Das Lied von der Erde

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Das Lied von der Erde ("The Song of the Earth") is a large-scale work of music composed by the Austrian composer Gustav Mahler between 1908 and 1909. The work was described as a symphony when published, and it comprises six songs for two singers who take turns singing the songs. Mahler specified the two singers should be a tenor and an alto, or else a tenor and a baritone if an alto is not available.[1] The work was composed following the most painful period in Mahler's life, and the songs address themes such as those of living, parting and salvation. On the centenary of Mahler's birth, the composer, conductor, and Mahler champion Leonard Bernstein described Das Lied von der Erde as Mahler's "Greatest symphony".[2]

Origins[edit]

Three personal disasters befell Mahler during the summer of 1907. Political maneuvering and anti-semitism forced him to resign his post as Director of the Vienna Court Opera, his eldest daughter Maria died from scarlet fever and diphtheria, and Mahler himself was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect. "With one stroke," he wrote to his friend Bruno Walter, "I have lost everything I have gained in terms of who I thought I was, and have to learn my first steps again like a newborn".[3]

The following year (1908) saw the publication of Hans Bethge's Die chinesische Flöte, a volume of ancient Chinese poetry rendered into German. Mahler was very taken by the vision of earthly beauty and transience expressed in these verses[4] and chose seven of the poems to set to music as Das Lied von der Erde. Mahler completed this work 1909.

Text in Das Lied von der Erde[edit]

The Universal Edition score of 1911 for Das Lied von der Erde shows Mahler's adapted text as follows.

1. "Das Trinklied vom Jammer der Erde" ("The Drinking Song of Earth's Misery")[edit]

2. "Der Einsame im Herbst" ("The Lonely One in Autumn")[edit]

3. "Von der Jugend" ("Of Youth")[edit]

4. "Von der Schönheit" ("Of Beauty")[edit]

5. "Der Trunkene im Frühling" ("The Drunken Man in Spring")[edit]

6. "Der Abschied" ("The Farewell")[edit]

Text in Mahler's sources[edit]

Mahler's source for the text was Hans Bethge's Die chinesische Flöte. In writing this volume, Bethge himself used prior translations of the original Chinese poetry.[5] Texts now identified as being likely sources used by Bethge include Hans Heilman's Chinesische Lyrik (1905),[6] Marquis d'Hervey de Saint Denys' Poésies de l'époque des Thang,[7] and Judith Gautier's Livre de Jade.[8][9][10]

Four of the songs -- Das Trinklied vom Jammer der Erde, Von der Jugend, Von der Schönheit and Der Trunkene im Frühling, were derived from poems written by Li Bai, the wandering poet of the Tang dynasty. Der Einsame im Herbst is based on a poem by Qian Qi, another poet of the Tang Dynasty.[11] Der Abschied combines poems by Tang Dynasty poets Mong Hao-Ran and Wang Wei, with several additional lines by Mahler himself. These attributions have historically been a matter of some uncertainty, and around the turn of the Twenty-First Century, Chinese scholars extensively debated the sources of the songs following a performance of the work in China in 1998.[12]

Instrumentation[edit]

Mahler had already included movements for voice and orchestra in his Second, Third, Fourth and Eighth Symphonies. However, Das Lied von der Erde is the first work giving a complete integration of song cycle and symphony. The form was afterwards imitated by other composers, notably by Shostakovich and Zemlinsky. This new form has been termed a "song-symphony",[13] a hybrid of the two forms that had occupied most of Mahler's creative life.

Das Lied von der Erde is scored for a large orchestra consisting of piccolo, three flutes (the third doubling on second piccolo), three oboes (the third doubling on English horn), three clarinets, E-flat clarinet, bass clarinet, three bassoons (the third doubling on contrabassoon), four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, bass tuba, percussion (timpani, bass drum, side drum (omitted in the revised score), cymbals, triangle, tambourine, tamtam, glockenspiel), celesta, two harps, mandolin, and strings. Mahler deploys these resources with great restraint: only in the first, fourth and sixth songs does the entire orchestra play at once, and in some places the texture almost resembles chamber music, with only a few instruments playing.

