Robert Schumann (1810–1856) Hermann und Dorothea Op. 136 – Overture
Urtext edited by Christian Rudolf Riedel [orch] duration: 10'
picc.220.127.116.11. – 18.104.22.168. – small dr – str
Urtext of Revolutionary Overture
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The Overture to Hermann and Dorothea is the only compositional result that Schumann reaped from Goethes epic poem. He had originally planned an entire opera, then a Singspiel, and finally an oratorio. In the end (1851), he quickly produced an orchestral score that remained unprinted during his lifetime. The striking thematic use of the Marseillaise is multiply motivated: Goethes poem unfolds in 1796, when the two eponymous lovers are fleeing from the French revolutionary troops; Schumann had directly experienced the revolutionary uprisings of 1848 in Dresden; finally, Louis Napoléons coup détat of 2 December 1851 must also have made an impact on the composer. The primary source of the Urtext edition of Schumanns Revolutionary Overture is the carefully written autograph.
Robert Schumann wrote altogether nine works designated as “overtures;” seven of them have found their way into the concert repertory, albeit hesitantly. In the early 19th century, the overture, in the form developed by Mendelssohn, enjoyed increasing popularity as an introductory piece for the concert programs of the middle classes. Apparently, Schumann’s overtures were also influenced by this type, even if his use of the genre designation “overture” encompasses a great variety of works for a diversity of functions. Whereas he had originally written the overtures to Genoveva op. 81, Manfred op. 115 and Hermann und Dorothea op. 136 for the theater, he envisioned the overtures to Schiller’s Braut von Messina op. 100 and Shakespeare’s Julius Cäsar op. 128 from the very start as symphonic works to be performed in the concert hall. This obviously also applies to the threemovement work Ouvertüre, Scherzo und Finale op. 52, which is more aptly assigned to the genre of the symphony because of its lack of a slow movement; as to the Overture to the Scenes from Goethe’s “Faust” WoO 3, it is not clear whether the composer wanted it to be performed as an independent concert overture or not.
Next to the Scenes from Goethe’s “Faust” and a considerable number of songs, the Overture to Hermann und Dorothea takes its place among the many works by Schumann which owe their existence to the composer’s intensive, years-long study of Goethe’s poetic oeuvre. The in-depth preoccupation with Goethe’s verse epic Hermann und Dorothea can be traced back to the year 1845. In his “Lektürebüchlein,” Schumann noted that he had read Hermann und Dorothea “for at least the tenth time,” and that it aroused within him “great musical excitement” and the wish to transform it into a stage work. In March 1846 he noted in his diary: “‘Hermann und Dorothea’ Singspiel at piano based on Göthe’s poem. Fine idea – if only I could see it through later!” He carried this wish with him for several years, but it only began to take concrete shape in his Düsseldorf years. In December 1851 he asked Moritz Horn, who had written the libretto of the oratorio Der Rose Pilgerfahrt op. 112, “to consider whether the subject [Hermann und Dorothea] could be treated in such a way that it might fill an entire evening in the theater, which I doubt. There should be absolutely no speaking in the Singspiel […]. The entire work – both the music and the text – would have to be cast in a simple, folk-like German style.” Although Schumann did not realize this Singspiel plan, he did not give it up either. After he finished re-orchestrating and revising the D minor Symphony of 1841, he took up the composition of the Overture. The following year, he considered “making a concert oratorio out of Hermann und Dorothea.” But this plan also did not materialize. All that remained of the various plans for an opera, a Singspiel and, finally, an oratorio was the overture, which Schumann penned in December 1851 “in five hours, and orchestrated in two days,” as Clara Schumann reported in a letter to her mother.
