Ode on the same subject. This enthusiasm lasted his whole life it seems: as a student in Leipzig, having been further fired by Heine’s enthusiasm, he had a gold-framed portrait of Napoleon hanging over his desk. On a later visit to the Kurrer household he was delighted to discover that the guest room was full of Napoleonic pictures; in 1844 when he accompanied his wife Clara on a journey to Moscow he wrote five poems which are also related to the emperor’s role in Russian history; in 1845 he re-read a German translation of Emmanuel Las Cases’ Mémorial de Saint-Hélène, noting that he had already read it with pleasure as a boy. Thus it was that in meeting each other for the first and only time, poet and composer discovered that they had a hero in common. The most direct outcome for musicians is that in 1840 Schumann would set Heine’s poem Die Grenadiere (track 14 on this disc).

Rosen journeyed back to Heidelberg, and Schumann had an uncomfortable and ‘damned annoying’ ride back to Zwickau in the company of a tailor and various Landstreicher (tramps or vagrants). He found the bigotry in Regensburg ekelhaft (nauseating), commenting that the local populace looked with great mistrust and bitterness on those who did not belong to the ‘true faith’. In this we can hear undoubted echoes of Heine’s anti-Catholic opinions. Schumann did not stay long in Zwickau, preferring not to share his holiday reminiscences with the locals whom he regarded as ignorant. He went on to Leipzig and it is extremely likely that he wrote to Heine, although no copy of that letter has survived. On 9 June he penned his thanks to Dr Kurrer in Augsburg. In the letter Schumann describes Heine as a ‘humane, Greek Anacreon’, a charming comparison with the most sociable of antique poets. The composer admits that around the poet’s mouth lay ‘a bitter, ironic smile’ but added that it was also a ‘noble smile about the trivialities of life and a scorn for petty people’. Schumann also tells Dr Kurrer about Heine’s Napoleonic enthusiasms (apparently the poet had said that he would like to travel to Augsburg specifically to meet the good doctor). Schumann says that he is certain that the barren rocks of St Helena will one day be the site of pilgrimages and flower-bedecked memorials.

A diary entry for 8 August 1828 contains the words ‘Buch der Lieder’. It seems fair to assume that Schumann acquired his own copy of the 1827 edition of Heine’s poems on this day. Knowing the composer’s cabalistic enthusiasm for dates, codes and anniversaries it would not be at all surprising if he deliberately bought the book exactly three months after the meeting which had meant so much to him. When he had met Heine he seems to have been most familiar with the Reisebilder, the same mixture of poetry and prose (published in 1826) which was the source of Schubert’s Schwanengesang songs. That volume opens with the poems which were subsequently reissued under the title Die Heimkehr in the Buch der Lieder. As the son of a book-dealer it is possible that Schumann knew the very first edition of Heine’s Gedichte (published in 1822 and now a very great rarity) but it seems that he acquired his own copy of the collection which was to be the source of his own settings only after he had met Heine in Munich.

It would seem that the poet quickly forgot about his young visitor. He never seems to have realised that this Schumann was the same man whose compositions he must have heard discussed a great deal in later years. Disappointed that he was passed over for the professorship, Heine soon left Munich and after a spell in Italy moved to Berlin (in the beginning of 1829) and from thence to Paris (in 1831) where he was to spend the last twenty-five years of his life unhindered in the free and open expression of his opinions. Schumann left Leipzig in 1829 to join Rosen in Heidelberg where he briefly followed a course of legal studies, but it is clear that the meeting with Heine had become a reference point for judging works of art. There is a passage in the Tagebücher (31 October 1828) where the play Theodor von Gottland by C D Grabbe (1801-1836) reminds the composer of ‘the bizarre in Heine’s lieder’, with similar ‘burning sarcasm’ and ‘desperation’. But it is clear from the beginning that the composer takes this side of Heine’s output as not merely a literary device or pose, but the sincere outpourings of a noble soul. Naturally Schumann’s literary acumen enables him to identify the grotesque side of Heine’s poetic voice; he is far from blind to the poet’s eccentricities. But this viewpoint is complemented and softened by the glow of first-hand personal recollections of the Munich visit. It was this encounter which forever fixed the poet in the favourable light that illuminates Dichterliebe.

