Liederkreis Op. 39
In early May 1840 Schumann turned to the quintessential poet of German Romanticism, Joseph, Freiherr von Eichendorff (1788–1857), for another ‘song circle’. In a letter to Clara, whom he married in September of that year, he called the twelve songs that make up the Liederkreis, Op 39 ‘my most romantic music ever, with much of you in it, dearest Clara’. Drawing variously on poems from Eichendorff’s stories Viel Lärmen um nichts (‘Much ado about nothing’) and Ahnung und Gegenwart (‘Present and Presentiment’), and his novel Dichter und ihre Gesellen(‘Poets and their companions’), these twelve vignettes are linked by recurrent, typically Eichendorffian themes—loss and loneliness, nocturnal mystery and menace, memory and antiquity, wistful reverie and rapturous soaring—and by thematic cross-references, usually veiled, occasionally explicit, as with the use of the same motif at the start of No 7 (‘Auf einer Burg’) and No 8 (‘In der Fremde’). With the Eichendorff Liederkreis Schumann virtually invented a new type of song: the romantic night-piece, serene, ecstatic or ominous.
The opening ‘In der Fremde’ is typical in its expression of estrangement and nostalgia amid a dark, woodland landscape. Schumann’s tune has a haunting pathos, discreetly heightened by its gently rippling arpeggio accompaniment. The German forest is at its most sinister in ‘Waldesgespräch’ (No 3), a variation on the Lorelei myth, with its dramatically timed moment of recognition and ironically echoing hunting-horns (dying away eerily in the piano postlude), and again in ‘Zwielicht’ (No 10). Here the keyboard part coils around the voice like a tortuous Bach three-part invention, with an oppressive chromaticism that threatens to dissolve familiar tonal outlines. ‘Auf einer Burg’ evokes a mysterious antiquity with its gloomy, incantatory vocal line, modal harmonies and solemn touches of canonic imitation. In the penultimate song, ‘Im Walde’, the wedding and the hunt, evoked as if through a gauze in Schumann’s music, suddenly fade, leaving only the sighing forest and the poet’s nameless fears amid the darkening inner and outer landscapes.
At the other end of the spectrum, ‘Intermezzo’ (No 2) is an increasingly impassioned avowal of love to Clara, growing from a falling five-note figure Schumann often associated with her. ‘Die Stille’ is a more secretive—and feminine—confession (the German title means both ‘stillness’ and ‘the silent girl’), with a sudden soaring at ‘Ich wünscht’, ich wär’ ein Vöglein’. ‘Schöne Fremde’ (No 6) and ‘Frühlingsnacht’(No 12), with its evanescent wisps of countermelody and triumphant final ‘sie ist Dein!’, are shimmering visions of physical and spiritual elation, while ‘Mondnacht’ (No 5) is perhaps the world’s loveliest vocal nocturne. Here Schumann magically delays the resolution on to the tonic chord until ‘Die Erde’ in bar ten, the moment of mystical-erotic union between sky and earth, Robert and Clara.
Taken from Hyperion Records’ commentary on Schumann’s Liederkreis, Op. 39.