Clara initially expressed a positive view of the overture, which her husband dedicated to her and whose autograph score he gave her as a Christmas gift in 1851: “As far as I can see from the score […], it is highly original, martial yet graceful at the same time.” It was not until Clara, with the support of Johannes Brahms, turned her attention to her late husband’s unpublished works, including the Overture to Hermann und Dorothea, that she started having doubts. What triggered her was a request in December 1856 by the conductor Georg Dietrich Otten, who wanted to perform the as yet Preface unpublished overture in a concert at the Hamburger Musikverein. “I am so fearful of this overture,” she wrote to Joachim. “Did you revise it once again before sending it? I am afraid that it will contain errors! If only you could have heard it! If it turns out that it is unworthy of my husband, I would feel terrible if I were responsible for having released it.” As can be inferred from Clara’s letter, she had apparently entrusted Joseph Joachim with the edition. The first edition of the score and orchestral parts were finally published in March and May 1857 by Rieter-Biedermann of Winterthur. The overture was first performed at a Gewandhaus concert in Leipzig on 26 February 1857 under the direction of Julius Rietz.
What inspired Schumann to busy himself so intensively and for such a long time with Goethe’s verse epic Hermann und Dorothea? A first clue can be found in a diary entry written at about the time of origin of the work. Schumann’s entry “news from France” refers to the coup d’état pulled off by Louis Napoleon Bonaparte on 2 December 1851, in which the President, who was elected by the people, seized the power for himself as Napoleon III and sealed the end of the Se cond Republic. France’s February Revolution of 1848 had functioned as a jump start for the early-bourgeois revolution of 1848 in Germany, which remained unfulfilled. Schumann had personally experienced this uprising in Dresden and had escaped its repercussions by fleeing with his family to rural Maxen in May 1849. The recollection of this time cannot have left Schumann unmoved. “It was my most prolific year – as if the outer storms pushed men to greater inner action, so did I find in it a counterweight to the horrors crashing down upon us from the outside.”
A second, unmistakable clue to Schumann’s fascination with this topic is audible in the Overture: the Marseillaise. Schumann had already quoted it in the Faschingsschwank aus Wien op. 26 in late 1839/ early 1840, and in the Heine song Die beiden Grenadiere op. 49 of May 1840. It is more than a mere quotation in the Overture, how ever. It stamps the entire piece as a kind of counterpoint to the lyrical, cantabile, Mendelssohnian primary theme. Like a hope-filled yet menacing storm signal, it bursts in at the beginning with “fifes and drums,” and colors the atmosphere hovering between elegy and Singspiel, between major and minor, before dying away in the distance in a coda. In the autograph score, Schumann notated here: “As an explanation of the Marseillaise woven into the overture, might I observe that it was intended for the opening of a Singspiel modeled on the Goethe poem, whose first scene depicted the retreat of the soldiers of the French Republic.”
A third reference might be found in the subject itself. The two pro - tagonists become entangled in a family conflict because of their diverse social origins. Inserted into the social context of the flight of the left-Rhenish Germans from the French Revolutionary troops in 1796, the delicate love story of Hermann and Dorothea takes on dramatic traits which echo some of the drama that Schumann had personally experienced. His struggle of many years for Clara, the hopes and disappointments connected with the revolutionary upheavals – this is the emotional substance that he sought to transpose here musically “in a simple, folk-like German style.”
The Overture, which boasts an unusual instrumentation (no trombones, but with side drum and piccolo), long shared the fate of Schumann’s other posthumously performed works. Due to the shift in reception that began during the last years of Schumann’s life, they were considered as conservative and found little favor among “new German” ears. It was not until recent decades that a re-evaluation has set in, which can more equitably assess Schumann’s “most lyrical overture […] as a musical diagnosis or, in any event, a study of the social climate and of the socio-political situation of that time.” The present source-critical, practice-oriented new edition wishes to make a contribution to this re-assessment.
Our principal source was the autograph score revised by Schumann and housed in the Robert-Schumann-Haus in Zwickau. The Critical Notes provide information on details concerning the sources and the edition. The publisher and editor express their gratitude to the Robert- Schumann-Haus for putting the sources at their disposal.
Wiesbaden, Spring 2013
We offer a PDF of the complete text with all notes for download.