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Whatever Happened to Christian Friedrich Hebbel?

Donald Macleod discusses the influence of Christian Friedrich Hebbel, the writer behind Schumann's only opera, Genoveva.

Donald Macleod investigates the literary catalysts that fired Schumann's musical imagination. Today, Christian Friedrich Hebbel, the writer behind Schumann's only opera.

"Get your head out of that book!" is probably not a reprimand the young Robert Schumann was used to receiving. He grew up in a household that lived and breathed literature. His father was a novelist, bookseller and publisher who made a small fortune from his pocket editions of foreign-language classics in translation. As a teenager Schumann wrote copiously, trying his hand at fiction, poetry and plays, and it took him several years to satisfy himself that he was a composer rather than a writer. But his literary passion persisted, informing not only the texts he set but his whole conception of musical narrative and structure.

"A great honour has befallen our house - Friedrich Hebbel visited us on his journey through. He is arguably the greatest genius of our day." Well that's as may be, but for us, Hebbel - the focus of today's programme - is certainly one of the less familiar giants in Schumann's literary pantheon. He wrote novellas, poems and essays, but was best known to his contemporaries for his biblical and historical dramas, and it was one of these - Genoveva, a decidedly pre-feminist tale of male weakness and wifely devotion set in the 8th century - that gave Schumann the impetus for his one and only opera.

1 hour

Music Played

  • Robert Schumann

    Lieder-Album fur die Jugend Op.79

    Singer: Felicity Lott. Singer: Ann Murray. Performer: Graham Johnson.
    • HYPERION: CDS44441/50.
    • HYPERION.
    • 26.
  • Robert Schumann

    Lieder-Album fur die Jugend Op.79

    Singer: Felicity Lott. Singer: Ann Murray. Performer: Graham Johnson.
    • HYPERION: CDS44441/50.
    • HYPERION.
    • 26.
  • Robert Schumann

    Schon Hedwig - declamation Op.106 for reciter and piano

    Narrator: Christoph Banzer.
    • Channel Classics CCSSA 25408.
    • Channel Classics.
    • 18.
  • Robert Schumann

    Nachtlied Op.108 for chorus and orchestra

    Choir: Monteverdi Choir. Orchestra: Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique. Ensemble: Florestan Piano Trio.
    • ARCHIV : 457-660-2.
    • ARCHIV.
    • 2.
  • Robert Schumann

    Waldscenen Op.82 for piano - no.7; Vogel als Prophet

    Performer: Marc-André Hamelin.
    • Hyperion CDA 68030.
    • Hyperion.
    • 10.
  • Robert Schumann

    Genoveva - opera Op.81 - Act 4; O lass es ruh'n, dein Aug, auf mir!

    Conductor: Nikolaus Harnoncourt. Orchestra: Chamber Orchestra of Europe. Singer: Oliver Widmer. Singer: Ruth Ziesak.
    • Teldec: 4691261.
    • Teldec.
    • 8.

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