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Florestan and Dr Jekyll, Mr Hyde and Eusebius

“Two souls, alas, reside within my breast” Faust ascertained, and he was not the first to do so. From time immemorial we have quite some struggle with our inner contradictions, and we try to restrain them in many ways. Knowledge, alchemy, music, literature and drink are just some of the paths we follow in search of clarification and in the hope of gaining mastery of these troublemakers. Through the centuries all this has given rise to many literary and mythological couples: Apollo and Dionysus, Yin and Yang, but Florestan and Eusebius, Schumann’s literary and musical alter egos, are part of this tradition as well. The cautious, gentle Eusebius, as distinct from the more impulsive, high-spirited Florestan, prevail over both the musical and literary oeuvre of Schumann, as a line of approach, a disguise, and an attempt to get a grip on his inner turmoil.

In his Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886) the Scottish writer R.L. Stevenson created two similarly mythical figures in the same vein. But while Schumann (and many before him) entertains the hope or illusion that Florestan and Eusebius will come to terms with one another in a happy ending, Stevenson has the well-meaning doctor Jekyll meet his end through his own evil self: the beastly murderer Mr Hyde.

Besides the classical boy-meets-girl-who-marries-other-boy-story, Dichterliebe is about music, about singing. Music and singing accompany the main personage in all that he experiences, sometimes as an unbearable backdrop, then once again as a trigger of memories, and finally as purifying redemption and release. Florestan and Eusebius come together in a wonderful symbiosis of text and music in which, in the final outcome, the music has the final, comforting word.

In the two later song cycles a more biting wind blows in the holy world of music, and singing and music shift from a hopeful ideal to become an oppressive menace.

The Wanderer tears himself away from the forest’s song of autumn in Abschied vom Walde, the song of the Sennin is silenced and remains only a sad echo of farewell and death, the lonely bird in Einsamkeit sings senselessly into silence, and the singing angel’s harp in Requiem is mainly dissonant, so that the longing for rest sounds more like an allaying of mortal fear than a passing on in peace and trust.

It would seem as though Florestan and Eusebius (and Schumann) can no longer find their way to a common answer, and as though the destructive, uncontrollable force of the suicidal murderer Mr Hyde gains the upper hand.

As Schumann’s mind little by little began to decay, so his music crumbled. The melodic phrases of 1840, so full of conviction, turn into grains that grind to a halt before they can bear fruit, Florestan’s reaching to the stars is now a groping for a hold in the self-destruction of a Mr Hyde. And as the harrowing song Warnung, from the same period as these late cycles, movingly warns us: “Oh, be silent, little bird, be silent, Your singing will cause your death!”

(c) Thomas Oliemans 2015  (translation: Stephen Taylor)


Dichterliebe op.48 (1840)

Sechs Gesänge op.89 (1850)

Sechs Gedichte und Requiem op.90 (1850)

Thomas Oliemans, baritone & Paolo Giacometti: Graf Grandpiano (Op 48) Streicher Grandpiano(op. 89 & op. 90)