Reflections - Ethel Porter Bailey
Reflexions - E. Porter Bailey
 
We continue with the post about Frauenliebe und ­leben that we started last week. We talked about the controversy that arose forty years ago, because it was considered degrading for women. We also talked about the poet Adalbert von Chamisso, who, in fact, wrote a modern approach to his main character. Now it’s time to talk about Schumann's work.
 
Adalbert von Chamisso wrote his nine poems in 1830; Carl Loewe wrote the first song cycle in 1837 and Schumann did it in 1840 in just a couple of days, between 11th and 12th of July. It's said that Loewe makes a superficial reading of the poems; on the contrary, Schumann's cycle has been extensively discussed and there are several theories about it.

By July 1840, Robert and Clara already knew that the court wouldn’t take long to decide about their marriage. Whatever the decision taken, in a few months Clara would become of legal age and she wouldn't need his father o the court permission to get married. Things seemed to get better. Should we think, then, that Schumann identified Clara with the woman in Chamisso's poems? A 20 year old girl who had been a successful professional concertist  since she was 11? A girl that, at the age of 16, had already accepted him as her fiancée? A girl who was able to take her father to court so as they could get married?  I don’t think it is that obvious, do you?

From Schumann's letter we could infer that, even those days close to their wedding date, he lacked self-confidence; he sometimes had doubts and wondered if he was worthy of Clara. Was Schumann who identified himself with the poems' main character? He, whose fame as a composer was nowhere near to that of Clara’s as a piano virtuoso? A man who had already suffered from severe depressions?

Perhaps he was simply projecting their (Clara's and his) preconceived ideas, and also those of the society's, about marriage, in a moment that he was about to get married. One thing we know for sure: bearing in mind his expertise in Literature, he wouldn't go along with an initial and superficial reading of the works he musicalized. There is not either doubt about his temporal point of view: his cycle has only eight songs, he didn't include the 9th poem, where the woman talks to her granddaughter. Chamisso's cycle looks at the past and Schumann's at the future.

Today I suggest the second Lied of the cycle, Er, der Herrlischte von allen (He,  the most magnificent of them all). Last week we listened to Kathleen Ferrier and John Newmark; today we are listening to the beautiful version of Elisabeth Grümmer accompanied by Aribert Reimann. If you think that the girl plays herself down too much, please go over these Listz and Petrarca or Britten and Michelangelo's songs.

About Schumann's Frauenliebe und ­leben there are many questions and few answers; at least I don't have any. Or, maybe, we have one: on 26th February 1854, Robert, very ill, tried to commit suicide. That same day Clara wrote in her diary that Robert had told her: "Oh, Clara, I am not worthy of your love" ("Ach Clara, ich bin deiner Liebe nicht wert").

 
Er, der Herrlichste von allen 
 

Er, der Herrlichste von allen,
Wie so milde, wie so gut!
Holde Lippen, klares Auge,
Heller Sinn und fester Mut.

So wie dort in blauer Tiefe,
Hell und herrlich, jener Stern,
Also er an meinem Himmel,
Hell und herrlich, hehr und fern.

Wandle, wandle deine Bahnen;
Nur betrachten deinen Schein,
Nur in Demut ihn betrachten,
Selig nur und traurig sein!

Höre nicht mein stilles Beten,
Deinem Glücke nur geweiht;
Darfst mich niedre Magd nicht kennen,
Hoher Stern der Herrlichkeit!

Nur die Würdigste von allen
Darf beglücken deine Wahl,
Und ich will die Hohe segnen,
Viele tausendmal.

Will mich freuen dann und weinen,
Selig, selig bin ich dann;
Sollte mir das Herz auch brechen,
Brich, o Herz, was liegt daran?

He, the most magnificent of them all,
how gentle and good he is!
Enchanting lips, luminous eyes,
an open mind, and strong courage!

Just like that bright and glorious star
in the deep blue heavens,
he is bright and glorious in my heaven,
illustrious, and so far above me.

Follow, follow your own path,
just to gaze upon your radiance--
just to humbly gaze upon it,
is to be both blissful and melancholy.

Don’t bother to hear my quiet prayer,
dedicated solely to your happiness;
You don’t need to know this irrelevant girl,
you sublime and glorious star!

Only the worthiest one of them all
should be made happy by your choice,
And I will bless that elevated one
a thousand times over.

Then I shall rejoice and weep,
blissful, I will be blissful then,
and if then my heart breaks:
Break, heart! Why does it matter?

(English translation by Kyle Gee)

 
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