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Perhaps Heine and Zuccalmaglio heard the same song at different times from the same source? As it happens, the Schumanns were well acquainted with Zuccalmaglio who was a contributor to the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik. The poem is attributed to him in the Oxford Book of German Verse (2nd Edition), but it has somehow remained Heine’s, particularly in the minds of Robert and Clara.
It is a moot point whether Clara Schumann’s selection of this text led her husband later to compose Tragödie (tracks 15 to 17), his last Heine composition, or whether they discovered (and set) these poems at more or less the same time. Schumann, in one of his more melodramatic and pessimistic moods, might have imagined that he and Clara had only narrowly escaped the fate of the nameless couple in Heine’s trilogy. Certainly things might have turned out very differently for them if they had eloped illegally (at one time Robert urged this) rather than doing battle with Friedrich Wieck in the courts.
Clara’s title Volkslied seems to acknowledge the work’s provenance without choosing to deny that Heine is its author. It is not beyond possibility that the 1829 issue of the Taschenbuch für Damen was part of Clara’s library, or perhaps her mother’s (the title and date suggest the latter might be the case), and that Robert, who had already set as much of the Buch der Lieder as he saw fit, discovered these unfamiliar poems only thanks to his wife. Another possibility is that the words were lifted from Mendelssohn’s 1838 settings for a capella chorus Op 41 Nos 2/4. The poems were to be published as part of Heine’s Neue Gedichte only in 1844.
The song is in 9/8; the key is F minor, and the marking Adagio. The music begins on a dominant pedal with the same sighing figurations in rhetorical fits and starts that have initiated Sie liebten sich beide (track 10). The un-rhymed three-line verse form, unusual for Heine, reminds us that he is not the real author. It is set simply (truly in folksong style) with a spare accompaniment which shadows the vocal line, first in dotted crotchets and then in quavers. The second strophe, however, is propelled forward by pulsating triplets. The rise of an octave for ‘Sie flohen heimlich von Hause fort’ is dramatically telling, signifying some sort of breaking out, a lunge for freedom. The song is essentially in modified ABA form. The third strophe begins as had the first – the Zwischenspiel identical to the introduction. ‘Sie sind gewandert hin und her’ is the same as the song’s opening. Thereafter the vocal line is subtly different; it is fashioned to more dramatic words (‘gestorben, verdorben’) without representing a major departure from the initial musical ideas. The five-bar postlude is a touching little threnody; gently descending sequences, poignant reflections of the words, offer a commentary on the preceding little tragedy. This is a highly accomplished setting, stoically poignant without wallowing in melodrama. This is the only incidence of Clara composing a song to words also set by her husband; whether she was the first to have done so, or whether Robert followed her example days or months later is not known. Eric Sams avers that Schumann’s Tragödie may have been composed earlier than the date of 1841 normally ascribed to it.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 2001
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