The Genesis of Schumann's Dichterliebe by Rufus Hallmark

UMI Research Press (Ann Arbor, 2/1979)



Many musicians are either amused or be­mused by modern manuscript musicology. If art is essentially expression or communication, then commentary had better concentrate on what comes out, not what went in. But music, it may be argued, remains personal and private even when printed and performed. Let other arts entail an exodus towards real life in a real world; music is more akin to genesis, an image of creativity itself. This quasi-Schopenhauerian view may underlie the approach, as well as the title, of Dr Hallmark's detailed and in some respects penetrating study.

     It begins with some background consideration of Schumann and Heine, severally and jointly. Terms are defined and sources described. Then Schumann’s supposed compositional procedures are reconstructed from the surviving drafts and sketches, throughout the set of “20 Heine-Lieder” from which the cycle op.48 was assembled (leaving four spares, later built into opp. 127 and 142). There follow some analytical observations on declamation, tempo, tonality and structure, finished off with a final drawing-together of threads, some of which by that time are looking rather well worn. Further loose ends are thriftily worked into an Appendix of  Additional Notes. There are 8 tables and 14 plates, with 22 pages of rather leisurely footnotes and an inflated bibliography of some 200 sources. The copious music examples are handwritten and  homely-looking;  some of the poetry quoted is misaligned; the autograph material is not always clearly reproduced; the index is not uniformly reliable; there are half-a-dozen misprints. In other respects the book is a model research publication in its scholarly concern for its topic and its diligent devotion to detail. However, it strikes me as anything but definitive.

     Let's suppose with Dr Hallmark that it is both permissible and sensible to invade music’s privacy by investigating the “conception, gestation and birth” of op. 48; let’s suppose also that some such process actually existed, that it can be objectively as well as obstetrically described, and that its presumed reconstruction has more than marginal aesthetic interest and relevance. At least these hypotheses offer some criteria; for if they are true, then readers ought to be able to identify and share the “noteworthy insight” and “deeper understanding” which Dr Hallmark himself experienced during his research. But we cannot help noticing, since he is so commendably meticulous in displaying the original German texts of cited material, that his own translations can be insecure (thus “Da wirst Du Augen machen” is hardly  “It will open your eyes”, not is “ich möchte” just ”I may”); and this makes it rather difficult to accept without question all his many assurances about the subtler linguistic nuances of Heine's irony or prosody. This in turn is detrimental to studies which, as we are repeatedly and rightly told, entail the deepest understanding of poetry as well as music.

     An even bulkier stumbling-block is the so-called “creative process”. Dr Hallmark feels that this is indeed objectively inferable, but only by those who have seen and studied the surviving source material. I fear he is at some risk of showing the contrary, for his own thesis seems to me quite incompatible with the data he describes. The documents adduced are of two kinds: (a) a double leaf dated 24-5 May 1840 containing sketches, mostly vocal only, of 11 Heine settings, and (b) complete drafts dated 24 May-1 June 1840 of those songs plus nine others. Dr Hallmark supposes that (a) is the first written stage of a projected Heine collection of undetermined length, while (b) was intended as the engraver's copy of a 20-song Heine cycle. But it seems to me unthinkable that the earliest written stage of a given project, and also the final written stage of its comprehensive revision, can both have begun on the same day. On Dr Hallmark's own pre-natal analogy, this makes conception coincide with contractions.

     For the rest, there is copious factual description of the drafts and the detailed variants and amendments. But unless readers are especially avid for those data as such, the main interest must reside in the inferences drawn; and these often seem to me neither entailed by the evidence nor persuasive as intuitions. Thus I doubt whether Ein Jüngling liebt ein Mädchen can seriously be described as “comic relief”, while the idea that Dichterliebe was designed to resolve the apparent contradiction between Heine's public image and the “warm, sympathetic person” that Schumann believed him to be strikes me as totally implausible. In sum, then, this book will afford other research workers the best available alternative to a personal scrutiny of autographs housed in Zwickau and Berlin; but when it ventures beyond the plain facts it seems to me to suggest that the idea of musical genesis is just another creation myth, with at best the status of a myth-conception.


The Musical Times, Jun., 1981 (p. 382-383) © the estate of eric sams