Song cycle was undoubtedly the crowning artistic form in early romantic music, in the times of growing importance of bourgeoisie and in consequence the great social change of culture and music. Most popular romantic cycles of songs were composed by Franz Schubert, Robert Schumann, Hector Berlioz and later by Johannes Brahms, Hugo Wolf, Richard Wagner and Gustav Mahler but there were many more composers all over the Europe and Americas. Even in late romanticism, when symphonic poem became trendy the idea of cyclic musical form based on song was alive. New cycles of songs were still created in the twentieth century but rather for public performances since there was no longer social background for societal performing practice.
This high artistic position of song cycle was also preserved by social practice. While in many homes of 19th century singing was common activity, wealthier part of societal life was animated by professional and semiprofessional private concerts. Romantic song was form derived both from earlier aria da capo and from the idea of a narrative ballad so significant in folk music and in romantic ideas. Based on romantic song form, song cycles were heard only during very special evenings, as requiring professional shape of singer and accompanist. Such singing performances were central event in many societal occasions.
|Robert Schumann – Diechterliebe and Liederkreis op. 24 (1965)|
After his marriage with Clara Wieck, Robert Schumann has devoted almost exclusively to one type of musical works and for one year he was consecutively composing song cycles. One of very first in this Liederjahr series was Liederkreis op. 24, cycle of nine songs to poems by Heinrich Heine. During the same ‘year of songs’ Schumann composed his most famous cycles Liederkreis op. 39 (to poems by Joseph von Eichendorff), Frauenliebe und –leben op. 42 (to poems by Adelbert von Chamisso) and Dichterliebe op. 48 cycle of sixteen songs to texts taken from Lyrisches Intermezzo by Heinrich Heine. Dichterliebe (Poet’s Love) became one of most popular cycles in history of the genre. One of best recordings awarded with Orphee D’or was 1957 recording by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau with Jörg Demus for Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft and published with 6 Songs by Johannes Brahms (18370). This recording was reedited in 1965 with Schumann’s Liederkreis op. 24 (LPM 39 109). This way two song cycles by Heine and Schumann were bound in one album.
|Robert Schumann – Die alten, bösen Lieder (1957)|
Last song of the Dichterliebe cycle (No 16) was also the last poems of Heinrich Heine’s Lyrisches Intermezzo (No 65). In this song called Die alten, bösen Lieder (The Old Bad Songs) poet says it’s time to bury old bad songs with angry and bitter dreams in great and heavy coffin which could contain all his love and suffering. This form of poetic imagery shows how much romantic poets were reliant of folk inspirations. Comparing to other romantic composers, Schumann gives piano more autonomous role in creating emotional narration and in construction of the composition. One of effects was two minute piano coda in last song of the cycle, where he gives an instrumental commentary to the song.
As love was main thematic background of whole romantic culture, song merging poetry and music was perfect construction for emotional content. While many songs and musical compositions were devoted to different feelings and stories, in cycles of songs love is dominant theme. It can be brotherly love or parents’ love to children. But what makes this subject so significant from social point of view, love is an element of personal freedom or expression of rebellion against unjust societal rules. This was one of elements in cultural movement strengthened the position of new social force which has changed the history of whole human civilization.