Schumann soon returned to Leipzig and to a life of music, first as a piano student under the instruction of Friedrich Wieck. This was the so-called ‘first period’ of his creative life. There was a handful of songs written in 1828/29 (to be heard later in this series) but this is, above all, a period of piano music inspired on the whole by poetry and prose – works by Jean Paul, E T A Hoffmann, Shakespeare and so on. In the so-called ‘Leipziger Lebensbuch’ (wherein are to be found a number of castle-in-the air projects which never went beyond the stage of dreams) there is an entry for ‘March 8 1833 in Zwickau’ with the following words:

Schwarze Röcke, seidne Strümpfe.
Weisse, höfliche Manschetten,
Sanfte Reden, Embrassiren –
Ach! wenn sie nur Herzen hätten! –

Black coats, silk hose,
White cuffs comme il faut,
Soft conversation, embracing –
Oh! If only they had hearts!

Schumann even invented a term, Heinismus, to betoken a sort of irony with deeper and more magical implications, a word which he claimed to have heard in his dreams: ‘Heinismus resounded from every corner and this curious word dissolved in single letters into thin air’. Surely this too was Schumann’s subconscious preparation for becoming a composer of the poet’s lyrics.

As the 1830s drew to a close there is once again a personal connection with Heine, this time through Clara Wieck, the composer’s beloved. Visiting Paris to give a concert there in March 1839 she was invited to Meyerbeer’s home where Heine was a guest (so much for Heine’s apparent distaste for Meyerbeer; this composer was the most influential man of music in Paris and Heine liked to be at the centre of things). Clara’s reaction is very interesting for she seems to have been simultaneously attracted and repelled by the poet. Robert had found Heine’s conversation to be geistreich (intellectually stimulating or quick-witted) and this was the word that Clara also used to describe him. She noted that he spoke bitterly about Germany where his books had been officially declared subversive (along with the other writers belonging to the so-called Junges Deutschland trend) since December 1835. She sympathised with his fears of losing his sight through illness, and once again used the same words as Robert (‘heiterer Laune’) to describe a lighthearted mood in which the poet was apparently ‘irresistibly charming’. And yet for all this enthusiasm an initial plan for Clara to call on Heine unchaperoned never came to fruition. She wrote to her father that she was unable to do so ‘for certain reasons’. Whether this was to do with the poet’s reputation for bad morals, because it was known he was suffering from venereal disease, or because he was a political pariah in official German eyes, we shall never know.

At this point Heine was the French musical correspondent for the Allgemeine Zeitung in Augsburg and it was very likely that he read Schumann’s essays to keep abreast of the latest musical developments in Germany. We know this through the French pianist and composer of Hungarian birth, Stephen Heller (1813-1888), whose first piano sonata received a splendid critique from Schumann in December 1839. Heller wrote to thank Schumann for this, mentioning at the same time that Heine had praised Schumann’s article to him as being exceptionally well-written. Thus the only reaction from Heine to any of the composer’s creative endeavours was in connection with the written word rather than with music. In any case, Heine’s own ability to judge music was questionable. Like Goethe he considered it an important part of culture, but also like Goethe he seems not to have been particularly gifted in this direction. He was extremely knowledgeable about musical politics and personalities, but his judgements were governed more by instinct than knowledge or a developed ear. His observations about Chopin, Paganini and Liszt brought these people to life like few other contemporary writers, but one feels that he saw and experienced concerts rather than heard them. Of course he could keep his ear to the ground and be well informed about what real musicians were saying about the latest works (writers like Schumann for instance must have been invaluable reading-matter for a music critic without the proper credentials) but confronted with a private performance of a new piece of music, or a musical score sent to him in the post, he would have been lost for a reaction.

