Poem and Music in the German Lied

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 t...

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...m a desire to have his music see any sort of success. It is often forgotten that composers write music as a career, and they write it for the audiences of their era. They have a deep passion for music that compels their artistry, but, after all, they need to sell copies or have their music performed in order to put food on the table. In the early Romantic period especially, a sharp, witty, ironic sounding song cycle may not have been appealing to an audience expecting beautiful sentimental melodies. Schumann may have known that he was simplifying Heine's complex text into something less extreme, he also was composing music in a style he and his audience were familiar with. Thankfully for the listener, this style is a beautiful one, and despite Jack Stein's criticism, I'm sure he agrees that Dichterliebe is a song cycle that will be loved for centuries to come.
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