Mahler's habit was to subject the orchestration of every new orchestral work to detailed revision over several years; though the musical material itself was hardly ever changed, the complex instrumental 'clothing' would be altered and refined in the light of experience gained in performance. In the case of Das Lied von der Erde, however, this process could not occur as the work's publication and first performance occurred posthumously.

The score calls for tenor and alto soloists.[1] However, Mahler includes the note that "if necessary, the alto part may be sung by a baritone". For the first few decades after the work's premiere, this option was little used. On one occasion Bruno Walter tried it out, and engaged Friedrich Weidemann, the baritone who had premiered Kindertotenlieder under Mahler's own baton in 1905. However, Walter felt that tenor and baritone did not work as well as tenor and alto, and he never repeated the experiment.[14]

Following the pioneering recordings of the work by baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau under conductors Paul Kletzki and Leonard Bernstein, the use of baritones in this work has become increasingly common.

Arnold Schoenberg began to arrange Das Lied von der Erde for chamber orchestra, reducing the orchestral forces to string and wind quintets, and calling for piano, celesta and harmonium to supplement the harmonic texture. Three percussionists are also employed. Schoenberg never finished this project, and the arrangement was completed by Rainer Riehn in 1980.

Glen Cortese was commissioned by the Octavian Society in 2004 to create two reductions of the work, one for a chamber ensemble of twenty instruments and one for a small orchestra with woodwinds and brass in pairs. Both these reductions are published in critical edition by Universal in Vienna.

Mahler also arranged the work for piano accompaniment, and this has been recorded by Cyprien Katsaris with Thomas Moser and Brigitte Fassbaender. Katsaris has also performed this version in concert.[15]

Premieres[edit]

The first public performance was given, posthumously, on 20 November 1911 in the Tonhalle in Munich, sung by Sara Cahier and William Miller (both Americans) with Bruno Walter conducting. Mahler had died six months earlier, on 18 May.

One of the earliest performances in London (possibly the first) occurred in January 1913 at the Queen's Hall under conductor Henry Wood, where it was sung by Gervase Elwes and Doris Woodall. Wood reportedly thought that the work was 'excessively modern but very beautiful'.[16]

Commentary[edit]

According to the musicologist Theodor W. Adorno, Mahler found in Chinese poetry what he had formerly sought after in the genre of German folk song: a mask or costume for the sense of rootlessness or "otherness" attending his identity as a Jew.[17] This theme, and its influence upon Mahler's tonality, has been further explored by John Sheinbaum.[18] It has also been asserted that Mahler found in these poems an echo of his own increasing awareness of mortality.[19]

Curse of the Ninth[edit]

Mahler was aware[20] of the so-called "curse of the Ninth", a superstition arising from the fact that no major composer since Beethoven had successfully completed more than nine symphonies before dying. He had already written eight symphonies before composing Das Lied von der Erde. Fearing his subsequent demise, he decided to subtitle the work A Symphony for Tenor, Alto and Large Orchestra (Eine Symphonie für eine Tenor- und eine Alt- (oder Bariton-) Stimme und Orchester), but left it unnumbered as a symphony. His next symphony, written for purely instrumental forces, was numbered his Ninth. That was indeed the last symphony he fully completed, because only the first movement of the Tenth had been fully orchestrated at the time of his death.

