I was planning to do a history of musical theater (an honest one, rather than the nostalgia-blinded laments for a supposedly dead Broadway you generally get in published histories of the form). However, I realized that to start with the beginning of what we call the Broadway musical would be misleading: things ultimately not that different from our ‘musicals’ existed long before Broadway. As such, let’s look at the musicalized drama from the moment it first began, in the realm of what we now call Opera.
Now, the classic Greek Tragedies were purportedly performed as music dramas when they were new, but since no actual music survives from that period and we can’t be absolutely sure how or even if they were really sung, we’ll pass over them for the purposes of this book. Instead, we’ll start at the point where dramas expressed in music returned to popularity, a popularity that they have maintained continuously in one form or another ever since.
There was a fashionable movement of musicians in Italy called the Camerata that started producing rudimentary opera-like compositions in the early 1600s after reaching the aforesaid conclusion about the Greeks, but they didn’t get much of lasting importance done until opera’s first Genius, Claudio Monteverdi, stepped in and essentially invented Opera. Granted, there were already “Operas” of a sort being written before Monteverdi stepped in, but he wrote the first two Operas that you have the slightest chance of ever seeing performed today, and his works are probably the earliest that a modern audience would recognize as “Opera” in the modern sense.
Amazingly enough, not only was Monteverdi one of the greatest opera composers of all time, but his operas were far more dramatically integrated than Opera would become for more than 200 years after his death. Of his two surviving works, the first, Orfeo, does seem a bit dramatically primitive today…for all its gorgeous, haunting music, it’s structured so presentationally that it almost seems more like an Oratorio than an Opera. However, Monteverdi’s last opera, The Coronation of Poppea, is a piece of unified musical drama so far ahead of its time that it employs devices and techniques no-one else would think of for centuries. It features some of the most sensual and erotic music in all of the Classical canon, and even looks forward to Carmen in being completely unsentimental, without a single truly sympathetic figure. To demonstrate the sheer extent of this, the romantic leading man is the historical Emperor Nero (yes, that Nero…the one who purportedly fiddled while Rome burned and is the most commonly-nominated candidate for the identity of the Beast of Revelation), and no, he is not portrayed in a particularly softened or sanitized manner.
Opera after Monteverdi’s death actually became a lot less interesting, at least for the next hundred years or so. Baroque opera basically came in two schools: the Italian, which emphasized big showcase arias over actual drama and was ruled far more by star singers than by composers, and the French, which had more dramatic unity but tended to be staid and conventional, and emphasized the librettos so much that most of it was musically earthbound.
On the Italian side, we had Antonio Vivaldi, the first of Classical Music’s great speedwriters, and the direct precursor of such later composers as Rossini and Donizetti, who were also speedwriters who specialized in composing for star singers. Vivaldi is said to have written 91 Operas in his lifetime, although this number isn’t really substantiated by the available evidence. However, if he did achieve this feat, it was reportedly by the same means that he managed to write his 500-odd concertos…by reusing the same basic composition with very little variation that many times in a row. I can’t claim credit for that observation…it was Igor Stravinsky who first remarked that Vivaldi had written ‘the same concerto a hundred times’…but the lack of variety in his compositions is obvious to anyone who listens extensively to his work. This is why, while Vivaldi did produce a handful of important classical warhorses (The Four Seasons concertos, the Gloria, the L’Olimpiade Opera), anyone exploring his work in greater detail is likely to be rather disappointed.
Meanwhile, the biggest names on the French side during that first hundred years were Lully and Rameau. Lully, who was the undisputed king of French opera for a generation, has pretty much disappeared from the scene today. His librettos, essentially Classical dramas by high-class playwrights of the day, were fairly literate and intelligent by opera-libretto standards, but his very formal, dispassionate, recitative-heavy composing style (not to mention his penchant for long, exaggerated prologue sequences heaping praise on his King and patron, Louis XIV), make him rather hard to get into for people weaned on Romantic Opera. About the only things of his that anyone performs today are the ‘Ballet-Plays’ (which resembled an early version of the Broadway musical format) that he wrote with legendary French writer Moliere, and that seems more due to Moliere’s contributions than his.
