Low string quartet: Violin, viola, cello, contrabass
Premiere: April 11, 2022 by Essie Commers, vn.; Annelisa Guries, va.; Lars Krogstad Ortiz, vc.; Chris Ewan, cb
Score and 4 parts
Dream Variations is scored for an unconventional string quartet—one of each member of the string family, with the contrabass treated as a full partner: a “contrabass quartet.” It treats a song little known these days: the haunting last song of Carl Loewe’s song cycle for alto, Frauenliebe. As well as providing a poignant close to the cycle, the song has its own virtues: a shapely melody with distinctive motives, a throbbing accompaniment, and an equivocal tonality which vacillates between major and minor.
The nine poems of Adelbert von Chamisso’s poetic cycle Frauenliebe und -leben (Woman’s Love and Life) appeared in 1831. They trace the evolution of a woman’s love through infatuation, the wedding night, the birth of a child, a death…. Robert Schumann set Chamisso’s cycle in 1840, but other composers had beaten him to it, notably Carl Loewe (1796 –1869), four years before. In the ninth and final poem of the cycle—not set by Schumann, who devised his own piano-frame for his work—we fast-forward to meet the speaker as a grandmother. She repeats to her granddaughter words she once spoke to the girl’s mother: “Happiness is only love; only love is happiness.” I found this song quite magical and worthy of contemplation through variation treatment. Listen to Iris Vermillion sing “Traum der eig’nen Tage” here.
The introduction is deliberately misleading—a musical red herring, if you will—as the motto from “Er, der Herrlichste von Allen,” perhaps the most famous song of Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben, heralds the appearance of Loewe’s theme. Then Loewe’s song, “Traum der eig’nen Tage” (Dream of My Own Days), is treated to ten variations and a fugal finale.