Thursday, June 4, 2015

Schumann's Year of Song

Robert Schumann (1810–1856) was the first major successor in lied composition following Franz Schubert. While Schumann wrote many types of music, he tended to focus on one genre at a time (symphonies, piano works, lieder, etc.) The year 1840 is known as Schumann’s “Year of Song” because he wrote over 120 love songs in preparation for his marriage to Clara Wieck. Part of his inspiration for this enormous project was his desire for Clara. He also felt motivation to earn enough money to support his new bride and please her father. With the demand for lieder among amateur musicians, Schumann knew that lied composition would help him financially.

Like Schubert, Schumann wrote his vocal and accompaniment parts with equal importance in text expression. Sometimes he even gave the piano extra solo material by including preludes and interludes. Many composers who wrote lieder would group their songs together into what is known as a song cycle. The songs in a cycle usually share a common theme such as a similar subject or the same poet. Schumann set 16 poems from Heinrich Heine’s Lyrical Intermezzo and grouped them into a song cycle he called Dichterliebe. These texts show each step of a relationship. Below you can follow along with the English text translation as you listen to one of the songs, “In the Marvelous Month of May,” which refers to love blooming during springtime. Schumann does not end the piece in a definite key, hinting that the story ends in a sad and unfilled manner.

In the wonderfully fair month of May,
as all the flower-buds burst,
then in my heart
love arose.

In the wonderfully fair month of May,
as all the birds were singing,
then I confessed to her
my yearning and longing.