Frauenbild Friday: Frauenliebe Pt. 1

I. Seit ich ihn gesehen (Since I saw him)

Clara Schumann at the piano. ©

I carefully considered which songs to start with, but the choice is clear– I have to start with Frauenliebe und –leben, poetry by Adelbert von Chamisso, and set to music by Robert Schumann.

Robert Schumann (1810-1856) was a prolific composer of German art song and was one of the finest composers of the Romantic era. One of my favorite bits of lore about Schumann is that he allegedly used a mechanical device to strengthen his weaker fingers while playing piano, which permanently damaged his hand. His wife, Clara Schumann, reportedly discredited this, but she may have had a vested interest in debunking this theory as Robert was studying with her father. Who knows! If you know the actual truth, tell me. Regardless, Schumann gave up his dreams of pursuing a performing career to compose.

It is more than worth noting that Schumann’s wife, Clara, was a respectable composer in her own right and a far better pianist than he ever was. However, because she was a woman, she is remembered by history as Robert Schumann’s wife as opposed to a musician and artist worthy of our attention. This lack of performance has shifted recently as more musicians wish to interpret the compositions of female composers, both past and present.

Frauenliebe und –leben was composed during Schumann’s famous Liederjahr, or year of song, in 1840. In that year alone, he wrote 138 songs. Busy bee!! Eight songs make up the song cycle, written for female voice and piano. Mezzo-sopranos often perform the cycle today, but I don’t know why other than the fact that it doesn’t have soaring high notes. 

Here’s our set list:

1. Seit ich ihn gesehen (Since I saw him)

2. Er, der Herrlichste von allen (He, the most wonderful of all)

3. Ich kann’s nicht fassen, nicht glauben (I cannot grasp it, believe it)

4. Du Ring an meinem Finger (You ring on my finger)

5. Helft mir, ihr Schwestern (Help me, my sisters)

6. Süsser Freund, du blickest mich verwundert an (Sweet friend, you look at me in wonder)

7. An meinem Herzen, an meiner Brust (On my heart, at my breast)

8. Nun hast du mir den ersten Schmerz getan (Now you have caused me my first pain)

Performing Frauenliebe und -leben in recital at Concordia College in Moorhead, MN with the incomparable Stephen Sulich at the piano.

I love this song cycle. I sang it at my senior voice recital at Concordia College and would like to sing it again. The music is genius, and the sentiment is sweet. Sometimes, in the frenzy of examining literature and art through the feminist lens, we obliterate the presence of romantic love. This omission is not necessary and is frankly ridiculous. Being in love with somebody is excellent! I simply seek to explore the sentiments of a woman who doesn’t define herself by a man. Her love is her own choice and is one of the many beautiful things about her, and it is certainly not the most interesting. Suppose this song cycle was just called Frauenliebe, fine. It’s about a woman in love. But it’s not. It’s called Frauenliebe und –LEBEN (leben means life in German), which implies that this woman’s life was wholly dedicated to loving this man. She is not alone. Many women today still live entirely for someone else, whether it be their husband, children, parents, or a caregiver role in some other capacity. I’m not advocating for selfishness, but I am supporting a self-fulfilling existence, or at least allowing for that option. Screw being a Frauenbild, live your life for yourself, enriched by others. 

So who is our Frauenbild turned protagonist? Chamisso and Schumann didn’t give me a lot, so she gets to be whoever I want her to be.

Elly Ameling, a prolific interpreter of art song. Expect to hear a lot more from her.
English translation sort of by me, sort of by Google Translate.

Bridgerton was the most popular show on Netflix when it premiered in 2020, and I was one of its many viewers. I even started reading the books–despite the cringe-inducing romantic smuttiness of it all, one of the appealing factors is the deep feeling the characters express for each other. This outpouring of love is quintessentially romantic, reminiscent of our first Frauenliebe song. So what would this love at first sight look like today? Even the phrase makes me roll my eyes, but I’m reminded of when I spent all night texting boys on my flip phone who would never like me back. Now that makes me cringe. I crafted the perfect witty response, gave out careful compliments, and listened intently as they vented about school or girls, as if being the one who was there would enlighten them to my sheer perfection. It was profoundly anti-feminist, trying to be whatever I thought these stupid boys wanted me to be. Alas, eyes glued to the screen, I did it anyway. It was all-consuming; my entire brain focused on the screen of my phone, waiting for it to light up. I imagine our protagonist was subject to the same creeping obsession with being loved. That’s a human experience– we seek love from others. Exhausted from work, she scrolls mindlessly through a dating app, disillusioned from mediocre conversations and lukewarm connections. She starts another interaction out of boredom, but this guy seems different. He’s not perfect, but he grabs her attention. Six feet tall, since that seems to matter on here.

See you next week for more FrauenFUN!!!


One response to “Frauenbild Friday: Frauenliebe Pt. 1”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: