Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Text and Tone

Without text some tones are incomprehensible.  In that respect Schumann is very like Bach or Mozart.  But when we read Schumann's titles or consider his literary references we are usually engaged on the level of some kind of literal meaning rather than on the level of imagery.

It rarely occurs to us that the imagery might be in the tone itself, not in the word associated with it.

This was the great lesson of the Jagdbevier (Op. 137) we played the other evening.  As the translated poems made clear we were creating not settings of poems but the actual subject matter of those poems, particularly the Daemmer, the pre-dawn half-light in which everything becomes more real than real.

This is Schumann's environment of musical truth; it accounts for the pianissimo marking in so much of his music, for beats that occur over a stretch of time, and for such tempo indications as nicht schnell, leise.  This music transcends music as we are taught to conceptualize it.

Interestingly the work is scored for four of the most dangerous instruments known, natural horns.  One takes one's life in one's hands with them; to sing with them is an enormous satisfaction.  It makes Waldszenen comprehensible.