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Yuyao Qu


Collaborative piano


Comparison paper

For this paper, I am going to talk about “Frauenliebe und-leben” by Robert Schumann. I

picked two recordings to compare, one is the performance by Janet Baker/Geoffrey Parsons

and the other is the performance by Lucia Popp/Geoffrey Parsons. I found out that would be

really interesting to compare those two recordings with same pianist, but entirely different


First of all, I would like to introduce a little bit about this piece. Literature works was an

essential part of Schumann’s life that the year of his marriage led him to utilize the poetry of

others in the writings of his songs. He turned the poets’ words to music with his strong

emotion and creative efforts. In the year of 1840, he composed approximately 140 songs

which the Frauenliebe und-leben was one of the most famous song-cycles with text by the

French-born German poet Adelbert von Chamisso. Schumann’s choice of text for this song

cycle was directly inspired by his marriage to Clara. Frauenliebe und-leben contains eight

songs that presents an evolving perspective on love and life. The first piece states a girl in

the first flush of love. As the songs keep going, the young woman gives her whole love in the

feelings of mature love. The last piece is one of grief and pain, presenting by the death of

the beloved.

Comparing the two recordings, I will talk about the difference in general and mentioned

some of the details in my several favorite pieces. The first recording was performance by

Janet Baker and Geoffrey parsons. Janet Baker was an English operatic mezzo-soprano who
was known for her vocal expression, stage presence and effective diction. She was

particularly famous for her interpretations of the works by Mahler, Elgar and J.S Bach.

Geoffrey Parsons was an Australian pianist, most particularly known as an accompanist to

singers and instrumentalists. He was also generally considered as the world’s finest and

most sympathetic accompanist of lieder singers, “elevating the role of the accompanist to

new heights with his musicality, authority and quiet strength of playing”. The singer of the

second recording is Lucia Popp, a Czech-born Australian lyric soprano who had a light,

transparent voice that weightier as she matured. The first piece “Since I saw him” is my

favorite piece in this song-cycle, the recording by Janet and Geoffrey choose a slower tempo

which create a more affectionate atmosphere. The recording by Lucia and Geoffrey choose a

lively tempo which is a little bit faster than Janet. The key was also different, Janet was in A-

flat major and Lucia choose B-flat major. In my perspective, Lucia was more dazzling singing

that sometimes choose to make accent notes or take a little breath between the small

phrases. Janet’s choice of singing was more legato, started with softer sound and ended

with softer sound in each phrase. The recording by Janet and Geoffrey making dynamic

more gradually and affectionately compared to Lucia, Lucia was more direct expression.

Since the piano accompaniment part contains a lot of dotted rhythm and basically formed

by chords, Geoffrey sometimes delayed a little bit the short note to help the singers to

create the tone. I found it was really hard to set up the short notes in dotted rhythm when I

played this piece by myself, especially try to catch up the singer. He did a fabulous job to

follow/lead the direction of phrase with singer which I really appreciated, also highlighted

the melody notes very natural.

The second piece also was one of my favorite pieces in this song-cycle. It is contrast with

the first piece, like the love get more passion and crazy. As the piano accompaniment only
have eighth note octave chord in the right hand and an octave bass line in the left hand,

Geoffrey played it to help singer with the dynamic and followed the breath of singer. To

compared with, Lucia’s recording contains more passion and clear pronunciation which I can

hear the words very clearly such as “Himmel” and “Augen” with obvious pause. Janet’s

more legato, she took more time in rit. and ending a phrase. In the second piece, I prefer

the recording by Lucia and Geoffrey.

The third piece “I can’t grasp it, nor believe it”, the piano part swithed from short quarter

chord to long chord then back, Geoffrey played exactly together with singers on the first

beat. However, I don’t know why, I think Geoffrey played louder when he played with Lucia.

In the recording of Janet, she started faster than Lucia and the lyric she sang with more

articulation which can present better the feeling of surprised. And the breath was really

long. On the contrary, Lucia’s beginning was more legato which can link up the lyrical

passage later.

The fourth piece is very “Schumann”, which the texture of piano accompaniment can be

found in many other Schumann’s works. It’s very difficult to distinguish the melody with

inner voice, to balance each line and highlight the melody along with the singer. Geoffrey

didn’t bring up the melody notes much, he kept the sound very soft and deep. Janet’s

recording was slower than Lucia’s choice of tempo, more expressive and long breath. She

took little rit. and decreasc. In many small phrases.

In general, I prefer Janet’s recording in slow/expressive pieces and really like Lucia’s

articulation in faster/energetic pieces. It may because Lucia’s choice is more directly

expression without too much rubato. The voices are also entire differently, however,

Geoffrey handled these two voices perfectly and come with different accompaniments.

when I learned this piece, I just followed the instructions wrote on the score and randomly
doing rubato. Learning these two recording gave me more choices to each phrase and made

me really thinking about create rubato/tempo that make sense to the texts and contents.

Also, when I have different singer, I need to consider their different voices and followed by

their choice of breath. Listening to my partner is the most important thing, then create

something special together. I really enjoyed this piece and will continue to learn it.