Rameau, the later of the two, was something of an innovator; indeed, he might have wound up being the major operatic reformer of the day if his style had caught on more at the time. His work was far more musically sophisticated than most other French operas at the time, and had a dramatic cogency and immediacy not seen since Monteverdi. In some ways, he was more ahead of his time that the Operatic reformers that would come along after him—notably, he was the first to use the structural scheme of free-flowing arioso that occasionally expands into a formal aria. This structure would of course form the basis for Verdi’s Otello and Wagner’s Lohengrin and Der Meistersingers von Nurnburg, as well as the musicals of Claude-Michele Schonberg and Alain Boublil such as Les Miserables and Miss Saigon.
Probably the most enduring Operatic work of this era was Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, but it only further illustrates the problems with the form at the time. The work has remained enduringly popular due almost entirely to a single sublime number, Dido’s “Lament”, or “Farewell to Life”. This aria is indeed transcendental, but like such later Opera titles primarily known for a single number as Verdi’s Nabucco or Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers, the actual Opera isn’t really all that interesting apart from its one “hit”. Indeed, the libretto sounds downright embarrassing today, and the remainder of the score, while pleasant and enjoyable, isn’t really important Classical music.
The biggest composer to write in the Italian school was Handel, who was not actually an Italian at all but appropriated their language and idiom. It’s a pretty well-known fact that Handel was a composer of incomparable genius, but he was not the most cogent of musical dramatists, which is part of why his most enduring works are Oratorios…another kind of Musical Theater in which the story is narrated rather than acted out…rather than Operas.
Really, the primary legacy of Baroque Musical Theater lies in Oratorios. Handel would have immense success with this form after his Opera career dried up, most notably with the perennial classic The Messiah. The Messiah actually has a very similar concept to the modern musical Godspell…passages from the Gospels delivered as Musical Theater…but with infinitely better music and an approach that actually does justice to the dignity of the subject matter.
Handel is now mostly associated with The Messiah by the general public, but he actually had several other highly successful Oratorios. One of the most notable was Israel in Egypt, which is still easily the all-time finest musicalization of the Passover story, despite a number of later attempts. Its scene-painting techniques for illustrating the plagues are particularly dazzling, and unlike some modern adaptations, it has no illusions about the tone or content of the story…its most famous individual number is called “The Lord is a Man of War”.
It’s worth noting that both Handel and his half-forgotten then-archrival Giovanni Bononcini (now remembered, if at all, for two or three ‘hit’ arias from his Opera Griselda) were shameless about plagiarizing the works of others, to the point where it’s often hard to tell whether some of their surviving compositions were actually written by them. This is a thing worth remembering for those who accuse Andrew Lloyd Webber of plagiarism…even if the accusations that Webber deliberately copies other people’s tunes are true (which is doubtful, for reasons I’ll get to later in this volume), at least the vast majority of material Webber is accused of “cribbing” is currently in the public domain. Handel and Bononcini deliberately plagiarized their own contemporaries, quite freely at that, and were not ashamed to use their wealth and fame to weasel out of the consequences (although Bononcini eventually had to flee his adopted country of England after his career went south and he could no longer use this tactic to avoid plagiarism charges). Handel even once replied, when called out on stealing another composer’s aria, “Yes, but it was far too good for him.”
Of course, the most important and groundbreaking composer of the Baroque era by far was Johann Sebastian Bach. Since all Western music is essentially based on Bach’s innovations, he definitely contributed indirectly to every score written after him, albeit in ways that are too complicated for the scope of this book. But while he wrote no Operas, he did compose two magnificent Oratorios, The Passion of St. Matthew and The Passion of St. John. Both showcase the perfect order and balance and almost blinding beauty found in virtually all of Bach’s compositions, but their ambition lifts them among his most acclaimed works. Indeed, the more famous of the two, the St. Matthew’s Passion, was one of the works most instrumental in Felix Mendelssohn’s efforts to exalt Bach from being seen as just another Classical composer to being enshrined as the Almighty God of Western Music.
The St. John’s Passion has always been quite a bit less popular, for reasons that have less to do with the quality of the music (Bach, alone among pretty much all composers in history, simply didn’t have off days), and more to do with the text to which it’s set. Bach apparently wrote this “libretto” himself (or more accurately, cobbled it together out of a plethora of essentially unrelated sources), and it turns out that for all his incomparable genius as a composer, Bach was not the most stellar of prose writers. The text leaves quite a bit to be desired…it is inconsistent in style, has none of the dramatic unity the St. Matthew’s Passion is famous for, and features some implied anti-Semitic leanings that may or may not have been intentional on Bach’s part, but that may well have had an effect on European (especially German) thinking on the subject that was…not exactly beneficial in the long run, shall we say.
