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Fünf Lieder, Op 40

Fünf Lieder, Op 40

16-18 July 1840

Schumann’s 26 Myrthen songs (Op 25) were written in February and March 1840. The cycle seems to have represented an unconscious attempt to mirror, in musical terms, the world view of literature espoused by his father who published editions of Italian, Spanish and English classics in German translations. It was as if the composer felt a need to make his music internationally valid by reaching out to the literature of other nations for his texts, the geographical scope of their origins a reflection of the breadth of his own culture and expressive aspirations. ‘I am no small-town composer’ Schumann (born in the small town of Zwickau) convincingly assures us (or so it seems), ‘I am a citizen of the world’. If song composition is an act of translation where a poem finds its musical analogue, the setting of a text that has originated in another language might be seen (and heard) as a double act of translation where translator and composer render the original poem a similar service. Schumann was both a composer and a master of German prose who spent much of his career writing about other people’s music; he was also an amateur poet. It is hardly surprising then that he also wished to serve literature and respected the act of translation as one writer’s homage to another. As a critic Schumann habitually encouraged his composers in a way which shows that this most humane of men desired to built bridges-in-words between musicians in a similar way – ‘Only connect’ indeed, and Schumann would have understood what E M Forster meant.

July 1840 was especially rich in songs. It is the month, above all, of Schumann’s settings of Adelbert von Chamisso. The famous Frauenliebe und -leben cycle was composed in this July, as well as six further songs which are not to be found in the first edition of that poet’s work (1831). The fourth edition of these best-selling poems dates from 1837 and it seems likely that this is the collection from which Schumann worked. As in the first edition, the Frauenliebe und -leben stands proudly at the head of Chamisso’s volume. But the poet enriches the later edition with evidence of his internationalist sympathies: an Icelandic saga, and an Idylle originally in the Tonga tongue (Chamisso had travelled in the South Seas and became a authority on the Polynesian languages) bring the collection to an close.

Less exotic perhaps, but of more interest to Schumann, were two further sets of translations in the 1837 edition of Chamisso – one of four French poems by Pierre-Jean de Béranger (1780-1857), the other of four Danish poems by Hans Christian Andersen. In July 1840 Schumann set two of the first group of poems: Die Kartenlegerin (Hyperion Schumann Edition Volume 3) and Die rote Hanne. (One of the other Béranger items is The prophecy of Nostradamus concerning the year 2000 – as unsuitable for music as its predictions are inaccurate.)

In Geibel’s Gedichte the Andersen poems are printed immediately after the Béranger; they appear grouped under a subtitle – Nach dem Dänischen von Andersen (‘From the Danish of Andersen’). These are the poems which Schumann set as the first four songs of his Op 40. They are numbered 1 to 4 and the composer paid Chamisso the compliment of setting them all to music; moreover he adopted the translator’s order as if the German poet had created a work of art in its own right by arranging the four poems as an expressive sequence. But Schumann was not satisfied to finish the group with the madness of Der Spielmann. Love must win the day, and he searched through the Chamisso volume until he found something sufficiently upbeat. The fifth poem of Op 40, Verratene Liebe, is subtitled Neugriechisch – ‘modern Greek’– so this too is a translation. In fact Chamisso had taken it from a French source by Charles-Claude Fauriel.

The enormously prolific Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875) was born in Copenhagen. He remains world-famous for his fairytales but he was author of almost every other genre – the German translation of the Werke appeared in 1847 and runs to fifty volumes – plays, novels, poems. travel books and autobiographies. He was born in poverty and gradually fought his way to recognition, drawing on the pain and rejections of his childhood for much of his work including the fairytales. When Schumann set these poems Andersen was only thirty-five years old and not yet the legend he was to become. How much the composer knew of the rest of the poet’s work in 1840 is not known, but Schumann was sufficiently in touch with the world of contemporary literature to know that Andersen was considered an up-and coming author.

The first personal connection between Andersen and Schumann occurred between the composition of the songs and their first appearance in print. In June 1841 the two narrowly missed each other in Leipzig when Andersen passed through that city. On this occasion the poet met Mendelssohn. During a concert visit to Copenhagen (March/April 1842) Clara met Andersen and it seems that Schumann was very pleased by the prospect of her meeting the poet. He had already formed an opinion of Andersen as an author: ‘Very wise, so clever, so child-like’ he wrote to Clara. She herself had decided that he was ‘frightfully vain and egotistic’ as well as ‘very ugly’, but she brought back a friendly letter for her husband from Andersen. The composer sketched a reply to Andersen telling him that he had read the novel Kun en Spillemand – ‘Only a Fiddler’. Since setting the four poems in Chamisso’s translations it seems that this extraordinary novel about Christian, an aspiring musician whose ambitions come to nought within an almost fairytale scenario influenced by Andersen’s own painful reminiscences, had been Schumann’s first experience of the Dane’s work.

The reason this reply was not sent was probably because the composer was waiting for the Op 40 songs to arrive from the printer. On 1 October 1842 he sent Andersen a copy of the songs (published by Kistner of Leipzig, and simultaneously in Denmark – because of the Danish connection of course – by the firm Lose & Olsen) which were dedicated to the poet. ‘Perhaps the settings will seem strange to you’ Schumann wrote, ‘ So at first did your poems to me. But as I grew to understand them better, my music took on a more unusual style’. Andersen replied in November mentioning that the composer Niels Gade had played through the music for him. At the same time he wrote to the Schumanns about his new novel Ahasverus inspired by the second part of Goethe’s Faust, no less. The highly-strung and self-absorbed Andersen was never shy about boasting about current successes and talking at length about future plans.