It seems that Heller’s praise bringing the composer back into contact with Schumann, albeit at one remove, was one of the spurs needed to bring the Heine settings to birth. The other was love. 1840 is Schumann’s song year, and his desire to write music in the intimate and confiding form that he had neglected for over a decade has everything to do with his passion for Clara Wieck, and his impatience, after a protracted struggle, to marry her – a dream which would become reality in September of that year. At the beginning of 1840 Schumann composed the first songs of his maturity – nine Heine settings, a Liederkreis of songs which was published later that year as his Op 24. The composer wrote to Stephen Heller telling him about the new work, and Heller replied: ‘Send the songs nevertheless, for me and for Heine to whom I will give them along with a few words’. Unlike most of his other collections of lieder, the composer faithfully followed the poet’s own sequence of lyrics – part of the Junge Leiden section of the Buch der Lieder and simply entitled Lieder, and numbered I to IX. On the songs’ publication in May (a particularly brief interval between writing the music and seeing it in print) Schumann took the opportunity of sending a copy to Paris especially for Heine – this was in the safe hand of his friend Friedrich List (so we can be sure that Heine received it).

The following letter from Schumann, written to accompany the gift of the score, was found among Heine’s papers only in the 1920s:

Leipzig, 23 May, 1840
An old ardent wish of mine is being fulfilled with these lines, to make myself better known to you; for you could hardly still remember a visit many years ago in Munich when I was still a student. I hope my music to your Lieder will please you. If my powers burned as brightly as the love with which I wrote them you might expect to find something that was worthy. Perhaps my friend Stephen Heller will give you an opportunity to hear the songs.
A word from your hand confirming that you have received this consignment would give me the deepest pleasure.
Yours respectfully,
Robert Schumann

A few weeks over twelve years had elapsed since the meeting, but Schumann obviously still considered the 8th of May 1828 as a red-letter day and hoped to be once again surprised by his hero’s humanity. This time he was to be disappointed – let down in a way that cannot help but invite comparisons with Goethe’s stony silence on being sent Schubert’s songs on three different occasions. When Schumann had received no reply to this letter by July he wrote to Stephen Heller asking to be remembered to Heine. This too failed to elicit a response. Incidentally, the gift of this lieder volume makes nonsense of the poet’s contention in 1843 that of the many hundred compositions of his songs which had appeared in Germany he had not been sent a single free copy. In 1851 he thanked the composer Johann Vesque von Püttlingen (1803-1883) in an extraordinarily warm letter for a volume of songs. We can perhaps put this down to Heine’s moodiness; it seems that Schumann’s letter simply arrived at the wrong time to elicit the right response. How different it might have been if Schumann had visited Paris and had been able to resume personal contact with the poet. There is always a chance, however, that this would have led to even greater disappointment.

In a later letter to Schumann (30 July 1840), Heller rather changes his tune and describes Heine as an uncomfortable and puzzling personality. From his friend August Gathy the composer heard the Paris gossip that Heine had taken a bribe from the French government of Adolphe Thiers to write a supportive political report about the administration in the Augsburger Allgemeine Zeitung (August 1840). Schumann must have been consoled by the fact that even if the poet was silent about the new songs, they were praised in Paris. In December Berlioz wrote a review which appeared in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik where Heine’s importance to German song composers is compared to that of Béranger for the French. Berlioz spoke enthusiastically about Schumann’s new opus, hoping that a good translator for the text could be found – then, says Berlioz, the songs would appeal to the French in the same way as Schubert’s.

