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Thomas Hampson / Twenty Songs

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The road to publication

From this period in Schumann's life, one also finds correspondence which is unquestionably related to these Lieder, though heretofore, not necessarily read in that context. On May 25, 1840, for example, when he was already in the processing of composing the songs, Schumann wrote to his bride: "Several days ago a Berlin publisher spoke to me about my songs, but I do not like the idea of editing them so much. [....] Their name is Bote und Bock." One day after completing the last Heine song ­ (Schumann had inscribed End after the twentieth song in the manuscript), he sent the following letter to a newly opened publishing house in Berlin:


I have just now completed a great song work and I am proud to enclose the list of titles; the work, itself, shall follow within fourteen days. I would be happy to see this entire group of songs, which has been conceived of as a whole, to appear in its entirety. [...] Concerning the format of the plates, I would be pleased with something that looked liked your edition of Kinderszenen. How successful these songs may be in public, I cannot really say. I can say, however, that I have never before written anything with such love as when I was composing this group. With my numerous connecting passages it is also easy for me to create preludes and arrangements for the songs.

The publisher, however, refused to print the songs because, he said, the cycle was "too significant and in our view not suited to our firm" ­ a euphemism of its being too expensive for a house which prefered to print little piano pieces.

Of the many songs completed in 1840, three groups were issued in that same year by three different publishers: the Heine Liederkreis, Opus 24 by Breitkopf und Hërtel; Myrthen, Opus 25, Schumann's wedding present to Clara, as well as Opus 30; three others ­ Opus 31, Opus 35, and Opus 37 followed in 1841 with other publishers, while publication of the rest of the 1840 output was not completed until 1850 ­ understandable given the number of songs. From 1840 until 1843 there is no further documentation of Schumann's efforts to get the 20 Lieder und Gesänge published; he appears to have left them untouched. But on August 6, 1843, Schumann then addressed himself to Breitkopf und Hërtel in the following letter, which is not without some contradictions:


May I be so bold as to inquire if you would be willing to print a Lieder work I have written. I have worked on this for two years (!) and tried to sell it and it may be that for the time being I will end my career as a song composer with these Lieder. They are a cycle of twenty songs, which has been composed as a whole, but in which each separate entity represents a complete unit unto itself. If it could be ready for Easter 1844, that would be lovely.

It is remarkable that an otherwise so detailed a composer could have miscalculated by an entire year, and it also cannot be correct that he had been continuously busy preparing these songs. Nevertheless, because he had at the same time offered the publisher songs Clara had written, Breitkopf showed him the courtesy of inviting him to a "verbal discussion" about his "large volume of songs". Whether or not this conversation actually took place is not known, but on August 31 Schumann withdrew his offer from Breitkopf. Finally in October he proferred the cycle to a third firm with whom he had never before worked. This was the house of C.F. Peters in Leipzig, who ultimately did publish the Dichterliebe. To Peters, Schumann offered three works, (among them his Second Symphony); the first of these was his song cycle now entitled Zwanzig Lieder und Gesänge für eine Singstimme mit Begleitung des Pianofortes, Opus 47(!) Peters was willing to print the songs, and Schumann entrusted his copyist with the preparations. In his household accounts for October 26, he has noted costs to Brückner for copying the Heine Lieder 1. 4.-. On November 14 the manuscript was sent to the publisher in its unaltered, unedited form, as we can tell from the fee to which Schumann refers:


I hereby enclose to you gentlemen my Heine Lieder cycle. On the title page it might be nice, as customary, to print the opening lines of the various poems. I confirm the honorarium of twenty gold Louis to be paid upon receipt of the manuscript. I also ask for six free copies. If the cycle can be ready for Christmas to surprise my wife, that would please me, but this is only a wish, not a condition.

Peters did not succeed, after all, in getting the Lieder out by Christmas, but Schumann, himself, may not have minded as he was busy with other pressing matters. He was preparating for a major trip to Russia, which was to last from January 25 until May 31, 1844; he conducted in December the Leipzig premiere of Paradies und die Peri ­ (which was a great success and led to his reconciliation with his father-in-law Wieck) ­ and, as Clara's wedding diary indicates, until his departure he was very busy correcting proofs for that oratorio, which Breitkopf subsequently published.

Nevertheless, he did try to pay attention to the printing of the Heine cycle. In a transcript of a recently discovered letter from December 27, 1843, Schumann requests galleys from Peters:


Because I am about to embark on a major trip twelve to fourteen days from now, I would be very pleased if I could receive my galleys of the Liederkreis Dichterliebe before I go. In the events that the plates will be finished, could you please send them with someone as quickly as possible.

This is the first reference to the title Dichterliebe, which does not appear again in any correspondence until August 1844 when the printing of the sixteen songs as Opus 48 was completed and delivered to Schumann and he wrote, asking for his free copies. Implicit in that letter is something Peters' longtime proofreader Roitzsch is said to have recounted much later: that Schumann made a great many changes in the Dichterliebe in the first set of galleys and then in the final revision so that the first printing ultimately had to be redone.

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