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Gedichte der Königin Maria Stuart, Op 135

December 1852
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The popularity of this cycle, Schumann’s last, has far exceeded that of any of the other late songs. The were written in a short period of calm at the end of 1852 – a disastrous year during which Schumann had been unable to compose for months at a time. The appointment as Music Director in Düsseldorf was a catastrophe, and his work as a conductor was considered a farce. A trip to Scheveningen seems to have done him some good, and there was a six-week gap during which his creative faculties returned – whether in full or only in part remains a question of some controversy. At Christmas he was able to present the completed cycle to Clara.

It is significant that once he had the energy to contemplate composition, his interests should have turned to another biographical song-cycle. Like Elisabeth Kulmann, Mary Stuart was a tragic figure whose poetry enabled her to speak in her own words; for her supporters she was a martyr, to her enemies an adulteress and murderer. Even after a quarter of a century these camps tended to divide along Catholic and Protestant lines. Could the Queen of Scots be better understood, even redeemed, through Schumann’s musical intervention? He had done his best to make the world aware of the sad story of Elisabeth Kulmann; here he was counsel for the defence for a more famous plaintiff. As a critic he had done so much to welcome Brahms, and many others, into the musical world; it seems that he still felt the need to champion those he thought deserving of his support.

And now from Elisabeth to Mary, with an off-stage role for another less angelic Elizabeth, the Queen of England. (The linking of these names would not have been lost on Schumann, always aware of such strange coincidences.) Schiller’s play Maria Stuart, for all its historical inaccuracies, had made Mary Stuart well enough known as a larger-than-life figure, but Schumann’s way of coming to her rescue was low-key. The cycle, in four of its five episodes, is lacking in overt histrionics and melodrama, and that is perhaps one of its strengths. Schumann succeeded in introducing Mary Stuart into the world of song, and with much greater success than anything achieved by Wagner with his scena entitled Les adieux de Marie Stuart (Béranger, 1840), and even Donizetti in his opera (Maria Stuarda, 1835) based on Schiller. The combination of history and understated pathos has held the recital stage with increasing regularity and conviction.

The span of the cycle is twenty-six years in a woman’s life – many more than that of Frauenliebe und -leben. There is no reference here to love between man and woman, nor to any of the Queen’s three husbands, source of the controversy surrounding her life, as well as of the accusations against her. Instead we see a young girl devoted to her adopted land of France, a young mother concerned for the legacy of her son, a proud imprisoned queen forced to write a pleading letter, the same prisoner some years later renouncing hope in life and, finally, praying before a fearful death. This is certainly an extraordinary Frauenleben expunged of the Liebe that was at the heart of Mary Stuart’s tragedy.

Schumann expected his public to know the life story of Mary Stuart, making sense of the biographical gaps. Today’s listener is probably equally well-informed. I apologise for the necessary abridgements and simplifications in the following chronology:

Mary Stuart was born in Linlithgow on December 8, 1542. The death of her father, King James V of Scotland, left her Queen of Scotland at the age of six days. She was sent to France when she was five, and she was brought up at the court of King Henri II. She was groomed for marriage to the Dauphin and, on the accession of François II in 1559, became, very briefly, the Queen of France, Scotland and England (the latter title claimed on her behalf because of the technical illegitimacy of Elizabeth Tudor). The death of the young and sickly François in 1560 left her a widow at eighteen and made her superfluous to the political plans of her powerful uncles, the Ducs de Guise. The Queen Mother, Catherine de Médici, was hostile to her and, although Mary wished to stay quietly in France, she was sent back to Scotland at one of the most turbulent moments in its history. In a state of uneasy truce with England, it was a land ravaged by religious strife. The Queen’s own Catholicism assorted ill with the country’s predominant Protestantism and its formidable spokesman John Knox. In comparison to life in the châteaux of the Loire valley, life in Scotland offered comparatively primitive living conditions, an immoderate climate, and much political and personal danger. Mary set sail from France for Scotland in August 1561. She was five months from her nineteenth birthday.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 1999

