Music Library Acquires Rare Set of Schumann Lieder in Honor of Retiring Faculty Member Susan Youens

Author: Noelle Elliott

Susan Youens

The recent retirement of Dr. Susan Youens, J. W. Van Gorkom Professor of Music, was cause for a celebration of the esteemed scholar’s teaching, research, and contributions to academic and musical life at the University of Notre Dame. To recognize her long-standing support for the library, the Department of Music and the Hesburgh Libraries acquired a special four-volume set of Lieder by Robert Schumann in her honor.

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Dr. Youens is regarded as one of the world’s foremost scholars of Franz Schubert and German song, publishing ground-breaking studies of Wolf, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Strauss, Liszt, and others.  According to Peter Smith, department chair and professor of music theory, “As happy as we are for Susan at this moment of retirement, we also will keenly miss the extraordinary contribution she has made to the life of the Department for over 30 years.  There is scarcely a more influential, insightful, and productive music historian anywhere in the world.”  Smith also stressed that Youens’s remarkable scholarly output is only one facet of her lifetime of achievement.  “She has been an inspirational teacher to generations of undergraduates, a generous mentor to young scholars and performers both at Notre Dame and beyond, a leader in Department affairs, and an energetic advocate for Notre Dame’s libraries.”

The Schumann set contains 210 of the composer’s songs in first or early editions, printed between 1843 and 1865. Among the songs included are first editions of the Dichterliebe, Spanisches LiederspielLieder und Gesänge aus Wilhelm MeisterHusarenlieder, and Gedichte der Königin Maria Stuart. This alone would qualify as a major acquisition, as first editions such as these are highly prized by scholars, musicians, and collectors. What makes the collection truly unique is that the scores were collected and bound together by Betty Oser (1837-1922). Oser was a student of Clara Schumann and became close friends with the Schumann family and Johannes Brahms. Her sister-in-law was Josefine Wittgenstein, a member of an important Viennese family connected with the artistic circles at the time. This collection is therefore a link to both 19th-century Vienna and Schumann himself—two of Youens’s passions and the subjects for much of her research.

 “First and early editions are crucial sources for musicological research,” says Music Librarian Robert Simon, “but they don’t just teach us about the music. As Susan’s books and articles have taught us, they are artifacts of the past that let us connect with that time, the composers, the publishers, the performers, all of musical society.” During Schumann’s lifetime and for years afterward, it would have been these publications that were studied and performed—a tradition Youens continues.

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Youens has been a staunch advocate for Notre Dame’s libraries since coming to the University, providing long lists of recommended purchases before there was a dedicated music librarian. “Susan was one of the first professors to meet with me when I started here,” says Simon, “and it has been a pleasure and an honor to work with her to further expand the collection.  You can really see her impact throughout the collection, and not just specifically tied to her research. I wanted to find something truly special to dedicate in her honor, and this set of songs came along at the perfect time.”

The four volumes are safely stored in the Reading Room of the Music Library in O’Neill Hall, a space that Youens helped create. They will be available on request for viewing and study by students, faculty, guest scholars, and of course, professors emeriti.