Let us return to the subject of Expression, and examine a song; for
Der Nussbaum by Schumann.
The prevailing mood through it is one of quiet gayety, consequently
one demanding a pleasant expression of countenance. The song picture
must rustle by us like a fairy story. The picture shows us the
fragrant nut tree putting forth its leaves in the spring; under it a
t in reverie, who finally falls asleep, happy in her
thoughts. All is youth and fragrance, a charming little picture, whose
colors must harmonize. None of them should stand out from the frame.
Only one single word rises above the rustling of the tree, and this
must be brought plainly to the hearing of the listening maiden--and
hence, also, of the public--the second next year. The whole song
finds its point in that one word. The nut tree before the house puts
forth its green leaves and sheds its fragrance; its blossoms are
lovingly embraced by the soft breezes, whispering to each other two by
two, and offer their heads to be kissed, nodding and bowing; the song
must be sung with an equal fragrance, each musical phrase in one
breath: that is, with six inaudible breathings, without ritenuto.
They whisper of a maiden who night and day is thinking, she knows not
of what herself. Between selber and nicht was a slight separation
of the words can be made, by breaking off the r in selber nasally;
and holding the tone nasally, without taking a fresh breath, attacking
the nicht anew. In this way an expression of uncertainty is lent to
the words nicht was.
But now all becomes quite mysterious. They whisper, they
whisper--one must bend one's thoughts to hear it; who can understand
so soft a song? But now I hear plainly, even though it be very
soft--the whisper about the bridegroom and the next year, and again
quite significantly, the next year. That is so full of promise, one
can scarcely tear one's self away from the thoughts, from the word in
which love is imparted, and yet that, too, comes to an end!
Now I am the maiden herself who listens, smiling in happiness, to the
rustling of the tree, leaning her head against its trunk, full of
longing fancies as she sinks to sleep and to dream, from which she
would wish never to awaken.
Feldeinsamkeit by Brahms.
This song interprets the exalted mood of the soul of the man who,
lying at rest in the long grass, watches the clouds float by, and
whose being is made one with nature as he does so. A whole world of
insects buzzes about him, the air shimmers in the bright sunlight,
flowers shed their perfume; everything about him lives a murmuring
life in tones that seem to enhance the peace of nature, far from the
haunts of men.
As tranquil as are the clouds that pass by, as peaceful as is the mood
of nature, as luxurious as are the flowers that spread their
fragrance, so tranquil and calm must be the breathing of the singer,
which draws the long phrases of the song over the chords of the
accompaniment, and brings before us in words and tones the picture of
the warm peace of summer in nature, and the radiant being of a man
dissolved within it.
I mark the breathing places with V. Ich liege still im Nohen gruenen
Gras V und sende lange meinen Blick V nach oben V [and again
comfortably, calmly] nach oben.
Von Grillen rings umschwaermt V ohn' Unterlass V von Himmelsblaeue
wundersam umwoben V von Himmelsblaeue V wundersam umwoben.
Each tone, each letter, is connected closely with the preceding and
following; the expression of the eyes and of the soul should be
appropriate to that of the glorified peace of nature and of the soul's
happiness. The last phrase should soar tenderly, saturated with a warm
and soulful coloring.
Die schoenen weissen Wolken zieh'n dahin V durch's tiefe Blau V,
[I gaze at it for a moment] wie schoene, stille Traeume V [losing
one's self] wie schoene stille Traeume. V [A feeling of dissolution
takes away every thought of living and being.] Mir ist V als ob V
ich laengst V gestorben bin! [The whole being is dissolved in the
ether; the end comes with outstretched wings soaring above the earth.]
und ziehe selig mit V durch ew'ge Raeume V und ziehe selig mit V
durch ew'ge Raeume. [Dissolution of the soul in the universe must sound
forth from the singer's tone.]
The Erlking, by Schubert.
For him who is familiar with our native legends and tales, the willows
and alders in the fields and by the brooks are peopled with hidden
beings, fairies, and witches. They stretch out ghostly arms, as their
veils wave over their loose hair, they bow, cower, raise themselves,
become as big as giants or as little as dwarfs. They seem to lie in
wait for the weak, to fill them with fright.
The father, however, who rides with his child through the night and
the wind, is a man, no ghost; and his faithful steed, that carries
both, no phantom. The picture is presented to us vividly; we can
follow the group for long. The feeling is of haste, but not of
ghostliness. The prelude should consequently sound simply fast, but
not overdrawn. The first phrases of the singer should be connected
with it as a plain narrative.
Suddenly the child hugs the father more closely and buries his face in
terror in his bosom. Lovingly the father bends over him; quietly he
asks him the cause of his fear.
Frightened, the child looks to one side, and asks, in disconnected
phrases, whether his father does not see the Erlking, the Erlking
with his crown and train. They had just ridden by a clump of willows.
Still quietly, the father explains smilingly to his son that what he
saw was a bank of fog hanging over the meadow.
But in the boy's brain the Erlking has already raised his enticing
whisper. The still, small voice, as though coming from another
world, promises the child golden raiment, flowers, and games.
[Footnote 3: The voice of the Erlking is a continuous, soft,
uninterrupted stream of tone, upon which the whispered words are hung.
The Erlking excites the thoughts of the fever-sick boy. The three
enticements must be sung very rapidly, without any interruption of the
breath. The first I sing as far as possible in one breath (if I am not
hampered by the accompanist), or at most in two; the second in two,
the third in three; and here for the first time the words reizt and
branch ich Gewalt emerge from the whispered pianissimo.]
Fearfully he asks his father if he does not hear the Erlking's
It is only the dry leaves rustling in the wind. The father quiets
him, and his voice is full of firm and loving reassurance, but he
feels that his child is sick.
For but a few seconds all is still; then the voice comes back again.
In a low whisper sounds and words are distinguished. Erlking invites
the boy to play with his daughters, who shall dance with him and rock
him and sing to him.
In the heat of fever the boy implores his father to look for the
Erlking's daughters. The father sees only an old gray willow; but his
voice is no longer calm. Anxiety for his sick child makes his manly
tones break; the comforting words contain already a longing for the
journey's end--quickly, quickly, must he reach it.
Erlking has now completely filled the feverish fancy of the child.
With ruthless power he possesses himself of the boy--all opposition is
vain--the silver cord is loosened. Once more he cries out in fear to
his father, then his eyes are closed. The man, beside himself, strains
every nerve--his own and his horse's; his haste is like a wild
flight. The journey's end is reached; breathless they stop--but the
race was in vain.
A cold shudder runs through even the narrator; his whole being is
strained and tense, he must force his mouth to utter the last words.