Peter Cornelius was but one of several worthy composers whose life and music were eclipsed by the towering presence of their contemporary Richard Wagner (1813-1883). One of history's few true poet-composers, Cornelius enjoyed a close friendship with both Wagner and Franz Liszt, yet managed rather successfully to establish and maintain his own individual musical style. Indeed, I find the songs of Cornelius so distinctive, so vocal and so appealing that--I advise the reader--it is difficult for me to approach them in an unbiased way.
There is evidence Cornelius wrote four songs for the Opus 4 he created in 1854-55. If he did write four, one of them subsequently became lost or was withdrawn, for when Opus 4 was published, it was titled Drei Lieder für Sopran und Tenor--Three Songs for Soprano and Tenor.
All three are love songs, with both poetry and music by Cornelius. The second of the set, Komm, wir wandeln zusammen im Mondschein , is an ardent invitation to take a romantic walk on a beautiful moonlit night. Cornelius cast his poem in so-called Heinestrophen and its forthright, masculine fervor is expressed in the elegantly mannered style of the time--an element my English paraphrase does not attempt to capture:
Komm, wir wandeln zusammen im Mondschein!
So zaubrisch glänzt jedes Blatt,
viellicht steht auf einem geschrieben,
wie lieb mein Herz dich Hat,
Komm, wir wandeln zusammen in Mondschein!
Der Mond strahlt aus Wellen bewegt,
vielleicht, dass du ahnest, wie selig
mein Herz dein Bildnis hegt,
Komm, wir wandeln zusammen im Mondschein
Der Mond will ein königlich Kleid
aus goldenen Strahlen dir weben,
dass du wandelst in Herrlichkeit!
Come walk with me in the moonlight!
The leaves glisten so magically,
The dancing light may reveal
The love my heart holds for you.
Come walk with me in the moonlight!
In the glint of the rippling waves
You may sense the rapturous feeling
Your beauty creates in my heart.
Come walk with me in the moonlight.
The streaming moonbeams will dress you
In such a regal and luminous gown,
You will be like an beautiful princess!
Those who prefer a more literal translation will find an excellent one in The Fischer-Dieskau Book of Lieder. The structure of the music is forthright; the three poetic quatrains become the two Stollen and an Abgesang of a Barform. A brief piano prelude introduces an rising melody suggesting, as much as anything, anticipation. The singer enters and pours out his invitation in a charming cascade of triplets. This is followed by a modulation and turn of melodic direction for an eloquent statement of rising ardor. The second quatrain repeats this pattern. In the Abgesang, the invitational triplets rise sequentially in the piano, while the voice takes up a gloriously expansive line, that it rides to a telling climactic peak. A reprise brings back the anticipation melody, that the voice uses as a closing figure.
In the original key of D-flat the vocal gamut runs from treble low F up to G above the staff, reserving the song to the province of tenors. Transposition to A-flat, as in a Breitkopf & Härtel edition for low voice, puts it within the range of a baritone or bass.
Today we disparage composers who deform poems by changing them to fulfill their musical needs. But what can one say about a composer who thus mars a poem--by repeating many of its lines--even though it is a poem he wrote? Surprisingly, the poetically sensitive Cornelius took such liberties not just with this poem, but with other people's poems as well. Perhaps less onus attended such things in times past.
Over the years several firms have published Cornelius' songs. The aforementioned Breitkopf & Härtel edition appeared in 1905. Part of a complete edition of Cornelius' music, its two volumes of songs were provided with English versions (most of which now sound quite dated) and published in both high and low voice. If you use this edition, please note there is an error in the low voice version of this song: both notes in the voice part in measure #22 should be A-naturals.
More recently, the C. F. Peters firm published a volume of twenty-five selected songs, that includes Opus 4. It is titled simply Cornelius Album. Here each song is in its original key and no translations are provided.
Now I must admit my enthusiasm for this song has led me to include it in the 'unsung' category even though, strictly speaking, it may not qualify. This to say, several recordings of it exist, notably two made by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, one with Hermann Reutter accompanying and another with Gerald Moore at the keyboard.
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