Musical Pairs: Mondnacht


Today, I'm excited to share with you two video recordings from our recent program, The Art of Song: Musical Pairs! Just to recap, Steve and I chose to perform two settings of "Mondnacht"–one by Schumann and one by Brahms.  There are several common musical features that suggest Brahms used Schumann's setting as a model:

1. Meter + perpetual motion. Both composers used 3/8 meter and sustained a sense of perpetual motion (suggested by the text) with constant sixteenth notes in the piano accompaniment.

2. Plagal "Amen" cadence. Both settings include a plagal or "Amen" cadence near the end, underscoring the last two words of the text - "nach Haus" (to home). This implies not only a sense of arrival and resolution but also a sense of rest (perhaps eternal rest, as suggested in the text).

3. Introductions. The introductions in both song settings are the same length (six measures), include a fragmented melody (stated twice), and end on a dominant, unresolved chord. This sense of suspension at the end of the introduction leaves the listener waiting for the vocal line.

Here is our performance of Schumann's setting:

And, for comparison, here is the Brahms setting (minus the final two chords because our camera died–so sorry!)

What do you think?  Do you hear the similarities between these two songs?  Did Brahms set this text as a tribute to the Schumanns or was he trying to compete with Robert?

Read more about this concert here, here, and here.

The Art of Song - Part III

Where would this lecture recital sketch be without Robert Schumann's "Mondnacht" with text by Joseph von Eichendorff? In addition to providing language contrast, the title (translated "Moonlit Night") is consistent with the celestial theme (sun, moon, and stars - see?) From the 1840 song cycle, Liederkreis, Op. 39, this piece may be most famous for its embedded code. Schumann used the pitches E-B-E repeatedly. The significance? "Ehe" is the German word for "marriage" and in German music, B-flat=B while B-natural=H. This song cycle is from the year Robert and Clara were married. The text reads as follows: It was as though the sky had softly kissed the earth, so that she, in a gleam of blossom, had now to dream of him.

The breeze ran through the fields, the ears of corn gently swayed, the woods rustled faintly, the night was so starry and clear.

And my soul spread wide its wings, flew over the silent land, as if it were flying home.

Beautiful text yet it leaves us to wonder - who is the girl? Who is he that appears in her dreams? Where does this story take place? What time of day is it? Where is home, as mentioned in the last line? Where is the character who is speaking? Listen to Hans Hotter and Gerald Moore in this stirring rendition.

In conclusion, three composers: Copland, Chausson, and Schumann. Three languages: English, French, and German. A rough celestial theme: sun, moon, and stars (or at least nocturnal with all texts taking place at the end of the day). Three scenes portraying love: love lost, love found, and love eternal.

Previously: The Art of Song - Part I The Art of Song - Part II