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As a young man Rollett was a left-winger, a fiery advocate of press freedom and an opponent of Metternich. Such works as Kampflieder and Republikanisches Liederbuch (both 1848) would have made him a sympathetic figure to the Schumanns; it is perhaps for this reason that his novel Jucunde was welcomed into their household where the composer’s verdict on the poems therein was ‘sehr musikalische Gedichte’. During the 1840s the poet became less and less comfortable in his native land. Eventually he was forced to flee Austria and lived for a while as a so-called censorship-refugee in Germany. It was in Weimar in 1846 that he made the acquaintance of Hans Christian Andersen and Jenny Lind as they visited the graves of Goethe and Schiller. (His impressions of Andersen, whom he likened to a tall poppy in appearance, are sympathetic and forgiving of his egocentricities.) In 1851 he moved to Switzerland (where he came into contact with Wagner) and in 1854 returned to his home city where he was eventually appointed to a post as archivist of the city’s museums and lived out a life as a cultural historian, novelist and poet. He failed to achieve lasting fame and died in straitened circumstances.
From Schumann’s Haushaltbuch it appears that as early as December 1852 he possessed a copy of Rollet’s Jucunde, a novel with poetry in the manner of Mörike’s Maler Nolten. As this predates the work’s first edition we must assume that, as in the case of the Geibel poems, the composer must have been the recipient of an advance copy from the publisher anxious to encourage the musical settings which would add to the work’s circulation. The poet’s correspondence with the composer dates from the end of 1853 when Rollett was still living in Switzerland. He read in a newspaper that ‘Schumann’ had recently completed a cycle on texts taken from Jucunde; he wrote immediately to the composer in Düsseldorf enquiring about the rumour. Schumann answered saying that there was indeed a new cycle of Rollett settings bearing his surname, but that the songs had been written by Clara, and that he would have been pleased with the songs even if their composer had not been his wife. At the same time he expressed a warm interest in Rollett’s work for his own purposes and asked for a ‘Ballade’ from the poet’s hand. Rollett replied with a ten-strophe shocker, Der schwedische Reiter (‘The Swedish Rider’) a macabre and melodramatic tale of no great literary worth.
According to Rollett, Schumann replied in two letters almost at the same time: the first was polite and grateful, the second bluntly rude and dismissive about the ballad. The poet was confused by the mixture of charm and vehemence. Some weeks after this exchange he read that Schumann had thrown himself into the Rhine in a suicide attempt. Rollett wrote, self-importantly, that he was worried that the content of this ballad, ‘probably the last poem that the composer busied himself when in possession of his senses’, might have exacerbated Schumann’s nervous condition.
In December 1856 Clara Schumann visited Vienna and it was then that Rollett met her for the first time (although he claimed to have been her admirer from afar when she had given Klavierabende in Vienna in the late 1830s). She had been widowed in July and he felt awkward about discussing her husband. It was on this occasion that she presented him with a signed copy of her Sechs Lieder aus Jucunde (published in the preceding January) with an inscription to the ‘esteemed poet with friendly remembrances’. The cycle itself is dedicated to Livia Frege, the same soprano and family friend who had sung the Op 40 songs to Hans Andersen during his visit to Dresden.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 2002
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