The St. John’s Passion is also the first enduring Musical-Theater work with a modular score. There were no less than four separate editions of the piece revised by Bach during his lifetime, and it is simply not practicable to use the work’s entire body of material in a single performance, so modern productions tend to pick and choose their material from a selection of alternate individual set pieces (all of which, of course, are sublime, this being Bach, which is either fortunate or unfortunate, depending on your view). Granted, plenty of Operas and Oratorios were built like this in that era, many even shamelessly reusing arias from the composers’ earlier works, but scores without a definitive tunestack have become fairly rare in the modern day, and this may be the oldest work based on that model to still be regularly performed.
Like pretty much all of Bach’s vocal music, these works were intended to be performed in a church rather than a theater like Handel’s Oratorios, but the structure of the form is essentially the same. In fact, both Passions deal with exactly the same subject matter and story as Handel’s Messiah, and both are actually structured far more like an actual Opera than that work, which consists mostly of choral narration (indeed, the sacred Oratorio was basically used by the church as a more ‘wholesome’ alternative to the supposedly degenerate genre of Opera, thus enabling them to exploit the format without acknowledging they were compromising their principles).
All this changed in the 1760s, when Christoph von Gluck, the ‘Great Reformer’ of the opera form, came along. Now, to our modern ears, Gluck’s operas sound almost as staid as a Baroque opera, but he pioneered several techniques that are still in use in Musical Theater to this day, such as using lyrical dissonance (music that contradicts its own lyrics) as a dramatic device, or the use of orchestral mood music to capture a character’s psychological state (also heavily used in film scoring, once it came into being).
Gluck’s innovations were picked up by Mozart twenty-odd years later, who used them along with his phenomenal natural gifts to create a new genre of opera that blended the lightness and humor of the just-then-becoming-popular Opera Buffa (comic opera) with the emotional depth and intensity of traditional Baroque Opera Seria, much like the Twentieth Century Musical Play blended Operetta and Musical Comedy elements.
Three of Mozart’s most legendary works, The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, and Cosi Fan Tutte, were written in this style. Figaro and Cosi are largely in the Opera Buffa style, with farcical plots and plenty of broad comedy, but they also feature the kind of lyrical and elegiac arias not generally found in comic Opera and a depth of human feeling those Operas rarely approach.
The Marriage of Figaro was drawn from the second installment of a highly political trilogy of then-contemporary French plays, and while the political content was pretty heavily downplayed (though not so much so as in Rossini’s later Operatic version of the trilogy’s first installment, The Barber of Seville), the implications of the smart servant outwitting the oppressive master are still very much in evidence.
For all its political intent, however, the French play in question was clearly built on the familiar character archetypes of the Commedia Dell’Arte (as were most comedic plays in Europe at the time). Mozart’s great achievement is that he fleshes out these familiar character types into fully realized human beings. It’s notable that even the other great Musical-Theater masterpiece based on these types, Sondheim’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, never really managed to achieve this feat.
The libretto is superb to begin with, probably the best Mozart ever worked with, but the real alchemy comes in the music he composed for the piece. Giving servant characters the kind of high-minded lyrical music he gives them here was almost as subversive at the time as having them outwit their master, and the weight and dignity it adds to their character is ultimately a far more effective upending of the established order than the original play’s more overt political satire.
Cosi Fan Tutte, on the other hand, is a shining example of seemingly frivolous material being elevated to heartbreaking bittersweetness by its musical element. The libretto, a somewhat shallow and slightly bitter comedy about the frailty of women that makes most of its characters rather unlikable and seems downright unpleasantly sexist to modern audiences, would have virtually no appeal as a straight play. But because this story is set to some of Mozart’s most expressive and deeply melancholy music, it takes on all kinds of emotional implications that are not inherent in the text, ultimately playing like a heartbreaking tragicomedy about human foolishness comparable to Sondheim’s A Little Night Music.
But the clearest illustration of this unprecedented blend of comic and tragic elements was in the unclassifiable nature of Don Giovanni. For the most part, the piece plays as a raucous comedy, but the main character is a sociopathic sex maniac who begins the show by committing rape and murder in rapid succession. We’re encouraged to laugh at him a fair amount of the time, but we also get some disturbing testimonials from his victims, and the show’s climax, where he is dragged down to Hell, is terrifying, featuring probably the most dissonant and frightening music Mozart ever wrote.
