92. Robert Schumann’s Beim Abschied zu singen for band and chorus

In 1958, while a student at the University of Michigan I auditioned for and was selected as associate first horn in the American Wind Symphony, a summer concert series of six weeks located in Pittsburgh. With the help of a local sponsor, the Heinz Food Company [“57 Varieties”] Robert Boudreau created a wind ensemble of 57 players made up of students from the top music schools in the country. Over the following seasons he commissioned more than 400 compositions by the leading composers of the world for this wind symphony. And these are fine, serious compositions which make a great contribution to the band’s repertoire. These works are unfortunately difficult to program by most university programs because Boudreau had organized his symphony with the basic core of instrumentation being six times the instrumentation of the common woodwind quintet. For even the best programs it is not easy to find 6 bassoons, 6 oboes, etc., thus these compositions have not had the breadth of performance they deserve.

Nevertheless, playing these concerts was a life-changing experience for me. At that time, 1958, university bands were still playing the kind of repertoire associated with Sousa-type bands in the park – lots of marches, trumpet trios and even comedy works. Therefore I was astonished to find myself performing original wind band compositions by great composers such as Villa Lobos, Bruckner, Mozart, Gounod and the subject of this essay, Schumann. It followed that I was inspired to devote much of my career as a conductor to searching in European libraries for unknown serious compositions for band.

This performance is part of a series of video programs made by David Whitwell at CSUN during the 1970s.

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 very 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 July 10, 1847. Schumann on this occasion conducted the premiere performance of this work, which he called a Lied für Chor mit Blasinstrumenten.

The beautiful but nostalgic character of this composition may well have been influenced by the unexpected early death a month before, on May 14, 1847 of their close friend, herself a well-known composer, Fanny Mendelssohn, sister to the great composer, 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 his wife, 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.

For the text for this song Schumann chose a poem by Ernst Freiherr von Feuchtersleben (1806–1849), which in English 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 Wiedersehen.”

Wagner, who was a resident in Dresden while Schumann lived there, no doubt heard this work, for he used the same text for one of his composition 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. Beethoven wrote a tavern song, Woo109, with the same title, but with an entirely different text.

This is an important part of the band’s repertoire and I recommend it very highly. This masterpiece by Schumann is available through the amazing catalog by Maxime’s Music at concertbandmusicstore.com.