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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Schumann's musial translation of textual nuance

Schumann's "Liebst du um Schoneit" is a short song setting of a poem Friedrich Ruckhert. The poem is also brief, with four stanzas and considerable repetition between them. In each stanza, Ruckert repeats the phrase "If you love for...(adjective) oh do not love me!" followed by a panged suggestion to love the epitome of the given adjective. Overall, the poem is self-defeating and states that the speaker possesses little beauty, ..., or ... Overall, Schumann does a great job of emulating the structure and contents of the poem using thematic repetition, mode mixture, and text painting to enrich the emotional content of this piece. There are several nuances that the vocalist must attend to in order to ensure a thorough and rewarding performance.
From the first few vocal lines, it becomes clear that Schumann intends to unite poetry with music. After a brief 2 bar piano introduction, the first phrase, "If you love for beauty" is translated to music almost perfectly. Schumann stresses the first syllable of beau-ty with a Db which is exactly how the word is spoken. Through this emphasis, she also is able to translate the overall exclamation of the remark. Interestingly in the second half of the line "oh do not love me," the I turns to a i which is a prime example of mode mixture. This minor one coincides with the rather gloomy defeatist attitude of the speaker. The minor i is also rather unexpected, which parallels the rather deviated consequent phrase. As the borrowing from the minor i coincides with withe the remorseful previous statement, there is also borrowing from the minor mode that helps reflect the positive outlook in each of the seconds stanzas. As you can see in measure 9 for example, the III is another example of mode mixture when describing beauty, treasure, etc. Mode mixture also plays a crucial role in text painting, through adding additional effect to the words in the original poem.

I have chosen to analyze the first stanza's worth of music in order to further explain the mode mixture that is used throughout (as the stanzas are fairly similar).

mm. 1 I V43 V7
mm. 2 I V43 V7
mm. 3 I V43 V7
mm. 4 I V43 V7
mm. 5 I i
mm. 6 vio6 V
mm. 7 ii
mm. 8 vi43
mm. 9 I III
mm. 10 III V

As you can see in measure 6, the vio6 is also contributing to the tension created by the i in the previous measure.
The second stanza begins fairly similarly with no harmonic or textural changes for the first four bars (mm. 11-14) other than a slight melodic syncopation in measure 13, suggesting increased intensity. The descending bass notes from Bb-Eb are a suggestion of some sort of sequence - descending seconds.
mm. 15 vi ii
mm. 16 IV v7/V
mm. 17 V
mm. 18 I
This first stanza is the first of three that include mode mixture to stress the absence of beauty, youth, and treasure respectively. The fourth and final stanza however, has a far more positive outlook, as the vocalist exclaims "If you love for love, oh yes, do love me!" Interestingly, while the text is clearly far more positive, Schumann does not alter her use of the i in measure 31. This may be an example of foreshadowing, or some sort of darker undercurrent to the song, suggesting that the speakers love is and will not be reciprocal. Also in this final stanza, the tempo picks up, while the piano accompaniment begins to be more skeletal. While in the first three stanzas, the piano was quite thick, it hardly outlines the underlying chords.
The lighter accompaniment, coupled with the accents in the vocal line suggest that it is the vocalists turn to really increase their intensity and take a leading role in delivering the final, crucial lines of the poem. Text painting that occurs in the vocal line is pretty straight-forward, however I feel that this is constrained significantly because of the repetition throughout the piece. Words like 'treasure,' 'youth,' and 'beauty,' while they receive special treatment with mode mixture, as mentioned previously.
While this song is short and laid out simply, it is important to notice the subtleties within the piece and how closely they are written to modelo Ruckert's poem.

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