A dose of passion by Schumann

Jimi Hendrix had it right when he observed that “music is a safe kind of high”. He may not have been referring to the sort of examples which you will encounter in these posts, but today’s clip embodies that sentiment perfectly.

Widmung” (“Devotion“) is a short song composed by Robert Schumann (1810-1856), or Cobbler, as we would affectionately call him at home, as a passionate declaration of love for Clara, whom he had met at an early age and married when she became of legal age, despite huge disapproval from her father. Although it is Robert’s music which is better known these days, Clara was herself a highly accomplished musician, composer and concert pianist, and it is possible that Robert felt himself somewhat in her shadow. (Happily, she left us a great deal on which I shall write in a later post.)

Robert’s short life was defined by a precocious talent at the keyboard, cut short by a crippling finger injury; a real gift for the written word; all manner of youthful debauchery, alcoholic and sexual; a depression brought on by manifold personal tragedies; a failed suicide attempt; and finally madness, which consigned him voluntarily to an asylum for the last two years of his life, where the treatment was fairly unforgiving. For all that time, he was not allowed to see his beloved Clara, mother of their eight children over their thirteen years together, until their final touching reunion at his deathbed. She outlived him by nearly forty years and continued her musical career. It is a personal and moving story of real pathos and dedication.

Schumann is now accepted as one of the top composers in the Romantic period, his most famous, and most frequently performed, piece being his piano concerto. But there is lots more besides (he wrote exclusively for the piano until 1840), and this song is one of my all-time favourites. I have selected a recording by Elly Ameling, who strikes the balance between passion and melancholy quite brilliantly. It is short, so I hope a translation will add to your enjoyment:

Du meine Seele, du mein Herz,
Du meine Wonn’, O du mein Schmerz,
Du meine Welt, in der ich lebe,
Mein Himmel du, darein ich schwebe,
O du mein Grab, in das hinab
Ich ewig meinen Kummer gab.Du bist die Ruh, du bist der Frieden,
Du bist vom Himmel mir beschieden.
Daß du mich liebst, macht mich mir wert,
Dein Blick hat mich vor mir verklärt,
Du hebst mich liebend über mich,
Mein guter Geist, mein beßres Ich!
English translation
You my soul, you my heart,
you my bliss, o you my pain,
you the world in which I live;
you my heaven, in which I float,
o you my grave, into which
I eternally cast my grief.You are rest, you are peace,
you are bestowed upon me from heaven.
That you love me makes me worthy of you;
your gaze transfigures me;
you raise me lovingly above myself,
my good spirit, my better self!

The words, by Friedrich Ruckert, should win over anyone. If you’re in a romantic frame of mind today, you could do worse than play this to your loved one; it is a gorgeous tune with longing, sacrifice and desire in abundance.