Visitor to a moonlit churchyard - James Loutherbourg
Visitor to a moonlit churchyard - J. Loutherbourg
I find it strange how the horrors that surround us can awaken such poetic feelings in Robert , which are in appearance, so different to all of this. (Clara Schumann on his diary , March 1849)
Storms make the man turn back to himself, and I have found in my work a consolation for these terrible external events (Robert Schumann to Ferdinand Heller , April 1, 1849)
In 1848 and 1849, Germany lived from one revolution to another in different cities and in Dresden, where the Schumanns lived, it broke out in May 1949. Coinciding with this atmosphere of horrors and storms, Robert went back to Lieder after eight years of silence. The last week of March, he wrote the first cycle, Spanisches Liederspiel, op. 74; then Spanische Liebeslieder, op.138; between late April and early May he wrote Liederalbum für die Jugend, op. 79, (we talked about that one few weeks ago in order to celebrate spring). He kept on writing the whole year, to complete more than seventy Lieder.

Today we are talking about the Spanisches Liederspiel (Play of Spanish songs), where Schumann returned to Geibel and his collection of Spanish poetry Volkslieder und Romanzen der Spanier; he had already written a song from one of his poems, Der Hidalgo, in August 1840. In his new cycle, Schumann wrote ten Lieder for four voices (soprano, mezzo, tenor and baritone): three solos, five duets and two quartets. We are listening to no.4 In der Nacht (At night), the soprano and tenor's duet; it is a gorgeous nocturne, one of the Schumann’s pearls. I wonder why such a beautiful song is still (relatively) unknown. If you think I'm exaggerating, please wait to hear it!

Emmanuel Geibel's poem is based on one songs from the Cancionero de Palacio (a Spanish manuscript of Renaissance music), Todos duermen, corazón (All are sleeping, weary heart) by an anonymous author. It's a very short poem, just six verses, and it is a lament: the sorrows of love keep the heart awaken. With those six verses, Schumann, the same one that years ago had written the briefest Lieder ever, wrote a Lied that lasts more than five minutes, and no note is superfluous.

The song begins with a prelude that reminds us of Bach’s music; the accompaniment and the long phrases keep that sober, spiritual and almost religious atmosphere up to the end. I wonder if Schumann identified that sobriety with the period of time the poem was written, the reign of the Catholic Monarchs. The soprano joins the lied with a long note, sings the first two verses and repeats twice the last words, “nur nicht du” (only you don't). After a brief interlude, she continues and finishes with the repetition of the last verse, "zu seiner Liebe" (to his love). In the meantime, where is the tenor? Haven't we said that it was a duo? The tenor begins while the soprano sings her last words, “zu seiner Liebe”, and keeps singing until the end of the poem, in appearance, oblivious to the presence of the soprano who starts the verses again.

Now the soprano slightly modifies them: she doesn't sing the words “alle Schlafen” (everybody sleep) on the second verse, sings “nicht nur du” only once, as in written, and repeats everything from “schweift...” in the fifth verse, to the end, repeating once more “seiner Liebe zu”. This way, Schumann gets two things: we alternatively hear “nur nicht du” by the tenor and the soprano, reinforcing that feeling that they are not singing together and also, the two voices finally join at the last words. After another brief interlude, they sing together a shortened version of the verses, omitting the words “alle Schlafen” and the third and fourth verses.

My explanation might be a bit confusing, but now you have a really good excuse to listen to the song twice. Or even three times, or four... Trust me, it's one of those songs that stop the time. We are listening to one performed by Geraldine McGreevy and Adrian Thompson accompanied by Graham Johnson.

I hope you really enjoy it and if you don't (again, it might happen), you are very welcome to say so!
In der Nacht 

Alle gingen, Herz, zur Ruh,
alle schlafen, nur nicht du.

Denn der hoffnungslose Kummer
scheucht von deinem Bett den Schlummer,
und dein Sinnen schweift in stummer Sorge
seiner Liebe zu.

¡Todos duermen, corazón,
todos duermen y vos, non!

El dolor que habéis cobrado
siempre os terná desvelado,
qu'el corazón lastimado
recuérdalo la pasión.


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