The composer and poet met for the first time in Leipzig on 22 June 1844. On this occasion Livia Frege (1818-1891), a soprano much admired by Schumann and Mendelssohn, was also invited. The Op 40 songs were performed, and according to Clara (who was surely the pianist) the poet received them ‘with seeming indifference’. In Andersen’s own mémoires he remembered the evening as being ‘poetic’ with only the composer and himself as audience. Clara’s charming presence, and that of Livia Frege, are not mentioned. (It was rumoured that Andersen had been unhappily in love with Jenny Lind, another friend of the Schumanns, but the poet was also certainly tormented by his homosexuality). In any case, lieder were small beer and he was openly ambitious. Andersen was more interested in interesting Schumann in a much larger project, and proposed his fairytale Die Glücksblume or Die Blume des Glücks, ‘The Flower of Happiness’, as the basis of an opera. Schumann was taken with the idea and the two men corresponded about it. The idea came to nothing, almost certainly because of the mental crisis which overtook the composer in the autumn of 1844. Schumann was aware of the difficulties of Andersen’s personality: a conversation with the Danish composer Gade in 1846 led him to write in his Tagebuch of the poet’s ‘childish vanity’ (it may have taken him some time to come to agree with Clara’s instant reaction) as well as Andersen’s inability, also like a child, to avoid the open expression of opinions that most people would suppress with good manners. In comparison with Dickens the Schumanns escaped lightly. The English novelist admired Andersen’s work and invited him to stay for a fortnight at Gad’s Hill Place in the summer of 1857. The Dane, a combination of Pecksniff and the Ugly Duckling, as Dickens later remarked, stayed five weeks and was counted by the Dickens children the most unbearable guest the family had ever entertained.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 2002

On trouve dans les Gedichte de Chamisso des traductions allemandes qu’il a faites de quatre poèmes danois. Elles montrent le fameux côté troublant et surnaturel d’Andersen, un aspect macabre caractéristique qui ne se trouve nulle part ailleurs dans l’œuvre de Schumann. Märzveilchen ouvre le recueil sur un charme doux-amer, mais Muttertraum est un lied sinistre, où le ver dans le fruit se trouve déjà dans le berceau du bébé voué à devenir un criminel exécuté. Le très imposant Der Soldat décrit une exécution militaire avec un côté proche d’Oscar Wilde—chaque homme est condamné à tuer ce qu’il aime. Dans Der Spielmann, la folie (ou plutôt la crainte de la folie) du violoneux dépasse tout ce qu’il peut y avoir dans Das ist ein Flöten und Geigen de Heine comme représentation d’une fête de mariage qui a mal tournée. Dans ce contexte, la fin heureuse de Verratene Liebe (pas sur un texte Andersen, mais à l’origine un poème grec traduit en français) semble étrangement déplacée, même si c’est une miniature géniale.

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

Chamissos deutsche Übersetzungen der vier dänischen Gedichte finden sich ebenfalls unter seinen Gedichten. Sie vermitteln die berühmte verstörte und übernatürliche Seite von Andersen mit deutlich makabrer Überlagerung, wie sie sich in keinen anderen Werken von Schumann findet. Märzveilchen beginnt den Zyklus mit bittersüßem Charme, doch Muttertraum ist ein ominöses Lied, das dem Säugling in der Wiege sein Schicksal als Verbrecher am Galgen kündet. Das höchst wirkungsvolle Lied Der Soldat beschreibt mit Anklängen an Oscar Wilde eine standrechtliche Erschießung: Jeder Mann ist verurteilt zu töten, was er liebt. In Der Spielmann übertrifft die Verrücktheit (oder vielmehr die Angst vor dem Verrücktwerden) des Fiedlers alles, was Heine mit seinem Das ist ein Flöten und Geigen als Beschreibung einer fehlgeschlagenen Hochzeitsfeier zu bieten hat. In diesem Zusammenhang scheint das glückliche Ende von Verratene Liebe (keine Andersen-Vertonung, sondern ursprünglich ein griechisches, ins Französische übersetztes Gedicht), wenngleich eine geniale Miniatur, seltsam fehl am Platz.

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. 6 - Geraldine McGreevy, Stella Doufexis, Adrian Thompson & Stephan Loges
The Soldier
Studio Master: SIGCD592Download onlyStudio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
Le Bestiaire
A66149Archive Service (LP transfer)This album is not available for download


No 1: Märzveilchen  Der Himmel wölbt sich rein und blau
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Track 11 on CDJ33106 [1'24]
Track 4 on CDS44441/50 CD4 [1'24] 10CDs Boxed set (at a special price)
No 2: Muttertraum  Die Mutter betet herzig und schaut entzückt
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Track 12 on CDJ33106 [2'46]
Track 5 on CDS44441/50 CD4 [2'46] 10CDs Boxed set (at a special price)
translator of text
from a 'modern Greek' poem, found by Chamisso in a French translation by Charles-Claude Fauriel

Track 3 on A66149 [2'55] Archive Service (LP transfer)
No 3: Der Soldat  Es geht bei gedämpfter Trommel Klang
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Track 13 on CDJ33106 [2'53]
Track 6 on CDS44441/50 CD4 [2'53] 10CDs Boxed set (at a special price)
Track 16 on SIGCD592 [2'51] Download only
No 4: Der Spielmann  Im Städtchen gibt es des Jubels viel
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Track 14 on CDJ33106 [2'35]
Track 7 on CDS44441/50 CD4 [2'35] 10CDs Boxed set (at a special price)
No 5: Verratene Liebe  Da nachts wir uns küssten, o Mädchen
translator of text
from a 'modern Greek' poem, found by Chamisso in a French translation by Charles-Claude Fauriel

Track 15 on CDJ33106 [0'55]
Track 8 on CDS44441/50 CD4 [0'55] 10CDs Boxed set (at a special price)

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