On the Schumann Abschied zu singen

This won­der­ful work for cho­rus and winds was com­posed after Schu­mann and his fam­i­ly moved to Dres­den in Decem­ber 1844. It was soon after this move that the health of Schu­mann began to sink. His doc­tor, Dr. Hel­big, record­ed that Schu­mann suf­fered from exhaus­tion, insom­nia, audi­to­ry delu­sions, depres­sion, tremors and var­i­ous pho­bias. All this the doc­tor attrib­uted to Schu­man­n’s con­cen­tra­tion on com­po­si­tion which the doc­tor urged Schu­mann to aban­don. For­tu­nate­ly Schu­mann did not fol­low this advice for this became a very pro­duc­tive peri­od of six years in which more than one third of his com­po­si­tions were created.

Fol­low­ing some sub­scrip­tion con­certs in Dres­den which were not suc­cess­ful, Robert and Clara made a tour to Vien­na and Berlin where again their per­for­mances were not suc­cess­ful, due to lack of local prepa­ra­tion. It must, there­fore, have been encour­ag­ing when Karl Emanuel Klitzsch (1812–1889), a friend of the Schu­man­n’s and one of the co-founders of the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik and the music direc­tor in Schu­man­n’s home­town of Zwick­au, orga­nized a music fes­ti­val in hon­or of Schu­mann on 10 July 1847. Schu­mann on this occa­sion con­duct­ed the pre­miere per­for­mance of this work, which he called a Lied für Chor mit Blasin­stru­menten.

The somber and nos­tal­gic char­ac­ter of this com­po­si­tion may well have been influ­enced by the unex­pect­ed ear­ly death a month before, on 14 May 1847 of their close friend Fan­ny Mendelssohn, sis­ter to Felix Mendelssohn. Schu­mann men­tioned the char­ac­ter of this work in a let­ter of 29 June 1847 to Klitzsch, when the fes­ti­val was being planned:

Here is my farewell song. I find it a lit­tle melan­choly, but we should at least give it a try! If we feel it is too sad as a final piece, then we can omit it. 

The com­po­si­tion was per­formed, with Schu­mann con­duct­ing, on a pro­gram which includ­ed his sec­ond Sym­pho­ny and piano Con­cer­to, with Clara as the soloist.

Lat­er Klitzsch wrote a glow­ing review of the com­po­si­tion in the Neue Zeitschrit für Musik of August 1850.

A rather warm and pas­sion­ate com­po­si­tion which swelled from the com­poser’s heart. This song radi­ates this pas­sion and is so close to Schu­man­n’s char­ac­ter that we can­not expect a dif­fer­ent inter­pre­ta­tion than the one pre­sent­ed. The entire piece is very sim­ple, the cho­rus alter­nates with the soloists, where­by there are many shad­ings to enhance the attrac­tion of the sonori­ties, fur­ther enhanced by the dis­creet sup­port of the wind instru­ments. While it is a sim­ple song and easy to per­form, it still requires great del­i­ca­cy in inter­pre­ta­tion.1

For the text for this song Schu­mann chose a poem by Ernst Frei­herr von Feuchter­sleben (1806–1849), which in trans­la­tion reads,

It is certain in God's wisdom
that from our dearest loved one
we must part,
even if there is nothing in the world
that falls, oh! so bitterly on the heart
as such parting, yes parting.

As to you is given a small bud,
thus put it into a tumbler,
but know this, yes know it!,
a little rose that blooms tomorrow,
the following night will see it wither,
know that, yes know it.

And as God has given you a devotion
and you hold that love quite dearly,
as your own!
It will be about eight boards, then,
you soon will put her in!,
weep then, yes weep!

Now, you must also understand me properly,
yes, understand!
If people do thus part, then,
they say: we'll see each other again,
yes, again.

In the Ger­man text the song ends with a phrase which, thanks to the movie, The Sound of Music, is known to all Eng­lish speak­ers—auf Wieder­se­h’n.

Per­haps Wag­n­er, who was in Dres­den while Schu­mann lived there, heard this work, for he used the same text for one of his com­po­si­tions in 1858, “Es ist bes­timmt in Gottes Rat,” WWV 92. Still lat­er, Fer­ruc­cio Busoni (1866–1924) also used this text in his Zwei Lieder, Nr. 2 of 1879. Curi­ous­ly, Beethoven wrote a tav­ern song, Woo109, with the same title, but entire­ly dif­fer­ent text.

David Whitwell
Austin, 2014

  1. Quot­ed in Gina Pel­le­gri­no, Robert Schu­mann and the Gesangvere­in: The Dres­den Years (1844–1850). St. Louis: Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­si­ty, Elec­tron­ic Dis­ser­ta­tions, Jan­u­ary 2011, 144. []