In September of 1840, Robert Schumann presented a collection of 26 songs, composed the previous spring, to his beloved Clara as a wedding gift. The cycle, Myrthen, Op. 25, contains intimate musical ciphers and codes which had personal meaning to the couple. Myrtle flowers, referenced in the title, are associated with Aphrodite, the goddess of love.
Based on a poem by Friedrich Rückert, the opening song, Widmung (“Dedication”), begins with the lines,
You my soul, you my heart,
You my rapture, O you my pain,
You my world in which I live…
Set in A-flat major, Widmung begins with gushing, heart-skipping arpeggiating lines in the piano. The melody blossoms with passionate, upward-reaching inflections. The harmony is adorned with sensuous sixths. The song is a joyful encapsulation of rapturous, youthful love.
Franz Liszt transformed Schumann’s intimate love song into a soaring expression of virtuosic bravura. The melody’s first statement in the soprano register is answered by a second tenor statement. The climactic final moments erupt in a dazzling musical fireworks display which traverses the expanse of the keyboard. In Liszt’s hands, the melody takes on a spectacular new boldness and grandeur.
This performance, featuring Evgeny Kissin, was recorded at the 2010 Verbier Festival:
- Schumann: Myrthen, Op. 25, Widmung, Barbara Bonney, Vladimir Ashkenazy Amazon
- Schumann/Liszt: Widmung, Evgeny Kissin Amazon
Featured Image: a facsimile of Schumann’s manuscript