“Fleeting” #12: Volkslied and Die Lotosblume

Welcome back to my site. This post is about two songs that open the new section: Fleeting Moments. (If you would like to see the entire program, please visit here.)

Clara Schumann, Volkslied (1840)

Heinrich Heine

Es fiel ein Reif in der Frühlingsnacht,  
Es fiel auf die zarten Blaublümelein: 
Sie sind verwelket, verdorret. 

Ein Jüngling hatte ein Mädchen lieb; 
Sie flohen heimlich von Hause fort,  
Es wusst’ weder Vater noch Mutter.

Sie sind gewandert hin und her,  
Sie haben gehabt weder Glück noch Stern,
Sie sind gestorben, verdorben.  

(English Translation by Richard Stokes)

There fell a frost one night in spring,
It fell on the tender forget-me-nots:
They are now blighted, withered.

A young man loved a maiden;
In secret they eloped together;
Neither father nor mother knew.

They wandered to and fro;
They had neither luck nor guiding star;
They perished, died.[1]

It is probably not an exaggeration to describe Clara Schumann’s life as “one of musical triumph and personal tragedy”.[2]Born to musicians in Leipzig, Germany in 1819, she received her musical training from her father, Friedrich Wieck who had acquired a reputation as an excellent piano teacher. By age eleven, she made her formal solo debut in Leipzig, performed in Paris at age twelve, and excited audiences in Vienna at age eighteen.[3]She was dubbed “Europe’s Queen of the Piano” by notable pianists such as Liszt and had a remarkable career as a concert pianist for over sixty years.[4]On the other hand, her personal life was tormented by a series of painful events such as the divorce of her parents in her early childhood, the bitter fight with her father over her marriage to Robert Schumann, the mental illness and loss of her husband, the illness of one son who spent forty years in a mental institution, and the loss of four children who predeceased her.[5]However, those events were perhaps a significant part of what made her the artist she was. While the audiences were accustomed to showy variations on popular and operatic melodies, Clara Schumann introduced works by J.S. Bach (1685-1750), Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757), Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), Franz Schubert (1797-1828), Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849), Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847), and her husband Robert Schumann.[6]She was her husband’s spokesperson “since Robert Schumann was the only composer of piano music among his contemporaries who did not perform in public” due to the problems with his hand as previously mentioned.[7]

In addition to performing, Clara Schumann composed. Despite the fact that many of her works were published and her husband Robert Schumann encouraged her composition, in reality it was a struggle partly due to the fact that Schumann’s creative work had to come first.[8]Clara’s following statement exposes her complex relationship with composing:

“I once thought that I possessed creative talent, but I have given up this idea. A woman must not desire to compose – not one has been able to do it, and why should I expect to? It would be arrogance, although indeed, my father led me into it in earlier days.”[9]

After her husband’s death, Clara Schumann stopped composing (except for one march she composed for a friend’s anniversary).[10]

The reasons why Volkslied was selected for Fleeting Moments in this program are twofold: the “fleeting moment” experienced by the young man and maiden in the poem and the happiness that Clara and Robert were allowed to enjoy when this song was conceived. After a court battle with Clara’s father who was staunchly against their marriage, Clara and Robert finally wed in 1840, and on their first Christmas together, Clara presented three songs, including Volkslied, to her husband.[11]It is worth noting that 1840 also happens to be Robert Schumann’s Liederjahr (year of song), in which he composed more than one hundred and sixty vocal works.[12]Clara’s decision to choose this poem at this point in her life is fascinating and at the same time almost ironic because the poem probably implies what the couple could have faced if they had chosen to elope rather than fighting in the court. Or given that Clara was forbidden by the doctors to visit Schumann in the mental institution during the last two and a half years except for the last two days of his life, her selection of this poem was maybe foreshadowing the tragic ending they were to face.[13]

Heinrich Heine (1797-1856) is cited as a source of the text for Volkslied, but the text is in fact merely quoted by Heine.[14]It is the second poem in the set of three poems comprising Heine’s Tragödie (Tragedy), but the poet himself admitted that he was not the author of the second poem and noted that it was “a real folksong which I heard on the Rhine”.[15]As a matter of fact, the poem appears as a folksong in Deutsche Volkslieder, compiled by Andreas Kretzschmer and August Wilhelm von Zuccalmaglio, a collection of German folksongs, which also played an important role for the folksong settings by Johannes Brahms (1833-1897).[16]The poem is attributed to Zuccalmaglio in Oxford Book of German Verse (Second Edition), and the Schumanns personally knew Zuccalmaglio, but interestingly the Schumanns considered this poem as Heine’s.[17] (Robert Schumann also composed Tragödie, op. 64, no. 3 based on Heine’s Tragödie, possibly inspired by Clara’s Volkslied.)[18] By giving the title Volkslied to the song, Clara may have indirectly acknowledged the root of the text.[19] 

