Schumann’s week of song

Schumann’s week of song – Kitty Whately and Joseph Middleton performs songs written after the composer’s marriage to Clara

kitty-whately-joseph-middletonKitty Whately (mezzo-soprano)*, Joseph Middleton (piano) – Wigmore Hall, live on BBC Radio 3, 19 January 2015

Listening link (opens in a new window):

on the iPlayer until 21 February


You can also download the song cycle Frauenliebe und –leben (A Woman’s Life and Love) from this performance. Just right click on the red heart and select ‘Save link as’

For non-UK listeners, this Spotify playlist is available:

What’s the music?

Schumann – 5 Songs, Op.40


Schumann – 3 Songs, Op.31

Schumann – Frauenliebe und –leben (A Woman’s Life and Love)


All were written in 1840, and are settings of the poet Adelbert von Chamisso

What about the music?

Schumann’s ‘year of song’ really was a peak of creativity for the composer in 1840, spurred on entirely by his marriage to the elder woman Clara, against her father’s wishes. The songs heard here were all within a single week, and although they capture the breathlessness of recent marriage, they also have a dark side that is fully revealed at the end with the death of the woman’s husband.

The 5 songs that Schumann published as his Op.40 are essentially two lighter songs on the outer edges and three darker, fraut ones on the inside. The three Op.31 are unpredictable and experimental, while Frauenliebe und –leben, a song cycle with a linked theme, is brighter and beautifully structured, with some shorter songs here.

Performance verdict

Kitty Whately sings these beautifully, with a little in reserve that brings out the intimacy of Schumann’s compositions. She is ideally complemented by Joseph Middleton’s sensitive piano playing.

What should I listen out for?

1:36 – the light and fairly heady first song, seemingly setting the scene for some rapturous insights. And yet…

3:07 …the cycle takes a turn for the darker with its second song, ‘Muttertraum’ (‘A mother’s dream’)

13:04 – ‘The lion’s bride’ – the first of the three songs Op.31. The prowling lion is brought uncannily to life by the left hand of the piano, a figure that dominates this long and rather tragic song

24:08 – the third song of the group of three, ‘Die rote Hanne’ (‘Red Hannah’) – with refrains in five part harmony

31:07 The start of the song cycle. The key note here is low in the piano (31:55), giving a hint of the ultimate darkness to come.

38:25 Den ring on my finger. It sounds here as though Kitty is singing in English, but the German is just very similar. This is however the serene high point of the cycle

43:08 really nice singing here, beautifully controlled

49:12 a turn for the darker, with news of the death – which runs into…

51:07 The beautiful piano-only postlude

Want to hear more?

Schumann’s orchestral music is a wealth of good things, with the Symphony no.2 a great next move.


*mezzo-soprano – the range just below soprano, which is the highest range a female singer tends to have. Mezzos are often capable of richer, lower notes and tend not to sing as high.

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