Robert Schumann’s Nachtlied, Op. 108 for eight-part chorus and orchestra drifts into the serene, magical world of sleep.
Schumann composed this autumnal choral song over the course of a week in November, 1849. It is a setting of a poem by Friedrich Hebbel (1813-1863) in which death is met first with fear and then with acceptance. The song begins with a sense of haunting mystery, with the obsessive repetition of a short, disjointed motif. There are echoes of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in the quietly transcendent chorale which closes the work. In the final moments, a wispy descending pizzicato line evaporates with the nimbleness of a departing ghost. The clarinet emerges as a wistful, reflective voice.
Rising and burgeoning night,
full of lights and stars;
in the eternal far-away distance
tell us: what has been awakened?
Heart and chest are tightening,
ascending, declining life;
I feel its gigantic web
weaving to displace me.
Sleep, now you come near me softly
like the nursemaid to the child,
and around the sparse flame
you draw a guarding circle.
(English translation by Erika Joyce)
- Schumann: Nachtlied “Quellende, schwellende Nacht”, Op.108 (For Chorus And Orchestra), John Eliot Gardiner, Monteverdi Choir, Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique Amazon