In 1899, the same year as Verklärte Nacht, Schoenberg composed three songs inspired by the same poet whose work led to that Sextet. Richard Dehmel was the first poet to provoke a breakthrough in Schoenberg’s style, one which he said he “found without even looking,” and indeed the idiom of these songs is immediately distinct from those of Op. 1.

These new songs are more delicate, less forthright in their expression but all the more assured in their writing. They are also less extended, and it is that combination of concision with potent and provocative emotion that points most clearly to Schoenberg’s future; the third song’s outburst of longing lasts barely a minute, but it resonates far beyond its brief span.

Schoenberg added a fourth song by a different poet to these three, a setting that nonetheless matches the others well in its ambiguous reverie.


1. Erwartung (Expectation)

Form ABA’

A:

Aus dem meergrünen Teiche
Neben der roten Villa
Unter der toten Eiche
Scheint der Mond.

Wo ihr dunkles Abbild
Durch das Wasser greift,
Steht ein Mann und streift
Einen Ring von seiner Hand.

B:

Drei Opale blinken;
Durch die bleichen Steine
Schwimmen rot und grüne
Funken und versinken.

Und er küßt sie, und
Seine Augen leuchten
Wie der meergrüne Grund:
Ein Fenster tut sich auf.

A’:

Aus der roten Villa
Neben der toten Eiche
Winkt ihm eine bleiche
Frauenhand.

Translation

Opus 2 immediately declares its independence from the first songs with the delicacy of expression in its opening. The wealth of imagery and details in the poem is matched by arabesques in the piano and a chromatic chord oscillating with E-flat major. The first phrase is followed by a mirroring one focused on C, and the A section of the song ends with a return to the key area of E-flat that is not resolved.

The middle section begins with a development and extension of the suspensions that ended both phrases. The return of the opening arabesque figures leads to a crescendo to the only forte passage in the song, before a sudden return to piano on a tonic 6/4 chord, indicating a return to the A section with its chromatic chord oscillations. Although the voice’s part ends unresolved, as indicated by both the title and the content of the poem, the piano adds a coda of utmost serenity.

2. Schenk mir deinen goldenen Kamm (Give me your golden comb)

Form AB

A:
Schenk mir deinen goldenen Kamm;
Jeder Morgen soll dich mahnen,
Daß du mir die Haare küßtest.
Schenk mir deinen seidenen Schwamm;
Jeden Abend will ich ahnen,
Wem du dich im Bade rüstest,
O Maria!

B:
Schenk mir Alles, was du hast;
Meine Seele ist nicht eitel,
Stolz empfang ich deinen Segen.
Schenk mir deine schwerste Last:
Willst du nicht auf meinen Scheitel
Auch dein Herz, dein Herz noch legen,
Magdalena?

Translation

Alternately titled Jesus bettelt (Jesus Begs), this second Dehmel song is as agitated as the first is peaceful. The lover’s plea for some token of the beloved’s affection is set to chromatic music full of restless progressions, although the key area is established by the end of the first phrase as being F# (minor turning to major). The passionate cries of “Oh, Maria!” in the second phrase are matched with a broadening of the rhetoric and rapid runs in the piano.

The response section is animated by a faster pulse and, at first, a bass line in low octaves. An oscillating figure takes over the alto range of the accompaniment, rising upwards until it reaches the top line. After a series of chromatic progressions reach a crescendo, a sudden decrease in tempo brings the accompaniment to a halt on the oscillating figure, repeated several times. The singer’s final “Magdalena” comes to rest on these figures, fluctuating in ambiguous tonality. A modified return of the opening chord sequence is interrupted by pauses, and the song comes to a close on hushed F# major triads.

3. Erhebung (Elevation)

Form AA’

A:
Gib mir deine Hand,
Nur den Finger, dann
Seh ich diesen ganzen Erdkreis
Als mein Eigen an!

A’:
O, wie blüht mein Land!
Sieh dir’s doch nur an.
Daß es mit uns über die Wolken
In die Sonne kann!

Translation

Similar in poetic content to the preceding song, Erhebung begins as if midsentence with a falling piano line that merges into the vocal line by the second bar. The line sweeps entire octaves in a matter of a few notes, driven forward by a restless accompaniment. The varied repeat of the first section reaches ever higher until the climax of the song on a high A, from which it falls away. An extremely truncated coda brings the music to a close in A major.

4. Waldsonne (Forest Sun)

Form ABA’

A:
In die braunen, rauschenden Nächte
Flittert ein Licht herein,
Grüngolden ein Schein.

Blumen blinken auf und Gräser
Und die singenden, springenden Waldwässerlein,
Und Erinnerungen.

B:
Die längst verklungenen:
Golden erwachen sie wieder,
All deine fröhlichen Lieder.

Und ich sehe deine goldenen Haare glänzen,
Und ich sehe deine goldenen Augen glänzen
Aus den grünen, raunenden Nächten.

Und mir ist, ich läge neben dir auf dem Rasen
Und hörte dich wieder auf der glitzeblanken Syrinx
In die blauen Himmelslüfte blasen.

A’:
In die braunen, wühlenden Nächte
Flittert ein Licht,
Ein goldener Schein.

Translation

The fourth song, to a poem by Johannes Schlaf, is given a setting of tender nostalgia. Like the first poem, the many poetic details are more suggestive than concrete, but here the tonality is very clearly a relaxed D major from the beginning. The accompaniment is dominated by a turn motif that appears in both A sections.

The middle section is more active and overrun by triplets. Although the key is fluid, the atmosphere of the song remains contemplative, and when the motion comes to a halt at “Und hörte dich wieder,” the turn motif recurs as well, leading into the reprise of the opening. Here, unlike the first stanza, the vocal melody ends on a question mark, and the resolution comes only in the piano coda, which brings Opus 2 to a restful close.


Buy at ArkivMusic:

Schoenberg: Complete Songs

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One thought on “Opus 2: Vier Lieder (1899/1900)

  1. Very pretty; not as overtly impassioned as the first set: I will give these a few more listens over the coming days. Still, I am warming to them… thanks to your analyses. There is more substance to these little songs than first meets the ear.

    Liked by 1 person

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