Mozart’s stated position was that “poetry must be the obedient daughter of the music”, but he created probably the most successful attempt to unify drama and music ever, because he embodied the drama, not in the librettos, but in the music itself. It’s worth noting that, apart from Beethoven’s one opera, Fidelio, Mozart’s operas are the only ones from before the Romantic era to still remain a major part of the standard operatic repertoire.
While the more ambitious and high-minded Operas and Oratorios form the bulk of the material from this era that is still performed today, it’s worth remembering that the thing we now call “Musical Comedy” was not by any means an invention of the Twentieth Century. There were always lower-brow Musical Theater genres more lightweight and accessible than true Opera, at least after Opera was introduced so they could imitate it on a small scale. They were generally just plotted vaudevilles, resembling the lightweight, disposable Musical Comedies popular on Broadway in the twenties and thirties. The first of these genres to really make a historical impact was what the English called Ballad Opera, which produced the now rarely-performed but still highly influential Beggar’s Opera, back when Baroque Opera Seria was still in its heyday.
Another of these genres, known as Singspiel, comes into our discussion here because two scores by Mozart (The Abduction from the Seraglio and The Magic Flute) and one by Beethoven (the aforementioned Fidelio) were written for that format, which entailed spoken dialogue between the songs and heavy use of comic subplots. It was, generally speaking, a fairly frivolous form of entertainment, although both Mozart and Beethoven managed to elevate it quite a bit in their compositions in the field, simply because they were Mozart and Beethoven.
Mozart’s first notable attempt at Singspiel, The Abduction from the Seraglio, was little more than an insubstantial, pseudo-risque piece of fluff, albeit obviously one with very fine music, Mozart being Mozart. But as dazzling as much of the score is, it has a self-consciously showy quality quite different from the effortless feel of more mature Mozart, and the music doesn’t really do much to elevate the trashy story.
But his second Singspiel of any note, The Magic Flute, one of a handful of pieces completed just before his death, is one of his all-time masterpieces. It has a ridiculous libretto with a nonsensical bait-and-switch fantasy plot and several potentially irritating elements, but Mozart’s exalted music elevates it into a monumental tribute to human brotherhood. That kind of alchemy on a bad libretto is something only two or three composers have been able to achieve in the history of Musical Theater, but Mozart could pull it off, and did so more than once. This has led to a popular conspiracy theory that the show is some kind of elaborate coded message about the Freemasons, mostly because people aren’t comfortable admitting that this ecstatic, uplifting music is essentially set to random nonsense. Unfortunately, nothing we know about the character of either Mozart or his librettist here, a proto-Vaudevillian producer named Emanuel Schikaneder, really supports this interpretation, though this hasn’t stopped it from becoming an accepted piece of “common knowledge” in many Classical Music circles.
Beethoven’s Fidelio is if anything even more ennobling, even if Beethoven never quite managed to obscure the flaws in the clumsy libretto he was given as Mozart did. The piece tells the story of a political whistle-blower imprisoned in a villain’s dungeon, and his wife Leonore who disguises herself as a boy and uses the alias Fidelio to infiltrate the prison at which he is held and rescue him. Leonore is portrayed as a kind of secular saint, her husband Floristan as an ideological martyr, and the villain Pizarro as the terrifying embodiment of evil and power.
The Opera is far from flawless…the libretto, as stated, is a cliché-ridden disaster, and even the score has some dull stretches, particularly in the opening scenes. About the only music of real interest until halfway through the first act is the famous “Canon Quartet”, and while it is one of Opera’s great ensembles, the underwhelming and at times downright irritating music surrounding it gets the Opera off to a notoriously slow start, especially as the characters it is given to are almost entirely irrelevant to the main plot.
That said, once the Opera’s villain, Don Pizarro, makes an extremely impressive entrance with his terrifying villain aria, the dramatic intensity of the work never flags again for a moment. Leonore’s thrilling statement-of-determination aria, the tremulous, cautiously ecstatic chorus for the prisoners who are briefly allowed to see the sunlight again, Florestan’s half-mad cry of anguish in his prison, and the fiercely joyful celebration music at the end of the Opera constitute some of the most transcendental and uplifting music ever written, and Fidelio just might be the most ennobling piece of Musical Theater ever (its only real competition for that title being Man of La Mancha).