The song is in the modified strophic form in which basically the same music is given to the first and third stanzas but the music for the second stanza is markedly different; the second stanza starts in the major mode probably in response to “Ein Jüngling hatte ein Mädchen lieb” (A young man loved a maiden), followed by a dramatic rise that expresses the momentary freedom the couple is allowed to savor, reaching the highest point of the song in terms of both the pitch and dynamics. As the couple follows the path to their tragic fate, the music also sinks and perishes. The postlude by the piano effectively communicates the poignancy and gives the audience a chance to reflect, which is reminiscent of Robert Schumann’s song cycles such as Dichterliebe and Frauen-Liebe und Leben, both also written in 1840.

Robert Schumann, VII. Die Lotosblume, Myrthen, op. 25 (1840)

Die Lotosblume
Heinrich Heine

Die Lotosblume ängstigt
Sich vor der Sonne Pracht, 
Und mit gesenktem Haupte
Erwartet sie träumend die Nacht. 
Der Mond, der ist ihr Buhle
Er weckt sie mit seinem Licht, 
Und ihm entschleiert sie freundlich
Ihr frommes Blumengesicht.
Sie blüht und glüht und leuchtet
Und starret stumm in die Höh’; 
Sie duftet und weinet und zittert
Vor Liebe und Liebesweh.

The Lotus-Flower
(English Translation by Richard Stokes)

The lotus-flower fears
The sun’s splendour,
And with bowed head,
Dreaming, awaits the night.
The moon is her lover,
And wakes her with his light,
And to him she tenderly unveils
Her innocent flower-like face.
She blooms and glows and gleams,
And gazes silently aloft—
Fragrant and weeping and trembling
With love and the pain of love.[20]

In early 1840, the Liederjahr (year of song), Robert Schumann shared with his fiancée Clara in a letter that he was working on new music:

“Since yesterday morning, I have written about twenty-seven pages of music (something new) … while composing I laughed and cried from joy.”[21]

The new music he mentioned was Myrthen, op. 25, a song cycle consisting of twenty-six songs for voice and piano, which was a wedding gift that Schumann was preparing to present to Clara.[22] The title Myrthen (Myrtles) comes from its association with bridal wreaths. Unlike Dichterliebe, op. 48 and Frauenliebe und -leben, op. 42, the texts of the twenty-six songs in the cycle are not by a single poet but by multiple poets including Heinrich Heine (1797-1856), Friedrich Rückert (1788-1866), Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), Lord Byron (1788-1824), and Thomas Moore (1779-1852).[23]

Die Lotosblume is the seventh song in Myrthen, based on a poem by Heine, to whom Clara attributed the text of her Volkslied as previously discussed. In the original key, the music modulates from F major to the remote key of A-flat major (relative major of the parallel minor) in response to “Der Mond, der ist ihr Buhle, Er weckt sie mit seinem Licht” (The moon is her lover, And wakes her with his light), and reaches its climax with the word “zittert” (trembling). A-flat major is an important key in this song cycle as it is the key that opens and closes the entire work.

Die Lotosblume was selected to be part of Fleeting Moments in the program for the two reasons similar to those for Volkslied: the brief moment that the lotus flower reveals herself to the moon in the text and the fleeting moment of happiness in Robert and Clara’s lives. With the tempo marking Ziemlich langsam (quite slow) and the soft dynamic range between pianissimo and pianoDie Lotosblume reveals the Eusebius side of Schumann.  (You can read more about Robert Schumann here.)

If you are interested in reading the full program notes with more detailed analyses, you can access them here:

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[1]“Volkslied [1840],” on Oxford Lieder (accessed July 16 2018), https://www.oxfordlieder.co.uk.

[2]Nancy B. Reich, “Schumann [née Wieck], Clara (Josephine),” on Grove Music Online (accessed July 7 2018), http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com.







[9]Harold C. Schonberg, The Lives of the Great Composers, 3rd ed. (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1997), 76.




[13]Reich, “Schumann [née Wieck], Clara (Josephine),” on Grove Music Online.

[14]Graham Johnson, “Volkslied: Introduction,” on Hyperion Records (accessed July 16 2018),  https://www.hyperion-records.co.uk.






[20]  “Myrthen (1840) op. 25,” on Oxford Lieder (accessed July 16 2018), https://www.oxfordlieder.co.uk.

[21]Iosif Raiskin, “Robert Schumann. A Bouquet of Love Songs,” on Mariinsky Theatre (accessed July 21 2018), https://www.mariinsky.ru.


[23]Raiskin, “Robert Schumann. A Bouquet of Love Songs,” on Mariinsky Theatre; Daverio and Sams, “Schumann, Robert,” on Grove Music Online.  

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