"The Eichendorff cycle is certainly my most romantic and there is much of you in it." Robert Schumann wrote that to his fiancée Clara Wieck's in May 1840, just after writing in twenty days what would be published as Liederkreis, op. 39 (literally, "Circle of songs"). He had just begun to write Lieder and he would write much more that year 1840, but this cycle is still considered the most romantic by Schumann, even the reference when talking about a romantic song cycle.
For the first time, a cycle didn't tell a story, like An die ferne Geliebte, Die schöne Müllerin, Winterreise or even Schumann's Liederkreis, op. 24, with poems by Heinrich Heine, finished some weeks before. Nor did it have any unity regarding the poetic source: the poems came from different works. There are usually mentioned three novels that are supposed to include all the poems (like Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship includes the so well-known songs), but I've only been able to find some of them: In der Fremde, no. 1 belongs to Viel Larmen um nichts; Waldesgespräch, Die Stille, Wehmut and Zwielicht, to Ahnung und Gegenwart and Schöne Fremde, to Dichter und ihre Gesellen. I'm not sure that the rest of the poems are included in those works, but all of them were published in 1837 in the first of Eichendorff's poetry collection, that Schumann probably read.
So, what does it lead us to consider a cycle this twelve songs? Besides, of course, a musical structure that the composer should think accurately and, why not, the habit. What links all the lieder is, precisely, the romanticism mentioned by Schumann in his letter to Clara, the atmosphere that pervades the whole work. If we read the poems, we will see that most of them take place in the forest, often at night; loneliness, uprooting, loss, sadness, legends, threatening nature, pantheism... images that follow each other and create a purely romantic atmosphere; during the approximately thirty minutes that the cycle lasts, we feel ourselves part of a very specific time and landscape.
I think there is little doubt that this Schumann's cycle is a masterpiece and one of the most important in the repertoire but, surprisingly enough, I've hardly talked about it. We listened to four of its songs so far (Intermezzo, Waldesgespräch, Mondnacht, Auf einer Burg and Frühlingsnacht) but rereading the posts a few weeks ago I realised that I hadn't introduced it properly. There are still "beginner cycles" to be presented!
Today we're listening to Wolfgang Holzmair and Imogen Cooper performing In der Fremde, the first song of the cycle, that shouldn't be confused with In der Fremde, the ninth, or with any of the three In der Fremde that we find in Wolf's song collection; We're speaking of five different poems. When in doubt, we usually refer to the initial words; in this case, Aus der Heimat. In the first edition of the cycle, from 1842, our In der Fremde wasn't the first lied, but Der frohe Wandersmann, a piece composed by Schumann in June, a month after finishing the rest, where a wanderer lively begins his way (it has a similar nature to Das Wandern, the first Lied of Die schöne Müllerin. In the second and definitive edition of 1850, thas Lied was replaced by In der Fremde (in this case, we could translate the title to "Far from home"). Beyond their musical qualities when considering them as isolated pieces, is there some difference on the whole, depending on which song is the first one? In my opinion, yes; if you want to form an opinion you could listen to Der frohe Wilderman (published as Op. 77/1) and then to the Liederkreis, from Intermezzo on.
In der Fremde marks from the beginning the romantic atmosphere: the sense of not belonging, the threatening presence (real or symbolic) of a storm, death or a very usual concept at that time, the Waldeinsamkeit. This word isn't easy to translate, literally means "solitude in the woods", but the idea is easy to understand: have you ever been alone in the woods and felt at peace through communion with nature? Well, that's Waldeinsamkeit. This peace mentioned in the penultimate verse can't hide the certainty of being forgotten that closes the poem; we, the listeners, we'll decide if there is resignation, calmness, affliction or bitterness in those words. And whatever our perception, we will still have eleven more songs keep immersed in the imaginary of romanticism.
Aus der Heimat hinter den Blitzen rot
Da kommen die Wolken her,
Aber Vater und Mutter sind lange tot,
Es kennt mich dort keiner mehr.
Wie bald, ach wie bald kommt die stille Zeit,
Da ruhe ich auch, und über mir
Rauscht die schöne Waldeinsamkeit,
Und keiner kennt mich mehr hier.
From the direction of home, behind the red flashes of lightning
There come clouds,
But Father and Mother are long dead;
No one there knows me anymore.
How soon, ah, how soon will that quiet time come,
When I too shall rest, and over me
the beautiful forest's loneliness shall rustle,
And no one here shall know me anymore.
(translation by Emily Ezust)