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Monday, May 09, 2005
  Dichterliebe, Op. 48, No. 1: Im wundersch√∂nen Monat Mai
Robert Schumann
Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music, CD 9 Track 34

One of the many delights of serialism is the tension it can create between a few small groups of pitches. R. Schumann's first Dichterliebe, "In the Marvelous Month of May," opens with such tension in the context of triadic harmony and repetition. The effect is that of the smoky room in the cabaret theater. When we finally hear the pitch 'A,' thus realizing we are not in c-sharp minor and at the simultaneous moment hearing the singer complete his entrance on the word Mai, we are compelled to applaud.

I would argue, if called upon, that the ambiguity and relief of this introduction is more a result of the way the pitches stretch across a small range of the keyboard and the contrasting timbre of the vocalist than the harmonic vocabulary. In fact, I would go far enough to say that the harmonic vocabulary of this piece is effective because, though we have heard these chords before, R. Schumann is able to create the sense that these triads and sevenths are the unique result of the small groups of pitches he has set against each other.

Looking over Heinrich Heine's poem I am first reminded of the young Vanessa Redgrave frolicking through the gardens of Camelot. However, R. Schumann was a better reader than I. Understanding the implication of the last couplet, our heroic composer ends this brief masterpiece on a c-sharp seventh chord that abandons the listener four steps around the circle of fifths away from tonic. 
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In January 2004 I starting writing an opinion for each selection in the Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music. Now, more than a year later, I am almost finished. Soon, I will have an archive full of opinions on the music we so carelessly call "classical." And no one can stop me.

Location: Cincinnati, Ohio, United States

Director of the Contemporary Performer's Workshop... Music Teacher for St. Aloysius Gonzaga School... Principal 'Cellist of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra... Composer

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