Pour son dernier cycle de lieder, Schumann a choisi cinq poèmes attribués à Marie Stuart en personne et tirés d’une série plus importante de poèmes lyriques de l’anthologie de poésie anglaise et écossaise de Gisbert Vincke, Rose und Disteln. Les écoliers allemands connaissaient tous l’histoire par le biais de Schiller, dont Maria Stuart avaient façonné leurs sympathies dans une direction anti Élisabéthaine. Pour Schumann, Marie Stuart était une héroïne tragique et une victime de l’injustice et de la cruauté, certainement pas la libertine meurtrière dépeinte par les Tudor. C’était quelqu’un, comme le compositeur lui-même, que le destin avait choisi de détruire avant l’heure. Abschied von Frankreich dépeint Marie voguant de France vers l’Écosse après la mort de son premier mari, François II. Nach der Geburt ihres Sohnes la trouve déjà aux mains de ses ennemis, les seigneurs écossais. Elle fuit en Angleterre et tombe aux mains d’Elisabeth Ière, à laquelle elle s’adresse dans une magnifique lettre chantée, mi-arrogante, mi-servile, An die Königin Elisabeth. Les deux derniers lieder, Abschied von der Welt et Gebet, la dépeignent peu avant son exécution. L’histoire est tellement condensée, les moyens musicaux si délibérément limités, qu’il est difficile aux chanteurs de trouver dans cette musique un sens suffisant de majesté et de drame sans dénaturer la modestie interne essentielle de la musique. Mais les chanteurs sont néanmoins attirés par ce qui constitue un véritable défi, faire quelque chose de mémorable de cette séquence inaccessible qui les hante.

extrait des notes rédigées par Graham Johnson © 2010
Français: Marie-Stella Pâris

Für seinen letzten Liederzyklus wählt Schumann fünf angeblich von Maria Stuart selbst verfasste Gedichte aus Gisbert Vinckes Anthologie englischer und schottischer Dichtung namens Rose und Disteln. Deutsche Schüler waren durch Schiller, dessen Maria Stuart ihre Sympathien gegen Elisabeth beeinflusst hatte, gut bekannt mit der Geschichte. Für Schumann war Maria eine tragische Heldin und Opfer von Ungerechtigkeit und Grausamkeit und sicherlich nicht die Ver­körperung von Mord und Unzucht wie in der Tudor-Darstellung. Sie war wie auch Schumann vom Schicksal vor Ablauf ihrer Zeit zur Vernichtung auserwählt. Abschied von Frankreich stellt Maria nach dem Tod ihres ersten Gemahls François II. auf der Seereise von Frankreich nach Schottland dar. In Nach der Geburt ihres Sohnes befindet sie sich bereits in den Händen ihrer Feinde, der schottischen Lords. Sie flieht nach England und gerät in die Gefangenschaft von Elisabeth, an die sie sich in einem großartigen, teils rebellierenden, teils unterwürfigen Briefgesang An die Königin Elisabeth wendet. Die beiden kurzen Lieder Abschied von der Welt und Gebet stellen sie kurz vor der Hinrichtung dar. Die Musik ist so komprimiert und die Kompositionsmittel sind so bewusst beschränkt, dass es den Sängern schwer fällt, die nötige Majestät und Dramatik zu erzeugen, ohne die innnere Bescheidenheit der Musik zu verzerren. Dennoch fühlen sich immer wieder Sänger herausgefordert, diese verstörend flüchtige Sequenz zu einem erinnernswerten Erlebnis zu machen. Im Rücblick auf das Jahr 1852 schreibt Schumann: „Fast ein halbes Jahr lang lag ich mit schwerem Nervenleiden darnieder.“

aus dem Begleittext von Graham Johnson © 2010
Deutsch: Henning Weber


Schumann: The Complete Songs
CDS44441/5010CDs Boxed set (at a special price)
Schumann: The Complete Songs, Vol. 3 - Juliane Banse


No 1: Abschied von Frankreich  Ich zieh dahin, dahin!
Track 29 on CDJ33103 [1'44]
Track 32 on CDS44441/50 CD10 [1'44] 10CDs Boxed set (at a special price)
No 2: Nach der Geburt ihres Sohnes  Herr Jesu Christ, den sie gekrönt mit Dornen
Track 30 on CDJ33103 [1'14]
Track 33 on CDS44441/50 CD10 [1'14] 10CDs Boxed set (at a special price)
No 3: An die Königin Elisabeth  Nur ein Gedanke, der mich freut und quält
Track 31 on CDJ33103 [1'40]
Track 34 on CDS44441/50 CD10 [1'40] 10CDs Boxed set (at a special price)
No 4: Abschied von der Welt  Was nützt die mir noch zugemess'ne Zeit?
Track 32 on CDJ33103 [3'06]
Track 35 on CDS44441/50 CD10 [3'06] 10CDs Boxed set (at a special price)
No 5: Gebet  O Gott, mein Gebieter, ich hoffe auf dich!
Track 33 on CDJ33103 [1'40]
Track 36 on CDS44441/50 CD10 [1'40] 10CDs Boxed set (at a special price)

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