The hand book of mediaeval alphabets and devices - Henry Shaw
The hand book of mediaeval alphabets and devices - H. Shaw
Last post of Liederabend's alphabet before the end of the season, D is for Dichterliebe. In fact, it was about to be "C is for cycle", but then C is for contemporary wouldn't have been possible; making an alphabet has something to do with puzzles. So I thought I could choose a cycle that would represent all of them. I could have chosen "W is for Winterreise" but W was occupied with... Well, W was already occupied. And as I said the last time that I spoke about it, I'm crazy about Dichterliebe. I would say there is no other cycle I've listened so much, so greedily; sometimes I avoid listening to it because I know that I could initiate another Dichterliebedependency period. Why do I love it so much? Here I give you five reasons, there are many more...

Yes, I'm crazy about Dichterliebe, I have a passion for Winterreise, the Kerner-Lieder are essential, I fell in love many years ago with A Shropshire Lad, maybe Die schöne Müllerin doesn't come to my mind as first option but then I can't stop listening to it... Oh, my beloved song cycles! By the way, have you ever stopped and thought about what a song cycle is?

- Yes of course. A cycle is a set of songs sharing the same literary source and a musical structure, that are performed as a unit. An die ferne Geliebte or Dichterliebe are perfect examples.
- You prepared your answer! So, the Mörike-Lieder aren't a cycle, because they're not performed as a unit. That's correct?
- Only a brave singer would sing the 53 Lieder! I would say we can't consider it as a cycle, nor Wolf intended it.
- Then, we could add to the definition of cycle that the composer wanted the songs to became a cycle?
- Not really. Brahms composed the songs of Die Schöne Magelone along eight years, without any order, and he also published them separately. However, it's considered as a cycle.
- Sure, we said that if it's performed as a unit, it's a cycle!
- Yes, but this is a relatively modern idea. The first performances of complete cycles arrived pretty after their composition and weren't usual until the twentieth century.
- OK, but once at the twentieth century, cycles, that are cycles because the composer conceived them as cycles, are always performed as a whole, right?
- I wish I could say that's how it works, except when a song is sung as a encore (we know that encores are quite another story), but I was thinking that Combat del somni has five songs, and it's usual to sing only three of them.
- That's getting complicated.
- I agree.
- Let's try it another way. At least, do we know what is not a song cycle?
- That's easier. When a composer joins a few songs for being edited (and sold), then we say that's a collection, not a cycle. They share an opus number but nobody expects them to go always together.
- Well, the four songs of Strauss' opus 27 are sung often at song recitals.
- Yes, you're right...
- And the collection could be a set of songs sharing the same literary source and...
- Could we change the subject? Please?
It wasn't that easy, was it? May I suggest we go back to the beginning, to Schumann, Heine and my dear Dichterliebe? I told you we would listen to its songs in their original order and today is time for the fourth one, Wenn ich in deine Augen seh'. After the euphoria of Die Rose, die Lilie, die Taube, die Sonne, that's a contemplative, quiet... and perplexing song.

To get into the scene. The poet is with his beloved, he looks into her eyes, kisses her on her lips, rests on her breast, she tells him that she loves him... and he cries bitter tears?! Have we missed anything? That "Ich liebe dich" has a disturbing mixture of sadness and sweetness. Who adds sadness and sweetness? The beloved, when she says it? The poet, when he repeats it? Why does the poet weep bitterly? We understand he cries with emotion, happiness or relief, but the adverb bitterly doesn't fit any of these options. Let's see some theories that explain what's going on: a) the poet has never experienced what it's saying, he's making everything up; b) the poet realizes that his beloved is lying when she says she loves him; c) the beloved is telling the truth, but the poet anticipates that this love doesn't have any future. We could find more explanations, depending on the context and the interpretation (and, as you can imagine, I listened to many performances with the excuse that I had to prepare this post). What does the performance of Christopher Maltman and Graham Johnson inspires you?

Please listen to Dichterliebe, listen to it over and over again...
Wenn ich in deine Augen seh'

Wenn ich in deine Augen seh’,
So schwindet all’ mein Leid und Weh’;
Doch wenn ich küsse deinen Mund,
So werd’ ich ganz und gar gesund.

Wenn ich mich lehn’ an deine Brust,
Kommt’s über mich wie Himmelslust;
Doch wenn du sprichst: ich liebe dich!
So muss ich weinen bitterlich.

When I gaze into your eyes,
All my pain and woe vanishes;
Yet when I kiss your lips,
I am made wholly and entirely healthy.

When I lay against your breast
It comes over me like longing for heaven;
Yet when you say, "I love you!"
I must cry so bitterly.

 (traducció de Paul Hindemith)

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