By this time Schumann had already conferred musical immortality on Heine. February 1840 had seen the composition of not only the Op 24 settings, but also Belsatzar (track 1) and the three Heine songs in Myrthen Op 25: Die Lotosblume (track 4), Was will die einsame Träne and Du bist wie eine Blume. Two unaccompanied choral settings of the poet’s work (Die Minnesänger – track 2 – and Die Lotosblume – track 5) date from the same month. In March was composed Abends am Strande (in Vol 4 of this series), and in April Die feindlichen Brüder (track 3). In May was composed the song which reflected the shared Napoleonic enthusiasms of poet and composer, Die beiden Grenadiere (track 14). The sixteen songs which make up Dichterliebe were composed in May/June, as were four further songs which had originally been written as part of the same sequence – Dein Angesicht (track 7), Lehn deine Wang’ (track 6), Es leuchtet meine Liebe (track 8) and Mein Wagen rollet langsam (track 9). It is also probable that Der arme Peter (tracks 18 to 20) was an 1840 work. For Christmas of that year, Clara Schumann presented her husband with three songs. Two of these were Heine settings – Ihr Bildnis (track 11) and Volkslied (track 13).

After so much time spent creatively in this poet’s company, it seems tragic that the fire of creativity, as far as Heine settings was concerned, was soon to be extinguished by the poet’s indifference. In any case, the stage was now set for Schumann to change his mind about the hero of his youth. We have the impression that all that stored affection and gratitude simply withered on the stem. It is significant that all the great Heine settings (save Tragödie which possibly dates from 1841) were written in the first half of 1840 before this disillusionment had set in. From 1842 there is no further mention of Heine, much less a musical setting. Even the poet’s name no longer occurs in the composer’s letters. And there were other reasons that might have incurred Schumann’s silent antipathy: Heine’s journalistic writings laid bare a volatile character and a complete lack of consistency (even truthfulness) as he switched enthusiasms with apparent ease and very little loyalty. One can imagine Robert and Clara coming to the conclusion that the poet was not ‘sound’ – in a similar way they changed their minds about Liszt after having been initially enthusiastic. Heine’s attacks on Mendelssohn (the first of which was in April 1842) were based on the poet’s feeling that the composer, a fellow Jew, had sold out to the Gentiles when, as a rich man, he had no need to curry favour. (Heine could claim that he was baptised because he had no other way of making his way in the world.) Schumann possibly took these attacks as personal insults as he was a close friend of the Mendelssohns.

However, the idea that Heine somehow became entirely persona non grata within the Schumann household is refuted by one important piece of evidence – and that is Clara’s continued setting of the poet’s text long after her husband had finished with them. In June 1842 she presented Robert with two songs for his birthday, a Geibel setting and Heine’s Sie liebten sich beide (track 10). Exactly a year later for 8 June 1843 the song Lorelei (track 12) was one of three written in honour of Robert’s birthday. These loving gifts surely do not support the idea that Schumann had come to hate Heine and all his works. It would certainly have been very tactless of Clara to set poetry by someone who was regarded by them both as an out-and-out monster. Certainly Heine was no longer a personal icon, but it is clear that his work continued to be valued, and his talent appreciated. It is, after all, part of growing up to realise that one’s artistic heroes are not necessarily always the nicest people. Schumann delayed publication of no fewer than nineteen Heine settings (including Dichterliebe) until 1844, and other 1840 settings appeared only in 1845 and 1854. This has nothing to do, surely, with his disappointments in the poet – more with his own concern to allow his songs time to find their final form, like fine wine laid down in the cellar of his maturing mind. And when the time came to publish, there were no revisions to Dichterliebe which painted Heine in a less sympathetic light. Schumann made no further effort to communicate with Heine, but he was obviously still proud at this point to see his name side by side with that of the poet.

Both composer and poet died in 1856: Heine on 17 February, after a long struggle with the venereal illness that consigned him to the so-called ‘mattress grave’ for eight years. He suffered terrible physical tortures but retained his wit and reason. Schumann, in the grip of a venereal illness which went to the brain, died after two terrible years in the lunatic asylum on 29 July. The fact that the musical collaboration of these two men was not reflected in a better personal relationship does not matter a jot now. But Schumann had hoped for better, and ‘losing’ Heine as part of his pantheon was undoubtedly one of the first of the many dark clouds which gradually turned the infinite optimism and hope of 1840 into something sadder and far less idealistic.

Graham Johnson © 2001

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