The Melicus Duo has recently been asked to feature in a blog dedicated to Art Song and the author introduces songs to her readers by giving background information around it. The original text is in Catalan and below follows an English translation of the original. The author is Sílvia Pujalte Piñan.
Once upon a time there was a composer and editor of a prestigious magazine, which in its articles treated colleagues who composed for voice and piano somewhat disdainfully because he believed that “music for voice was less important than music for orchestra.” The composer in question is called Robert Schumann and he said these words in 1839. In 1840, he wrote about 160 songs, which comprises more than half of his celebrated and most famous songs.
Notice a certain inconsistency between words and deeds? It is possible, we all live with our inconsistencies and Schumann would be no exception, but maybe if we talk briefly about his life we will understand him better.
In 1835, Robert Schumann was engaged to be married to Clara, daughter of Friedrich Wieck, Schumann’s piano teacher. Robert was 25, Clara Wieck was 16 and Herr Wieck did not want to hear anything of this engagement. He put as many possible obsticles as he could for years and refused to give his consent to the marriage as his daughter was not yet 21 years old – the age where parental consent to be married was no longer required by law. The situation deteriorated to such a point that Clara took her father to court.
And so things stood in 1840. Robert and Clara were apart and their communication continued almost entirely through letters. Schumann feared that at any moment Clara would succumb to her father’s pressure. He was on an emotional rollercoaster in any case because the predicament of having to defend various allegations against him made by Friedrich Wieck in court. So Robert began writing songs, starting in February, one after another, he wrote most of the songs that we love so much today. Earlier he might have considered art song as a minor genre, but it is also true that a long happy marriage of two of his passions, music and poetry, commenced. This lyric fever helped him to overcome the difficulties of those troubling months.
On the first of August, the judge ruled in favour of Clara, which gave Robert permission to marry. On that day Schumann wrote a euphoric song, Der Hidalgo. On 14 September (the day after Clara’s 21st birthday), Robert and Clara were married and Robert’s wedding gift was a song cycle written especially for the occasion. The cycle is called Myrthen (myrtle), Op. 25. Afterwards Schumann gradually stopped writing songs and wrote the last in November of that year. In fact, except for a handful of songs in the intermittent years, he would not compose a great number of songs until nine years after.
Brides of the era often wore flowers in their hair or carried myrtle branches. Schumann’s Myrthen is exactly this, a bunch of songs for his bride. We can listen to Widmung (Dedication), with lyrics from one of my favourite poets, Friedrich Rückert. A passionate declaration of love, a happy song (because they say that only sadness sings!), irresistible, you can not avoid to smile.
The truth is that I had originally chosen another song, which is a celebration of spring, but a few days ago a Tweet made me change my mind. @TheMelicusDuo, ie, soprano Marie Vassiliou and pianist Nico de Villiers, tweeted their recording of Widmung saying it was one of their favourite songs. It is also a favourite of mine and after hearing their recording I thought we could postpone the celebration of spring, celebrating Love in return.
Just one more thing: note that Schumann perhaps pays homage to Schubert at the end of the song in the piano postlude.
You my soul, you my heart,
You my bliss, oh you my pain,
You my world in which I live,
My heaven, you, in which I soar,
Oh you my grave, into which
I have always been able to cast my grief.
You are rest, you are peace,
You have been bestowed upon me from heaven,
That you love me makes me worth more,
Your gaze transfigured myself to me,
You raise me lovingly above myself,
My guardian angel, my better self!