There was really only one other work of long-term note to come out of the Singspiel genre, Karl Maria von Weber’s Die Frieshutz. Weber seems like a fairly minor composer to most of us now, remembered primarily for this one Opera and one famous instrumental piece, Invitation to the Dance, but apart from perhaps Monteverdi, he was probably the most influential composer ever to fail to leave behind a large body of popular works. In fact, he is actually considered to be the very first composer of the Romantic movement…the one that would bring us Wagner, Brahms, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Tchaikovsky, Chopin and the vast majority of major names in Classical Music today. This Opera, and his two lesser-known follow-ups, Euryanthe and Oberon, formed the primary model for the early works of Richard Wagner, and would continue to heavily influence his style and subject matter throughout his career. Weber did have a weakness for showy set arias that Wagner would pretty quickly outgrow, but as Claude Debussy once observed, he was married to his own star singer, which might partly account for that proclivity.
Die Frieschutz also offered a return to fantasy for the Operatic genre. Classical-era Operas, with a few exceptions (such as The Magic Flute) had generally favored realistic (if often improbable) fiction over true fantasy, with the mythological themes of Baroque Opera Seria going out of fashion around the time of Mozart’s early career. But Weber, with his spine-tingling supernatural elements, helped to re-popularize the Fantasy Musical. Indeed, his deal-with-the-devil plot premise shows as clear an influence on Gounod’s Faust as it does on Wagner.
But Singspiel as a specific format proved to have little staying power, and its few classics were simply absorbed into the Opera genre, to the point where no-one really thinks of them anymore as anything but Opera. I point this out to illustrate how blurry and illusory the supposed line between ‘Opera’ and ‘Musical Theater’ really is, and how little it is likely to matter when both are in the ‘Classical’ category in the coming centuries.
The other truly monumental composing talent of this era was Mozart’s best friend and Beethoven’s teacher, Franz Joseph Haydn. His most notable achievement in the field of Music Theater was his Oratorio The Creation, which by general consensus stands as the ‘runner-up’ to Handel’s Messiah and Bach’s The Passion of St. Matthew for the title of Greatest Oratorio of All Time. This piece had perhaps the most ambitious concept of any Musical Theater work ever written…the creation of the universe itself…and amazingly enough, it more or less does justice to its premise. There is the occasional brief passage of somewhat stilted recitative, but the major numbers feature some of the most sublime Classical music ever written.
Haydn’s other great contribution was pioneering yet another new form, the Chamber Opera. For most of his career, Haydn was retained as a private employee of a powerful nobleman of the time, Prince Esterhazy, and composed largely on commissions from his employer. As such, his Operas were mostly staged privately for the Prince, and thus had to be achieved with smaller-scale staging and musical forces. Fortunately, Haydn was quite capable of creating compelling musical dramas within these limits. Apart from their small scale, his Operas strongly resembled Mozart’s in style and sound, and while they were never quite on Mozart’s level…Haydn lacked Mozart’s flawless sense of musical drama, the melodies are not quite as memorable, and he certainly never got a libretto of the caliber of Don Giovanni or Figaro…they are still often stunning as pure music. And their intimate scale and the way they take advantage of it to create a subtler and more delicate experience than regular Opera was the original inspiration that led to the smaller, more intimate forms of modern Musical Theater such as The Fantasticks.
The other link between Mozart and Beethoven is a composer who was also at least semi-friendly with Mozart during his life, and who was Beethoven’s teacher before Haydn took over that task: the infamous (and widely misunderstood) Antonio Salieri.
A common analogy you’ll hear among theater snobs who like to pretend to be more musically knowledgeable than they really are is “Comparing Sondheim and Lloyd-Webber is like comparing Mozart and Salieri”. The problem with this is that anyone using that analogy instantly betrays their complete ignorance of Classical music. Only someone whose entire understanding of Mozart’s biography was based on the movie Amadeus would ever try to use such an analogy. A closer analogue for what they they’re trying to imply might be Wagner and Meyerbeer, but of course no-one is going to touch that one with a ten-foot pole, Meyerbeer being Jewish and Wagner being…well, Wagner.
