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Poem And Music In The German Lied

787 words - 3 pages

In his book Poem and Music in the German Lied, Jack Stein attempts to evaluate the fidelity of Schumann's music in Dichterliebe to the poems he appropriated from Heine's Lyrisches Intermezzo. Stein asserts that, although he certainly caught some of the nuance of Heine's work, Schumann often ignored the text's "caustic" and "ironic" components which results in a "sweetening and sentimentalizing of Heine's sharp, pointed verse." Stein progresses through the song cycle chronologically, pointing out the many songs he believes to be unfaithful while noting a few instances he finds true to Heine's text.
Throughout his argument, Stein focuses on the score's "word-tone relationship"--on whether the form (strophic vs. through-composed) and tone of each song, and even of each stanza, is reflective of Heine's poetry. In discussing song number 6, Stein asserts that "the ridiculous rhymes...ought to have warned Schumann away from his straight-faces, pompous, patriotic-religious treatment." Stein seems to be admonishing Schumann for ignoring what he thinks is an obvious sign in the text and therefore not capturing the essence of that poem. Midway through the chapter, Stein points to two more weaknesses in Schumann's composition: that he ignores the importance of the form of Heine's poetry and that he omits and rearranges poems, breaking up closely linked pairs of poems.
Most of Stein's analysis struck me as valid and well-supported. Much of the charm of Heine's poetry from Lyrisches Intermezzo comes from its elements of irony and wit; although the cycle starts with a beautifully simple love poem, the text becomes, as Stein puts it, "more and more bizarre" as it unfolds. And upon first hearing Dichterliebe along with a translated version of the text, I must admit that some of the songs, especially number 11, surprised me in how much sweeter the music sounded than the words the voice sang. There is also no arguing that Schumann did essentially pick and choose poems from Heine's collection and not necessarily maintain an order that is true to Heine's intentions.
When it comes to agreeing or disagreeing with Stein's assertion, however, the real question is whether or not Schumann's music in Dichterliebe is, as Stein argues,...

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