Two enigmatic songs, viewed side by side, seem to have a rapport: Schumann’s Auf einer Burg and Delius’ Twilight Fancies.
Here are two mysterious characters who share a similar situation in different ways. Each dwells high up in a little chamber, cut off from the world.
One is a stone statue, impervious to the day to day life going on before him, and the other is a princess, presumably locked away, who yearns to engage with the outside world she is denied. The characters both inhabit archaic worlds, lost in time – the princess belongs to the fairy-tale world of knights in shining armour, and the origins of the stone knight (who fashioned him and for what purpose?) are unknown.
As the girl and the stone man look out at life, each cannot engage with it in their different ways: the princess yearns for the fulfilment of her unknown longing, and the knight feels no longing at all! Each song touches on a lack of fulfilment, again in very different ways. The princess’ situation is all too apparent, but finds its echo subtly in the bride who strangely and unexpectedly weeps at the end of the Schumann song. Who is she, and what is her tragic story that she should be in this state on her wedding day? Perhaps she has been offered in marriage to fulfil some personal or political covenant, rather than to serve true love? We don’t know, of course, but in both songs there is certainly something amiss, and the mysterious circumstances only add poignancy to the scenes as our subconscious fills out the details.
Musically the songs share similar shapes and motifs. The bare 5th of the opening horn call in the Delius is echoed by the falling 5th in the vocal line, and the opening falling 5th in the voice part of the Schumann is imitated by the piano, where it unfolds like a fugue or a piece of imitative counterpoint in church music, all adding to the archaic tone of the music. The endings of the songs are also akin, each suspended harmonically. Neither song ends on a tonic cadence, but rather drifts away softly (the Schumann ends on the dominant, and the Delius, though modal, has the feeling of the subdominant). This gives both songs the feeling that something is unfinished, musically suspended in time. We never do learn the answers to the questions in the songs, or find out what happens – there is no story! – we just have a strange snapshot of two fairy-tale worlds inhabited by characters who do not know their fates.
You can find the texts of the songs here:
Auf einer Burg by Schumann, text by Josef Karl Benedikt von Eichendorff (1788-1857)
Twilight Fancies by Delius, text by F. S. Copeland, based on the original Norwegian by Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson (1832-1910)
If you are unfamiliar with the Delius setting, you could listen to an orchestrated version on youtube, sung by one of the great Lieder singers of all time – Sarah Walker. The piano version is just as good and has its own magic. You can find this song in our Myriad programme Far Reaches of the Mind – Fantastical Worlds where it finds its home amongst other twilight songs, but could equally belong to the fairy-tale world of the group above in that programme, too.