For one thing, Salieri was far from the talentless mediocrity that Amadeus makes him out to be. He was actually one of the most talented and distinguished composers of his day. Granted, he wasn’t a Mozart-level genius, but…I hate to break it to you idolaters…neither is Sondheim. And while Salieri, like his equivalent from the era of Bach, Georg Philip Telemann, was largely forgotten for many years and is still far less prominent than the friend and colleague he towered over during his lifetime, it’s worth noting that he has not completely vanished, and indeed is seeing a gradual revival today.
The works by Salieri that have managed to hold on to some degree, interestingly enough, are his Operas, and every now and then you’ll see a production mounted of one of them (usually Axur or Falstaf). Heard today, his Operas, while occasionally a bit obvious melodically, are actually extremely impressive, especially if one comes in expecting the “mediocrity” suggested by Amadeus.
Another thing that is often overlooked about Salieri is that he was actually one of Opera’s all-time innovators. Remember, Salieri was Gluck’s former pupil and de facto protégé, and he was arguably much more ahead of his time than his more famous mentor. Mozart is often given credit for elevating Opera Buffa into a serious art form, but the truth is that Salieri was incorporating more lyrical and ambitious elements into Opera Buffa in such works as The Stolen Bucket years before Mozart started doing it. Indeed, Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte is so similar in plot to Salieri’s earlier Opera La Grotta di Trofonio that the former was almost certainly inspired heavily by the latter. Salieri’s hyperdramatic Les Danaïdes, with its proto-Expressionistic portrayals of agony and damnation, was also a major influence on Hector Berlioz, as can be heard in such works as the famous Symphonie Fantastique and especially the Concert Opera La Damnation de Faust. Salieri’s magnum opus, Axur, was even the closest predecessor to Wagner’s unified Music Dramas that had been seen up to this point.
It was around this time that a new form of Musical Drama, the plotted song cycle, came into the picture. It was basically the next stage of stripped-down production beyond Chamber Opera, generally consisting of no more than one singer and a piano with no staging whatsoever. The Almighty God of this genre was the great Franz Schubert, a composer on the shortlist of immortal geniuses of Classical Music and arguably the greatest melodist of all time. Schubert never had a success in conventional Opera even posthumously despite several attempts, but his two most famous works in this genre, Die schöne Müllerin and Winterreise, both based on cycles of poems by Wilhelm Müller, are essentially unstaged tragic Operas for one singer. At the very least, they correspond to Opera the way the great Concept-Album Rock Operas of our own day correspond to Musical Theater. These poems, like Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther, dealt with the intersection between romantic heartbreak and existential despair (it was a very popular theme in European literature at the time, especially in Germany). Indeed, although not actually based on Goethe’s work, these song cycles do a much more effective job of musicalizing Goethe’s theme than the actual Werther opera by Jules Massenet.
Die schöne Müllerin is the more ubiquitous of the two today, but Winterreise has always been the more respected by the serious music set. The latter is sadder than any tragic Opera I know of, partly because its deliberately unresolved ending denies the listener any real catharsis. Throughout, the songs feature Schubert’s legendary gift for sheer melody, but with a depth of sorrow he never approached anywhere else in his work. And while Die schöne Müllerin at least ended with the catharsis of an operatic suicide, Winterreise concludes with its most haunting song of all, “Der Leiermann” (‘The Organ-Grinder’), as the narrator encounters the evocative image of an ignored, penniless organ grinder still relentlessly cranking his instrument. There is no real resolution of the protagonist’s crippling romantic and existential grief, just the musical equivalent of a film fading out on a single symbolic image.
Schubert’s successor in the field of German art song, Robert Schumann, also created two immensely important plotted song cycles, Dichterliebe and Fraunliebe und Leben. The primary difference between the two is that, despite being a disciple of Schubert during his lifetime and generally working in the same fields, Schumann was at heart a dramatist, not a melodist, and his actual style of composing is more reminiscent of Beethoven than Schubert.
The other key difference between the two is that Schubert wrote of love lost, and Schumann wrote of love fulfilled. After all, Schumann wrote virtually all of his Lieder in the year that he married his beloved wife, Clara Schumann, with whom he had already been in love for well over a decade. Schumann’s life was actually a short and rather tragic one (he died in a mental institution after trying to drown himself), but he did have an extremely happy marriage, and his love songs tended to be wildly celebratory even when set to the bittersweet German poetic texts he generally used as lyrics. Even the Dichterliebe, which was written during a period where he was forcibly separated from Clara by her overbearing father, conveys not the existential despair of Schubert’s song cycles, but a fierce and determined devotion bordering on obsession.