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There had been so much energy and fantasy invested in waiting for that moment of consummated hopes in September 1840 that it is impossible to imagine that any experience, no matter how blissful, could have lived up to what had been expected of it. The air of anticlimax in the Schumanns’ life together was inevitable. The long period of fighting for Clara’s hand had been exhausting and tense, and now that the composer had achieved his heart’s desire the focal point of all his breathless creative activity had receded and changed. Robert was perhaps a better lover at a distance than at close quarters—he was moody and self-centred, and Clara was perplexed by his periods of total withdrawal. Coded signs in the household book entered with scrupulous regularity inform our prying eyes that the couple enjoyed a good physical relationship, and often—the number of children born would be testament enough of this. But as any newly-wed soon finds out, the day-to-day business of marriage cannot be built on sexual compatibility alone. It was not long before the question of husband’s versus wife’s career raised its head, and it was something which would remain ever-present. Clara was a great pianist and a composer in her own right, and no matter how much she attempted to do her duty as a nineteenth-century housewife, she resented, even if mostly silently, that marriage had swept away a large part of her former professional life. Money was a constant worry, and the composer took his duties as a husband seriously. ‘It never mattered to me whether or not the public took an interest in me,’ Schumann wrote, ‘but with a wife and children all this changes. One must plan for the future, one wants to harbour the fruits of one’s labours—not the artistic rewards, but the material ones which lead to a better life.’
Song had been the natural means of expression in the courtship days. What could be a more romantic gesture than to roll up a piece of manuscript paper containing a wonderful love poem clothed in newly created music, and send it winging on its way to the beloved? On arrival it would be read and deeply understood in a way that outsiders could never fathom. The song was, in short, a telegram of love. Schumann was very good at writing these telegrams and it is our luck that in 1840, the great song year, he was able to compose so many masterpieces when his personal circumstances coincided so completely with the type of music that he felt inspired to write. After the marriage the Muse of Song was still in residence, but one senses a ménage à trois which was working less happily. Robert wrote that ‘the price Clara had to pay for my songs was frequent silence and inaccessibility on my part’. There was also a nagging feeling that songs alone were no longer adequate to establish the career and fame necessary for a married man. Schumann advised the composer Kossmaly: ‘Compose large works: symphonies, operas. It’s hard to reach the top with short pieces.’ The Kerner Lieder were written during an interregnum, before the desire to write symphonies had become paramount in the composer’s life, but after the euphoric period of his life when song had seemed the perfect means of expression.
It is hardly surprising that they seem to embody a melancholy sense of striving and introspection—‘sadness, loneliness, sacrifice and madness’ as Fischer-Dieskau puts it. Much of the music is veiled by a darker poignancy than the earlier songs, and the two or three powerfully manly outbursts of the Wanderbursch are more than counterbalanced by music which seems wounded and at a loss. Of course this is no hindrance to a deeply poetic atmosphere. On the contrary, the Kerner songs are pervaded by a unique sensibility that makes them closer to Schubert’s Winterreise than anything else Schumann composed. Fischer-Dieskau writes of ‘tense harmonies’ which ‘remind one of a face distorted by pain. Lonesome and from a distance the composer gazes upon a busy world’.
A word may seem apposite on the composer’s key-structure for the cycle. The original keys are the following: I E flat; II A flat ending in C; III beginning on F then into B flat; IV G minor/G major; V G minor; VI E flat major; VII B flat major; VIII E flat major; IX E flat major ending in G major; X C major; XI and XII A flat major. It seems obvious that the composer has taken considerable care to assemble an impressive musical construction in flat keys with one song following on from the other in a carefully arranged sequence. This makes it even more of a pity that, in organizing the range of the various songs, Schumann seems not to have envisaged the cycle for a single voice: he writes ‘preferably for tenor’ at the head of song II, and ‘Preferably for baritone’ at the head of song XI. Almost every singer has to transpose some of these songs, both demandingly low and high at times, to bring them into the range of a single voice; consistent transposition is also impossible, again placing certain songs out of the range of any single voice. It is customary for the baritone voice, as in this performance, to transpose some of the songs, but care has been taken to preserve as many as possible of the crucial key relationships between the numbers.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1998
extrait des notes rédigées par Graham Johnson © 2010
Français: Marie-Stella Pâris
aus dem Begleittext von Graham Johnson © 2010
Deutsch: Henning Weber
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