Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Landmarks (29)

Robert Schumann: Dichterliebe Op. 48 (1840) for voice and piano, texts from the Lyrisches Intermezzo of Heinrich Heine.

Dichter is poet and Dichtung is making poetry, but, at root, Dichtung means thickening, and Schumann does not simply set and accompany the poems gathered here but makes music which also comments and expands upon the poems, thickening the experience field around the poems, thickening the plot, as they say. In Dichterliebe, Schumann introduces into music the possibility of contradiction -- in this case, the music may contradict the surface meaning of the text, only to bring out the irony that everywhere underlays Heine's verse. The thickening here comes about from the play between surface and depth in the texts, in the conflicted relationship of the poems to both folk lyrical traditions and German literary romanticism -- with which, it must be added, Schumann very much identified --, in the contrast between simple and complex and convention and invention in the music (thus allowing, for example, folkish melodies to nestle into harmonically and texturally vanguard accompaniments) and, ultimately, in the distance between the music and the text. This, to paraphrase John Cage, is all about music and lyric becoming so intimate that they must yield one another enough space in order to maintain their individual characters and in the process charge and thicken the space in-between the two media.

Offhand, I can think of no music before, precious little after, and none better than Dichterliebe in which the prevailing trope is irony. There may also be irony in the simple achievement of this song cycle, or better yet, album: Schumann was the very model of the romantic German composer and the question of whether the ironic distance to the romantic that is so brilliantly transposed into the music was the result of conscious compositional design is unanswered.

(The score is online, here. It is an album, the direct ancestor of record albums and the sister of the Poesie Album, and it is worth playing, singing, and listening to the whole sequence, from the whistful beginning (Im wunderschönen Monat Mai) to the resolute final song (Die alten, bösen Lieder), with the flip side of the album occurring between the defiant Ich grolle nicht (which, if you'll pardon me, is the 19th century German equivalent of "My Way") and the heartbroken Und wüssten's die Blumen).

1 comment:

Elaine Fine said...

No song cycle has ever meant as much to me as the Dichterliebe. Thanks for your take on it.