Schumann / Frauenliebe und -Leben

I have tried with this set of songs. I really have. I have listened to Miah Persson sing them beautifully; I have listened to Sarah Connolly sing them beautifully. I have done due diligence. But I confess I do not like them. Something about these things rubs me the wrong way.

I think part of it is probably the texts. Actually, I think most of it is the texts – and what with Schumann being the song composer that he was, the music brings the texts to life, and this is sort of the problem. The texts are by an individual named Adelbert von Chamisso. He is not made up; I checked. Neither is he a character in a Donizetti opera about Scotland; I checked that too. But the poetry is at once both saccharine and tone-deaf. By tone-deaf I mean it has that quality of a certain type of 19th century man explaining how women feel. Or how he assumes they ought to feel. Given the variety of human nature I am sure that some woman felt precisely like this at least once – but that is not really the point, and Mr. Chamisso would probably have talked over her anyway. There is nothing wrong with writing poems about falling in love, getting hitched, producing offspring and being sad when one’s partner dies. Many of us have done at least a few of those things. So did people in the nineteenth century. Plenty of songs and operas are about such matters. But – well, like I said, these texts rub me the wrong way.

Maybe there is some subversive recording of these out there in which the singer and pianist take what they seem to mean and turn them inside out and/or backwards?

All of that said, my most recent encounter with these songs was on that same recording of Sarah Connolly’s as the Op. 39 Liederkreis, and the treacly poetical stylings of Adelbert von Chamisso notwithstanding, I have listened to it three times and counting.

7 thoughts on “Schumann / Frauenliebe und -Leben

  1. I like Anne Sofie von Otter’s version best I think, but I only like two songs from the cycle. In this order, “Er, der Herrlichste von allen” and “Du ring an meinem finger”. You are right, though. Very overrated cycle!


  2. Ah, those texts. My problem with the song cycle has rather been one of being strongly drawn to it despite the texts, and then being irritated with the texts and myself. Have you heard Waltraud Meier’s recording of them? Not inside-out and backwards, but with an intense individuality that helps counter (imho) the busy self-effacing/passivity of the Chamisso.


    1. I haven’t, but it sounds like I should. (This may be the start of a long week of me listening to various versions of a song cycle I’ve never really enjoyed! But one must be thorough about these things.)


  3. I’ve never cared much about this cycle, maybe I ought to give it another try. However, I have a soft spot for some of the stuff Chamisso wrote elsewhere (his lame performance on FLuL notwithstanding) and he seems altogether like a pretty cool guy. Some remotely-interesting-stuff-you-really-don’t-need-to-know-style facts about our man:
    – Before turning to literature, he had a career as a geographer and took part in one of those botanical/ethnographic voyages of discovery that were all the rage at the time. He even managed to get an island off Alaska named after him.
    – He seems to have had some profile as a proto-anticolonialist writer.
    – Being a French immigrant to Berlin, he only learned German in his late teens, which kinda makes him a German equivalent of Joseph Conrad. In fact, there is a pretty big literary prize in Germany which carries his name and is awarded annually to an “important contemporary German writer whose mother tongue is not German”. The most amazing fact is that they actually managed to come up with a laureate every year since the mid-80s. Just how many people learn German only to become writers in that language?


      1. Some satirical ballads that are quite fun to read, but mostly some of the better novellas of German high romanticism, e.g. one called “Peter Schlemihls wundersame Geschichte”. Somewhat similar to stuff ETA Hoffmann or Achim von Arnim or Clemens Brentano wrote, but somehow, Chamisso’s sense of humour is always a little bit weirder than with those other guys.


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