Until 1839, Schumann had published only works for the piano; yet the year before, he had admitted to his fiancée Clara Wieck that the instrument was ‘becoming too confining for me.’ Then in February 1840 he wrote: ‘Since yesterday morning I’ve written nearly 27 pages of music (something new), of which I can say only that I was laughing and crying for joy the whole time … what bliss it is to be able to write for the voice.’
Having exhausted the piano’s potential, Schumann was now seeking new means of expression. Creativity continued unabated: 1840 became his miraculous ‘Year of Song’.
By June he had completed the Liederkreis Op.24 and the cycles Myrthen, the second Liederkreis Op.39 and Dichterliebe; Frauenliebe und -leben followed in July. There were numerous further cycles, all of them modelled on Beethoven’s and Schubert’s examples; often, though, Schumann would impose a sense of unity upon the different poems not through a developing story but through similarity of mood. This is particularly true of the Op.39 Liederkreis. Schumann wrote it immediately after a visit to Clara: it was, he said, ‘my most romantic music ever’.
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