Schumann’s Dichterliebe: On a Radiant Summer Morning

212267__flowers-flowers-flower-flowers-flower-plants-soft-pink-soft-summer-morning-beauty_pLet’s finish out the week and follow up on Wednesday’s post with more music for summer. Am leuchtenden Sommermorgen is the twelfth song in Robert Schumann’s Dichterliebe, Op. 48 (“A Poet’s Love”), written in 1840. The song contains some interesting harmonic surprises. The first hint of strangeness comes at 0:33. Then, we get an even bigger surprise around the 1:00 mark. The conflict of the opening chords returns unexpectedly at 1:45.

Schumann’s music evokes the kind of mystery you might expect when talking flowers are involved. Here is a translation of Heinrich Heine’s text:

On a radiant summer morning
I walk around in the garden. The flowers whisper and speak, But I wander silently.

The flowers whisper and speak And look at me with sympathy: Don’t be angry with our sister, You sad, pale man.

Here is Ian Bostridge’s excellent recording:

The Salley Gardens

ireland_green_shamrocks

Benjamin Britten’s 1943 setting of the Irish folk song, The Salley Gardens seems to float in midair with a surreal, hypnotic beauty. An undercurrent of continuous eighth notes runs throughout the song, suggesting a static, dreamlike atmosphere…a sense of motion within timelessness. In the opening, haunting three-note fragments seem to be searching for a way forward. Listen to the way this piano line returns with interjections throughout the song. Also listen for the sudden harmonic surprise on the word “foolish.” Britten’s setting of The Salley Gardens is a great reminder of the sublime expressive power of simplicity.

The poem is by the Irish poet William Butler Yeats:

Down by the salley gardens my love and I did meet;
She passed the salley gardens with little snow-white feet.
She bid me take love easy, as the leaves grow on the tree;
But I, being young and foolish, with her would not agree.
In a field by the river my love and I did stand,
And on my leaning shoulder she laid her snow-white hand.
She bid me take life easy, as the grass grows on the weirs;
But I was young and foolish, and now am full of tears.

This recording comes from Ian Bostridge’s 1999 album, The English Songbook. The pianist is Julius Drake:

Schubert Songs of Spring

spring flowersTomorrow is the first day of spring. With warmer temperatures, blooming foliage and a sense of renewal, spring has long been a rich source of poetic inspiration. Here are three songs by Franz Schubert (1797-1828) which feature spring:

[typography font=”Cantarell” size=”28″ size_format=”px”]Frühlingsglaube (Faith in Spring)[/typography]

The poem is by Johann Ludwig Uhland (1787-1862). Here is baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau accompanied by Gerald Moore:

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When I listen to Schubert’s songs, I always have the sense that every note is perfect. Great expression grows out of simplicity. But Schubert also loves to throw in a surprising and memorable chord when we least expect it (listen to the harmonic tension around 0:11). Notice how the music relates to the text at 0:57: “Now poor heart, be not afraid!” With one chord Schubert is able to cast a momentary shadow, transporting us from the pure, innocent  world of nature to the world of man.

[typography font=”Cantarell” size=”28″ size_format=”px”]Im Fruhling (In Spring)[/typography]

This song’s text is by Ernst Konrad Friedrich Schulze (1789-1817). Here is an English translation. This recording features tenor Ian Bostridge:

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For me, one of the most interesting aspects of this melody is the way it wants to pull away from the home key of G major. The first move away (from G to C) is subtle and short-lived  (0:24). Then we get a full modulation from G to A at 0:33.

These sudden key changes are fun because they play on the elements of expectation and surprise. Equally thrilling is the way Schubert suddenly and skillfully slides back into the correct key. Throughout Schubert’s music, the relationship between keys is an important dramatic element.

The poem suggests that the beautiful scenery of spring, in this case linked to romantic love, is fragile and elusive. Holding onto a moment in time is as impossible as capturing “Spring’s first sunbeam:”

[quote]Quietly I sit on the hill’s slope.
The sky is so clear;
a breeze plays in the green valley
where I was at Spring’s first sunbeam
once – ah, I was so happy;[/quote]

For the fifth stanza (2:40) the music slips into a stormy G minor as the text turns darker:

[quote]The only things that change are will and illusion:
Joys and quarrels alternate,
the happiness of love flies past
and only the love remains –
The love and, ah, the sorrow.[/quote]

[typography font=”Cantarell” size=”28″ size_format=”px”]Am Bach im Frühling (By the Brook in Springtime)[/typography]

Here is mezzo-soprano Christa Ludwig and pianist Irwin Gage. The poem by Franz Adolf Friedrich von Schober (1796-1882) offers a melancholy view of spring. Can you hear the flowing brook in the piano accompaniment?

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