Structure[edit]

  1. Das Trinklied vom Jammer der Erde
    The first movement, "The Drinking Song of Earth's Misery", continually returns to the refrain, Dunkel ist das Leben, ist der Tod (literally, "Dark is life, is death"), which is pitched a semitone higher on each successive appearance. Like many drinking poems by Li Bai, the original poem "Bei Ge Xing" (a pathetic song) (Chinese:悲歌行) mixes drunken exaltation with a deep sadness. The singer's part is notoriously demanding, since the tenor has to struggle at the top of his range against the power of the full orchestra. This gives the voice its shrill, piercing quality, and is consistent with Mahler's practice of pushing instruments, including vocal cords, to their limits. According to musicologist Theodor W. Adorno, the tenor should here create the impression of a "denatured voice in the Chinese (falsetto) style",[21] perhaps in the style of Peking opera.[citation needed]
    The movement begins with a three-note horn call which recurs throughout the song, most notably at the climax in which the singer describes an ape calling "into the sweet fragrance of life." The climax also marks the first of the three whole-tone passages that occur in the symphony.
  2. Der Einsame im Herbst
    "The lonely one in Autumn" is a much softer, less turbulent movement. Marked 'somewhat dragging and exhausted', it begins with a repetitive shuffling in the strings, followed by solo wind instruments. The lyrics, which are based on the first part of a Tang Dynasty era poem by Qian Qi,[11] lament the dying of flowers and the passing of beauty, as well as expressing an exhausted longing for sleep. The orchestration in this movement is sparse and chamber music-like, with long and independent contrapuntal lines.
  3. Von der Jugend
    The third movement, "Of Youth" (for tenor), is the most obviously pentatonic and faux-Asian. The form is ternary, the third part being a greatly abbreviated revision of the first. It is also the shortest of the six movements, and can be considered a first scherzo.
  4. Von der Schönheit
    The music of this movement, "Of Beauty", is mostly soft and legato, meditating on the image of some "young girls picking lotus flowers at the riverbank." Later in the movement there is a louder, more articulated section in the brass as the young men ride by on their horses. There is a long orchestral postlude to the sung passage, as the most beautiful of the young maidens looks longingly after the most handsome of the young men.
  5. Der Trunkene im Frühling
    The second scherzo of the work is provided by the fifth movement, "The drunken man in Spring". Like the first, it opens with a horn theme. In this movement Mahler uses an extensive variety of key signatures, which can change as often as every few measures. The middle section features a solo violin and solo flute, which represent the bird the singer describes.
  6. Der Abschied
    The final movement, "The Farewell", is nearly as long as the previous five movements combined. Its text is drawn from two different poems, both involving the theme of leave-taking. The last lines were added by Mahler himself. This final song is also notable for its text-painting, using a mandolin to represent the singer's lute, imitating bird calls with woodwinds, and repeatedly switching between the major and minor modes to articulate sharp contrasts in the text.
    Lines 1-3, 17-19, and 26-28 are all sung to the same music, with nothing but a pedal point in the low strings and a countermelody in the flute.[22] The singer repeats the final word of the song, "ewig" ("forever"), like a mantra, accompanied by sustained chords in the orchestra, which features mandolin, harps, and celesta. "Ewig" is repeated as the music fades into silence, the final chord "imprinted on the atmosphere" as Benjamin Britten asserted.[this quote needs a citation] It is also worth noting that throughout Das Lied von der Erde there is a persistent theme that "The earth will stay beautiful forever, but man cannot live for even a hundred years." At the end of "Der Abschied," however, Mahler adds three original lines which repeat this theme, but purposefully omits the part saying that "man must die".[22] Conductor, composer, and musicologist Leonard Bernstein asserts that this ties in with the Eastern idea of Nirvana, in that the "soul" of the singer, as s/he dies, becomes one with the everlasting earth.[23]
    The last movement is very difficult to conduct because of its cadenza-like writing for voice and solo instruments, which often flows over the barlines. Mahler specifically instructed the movement to be played "Ohne Rücksicht auf das Tempo" (Without regard for the tempo). Bruno Walter related[this quote needs a citation] that Mahler showed him the score of this movement and asked, "Do you know how to conduct this? Because I certainly don't." Mahler also hesitated to put the piece before the public because of its relentless negativity, unusual even for him. "Won't people go home and shoot themselves?" he asked.[24]

Selected recordings[edit]

Original score as written by Mahler[edit]

Original version for high and middle voice and piano:

  • Hermine Haselböck (mezzo-soprano), Bernhard Berchtold (tenor), Markus Vorzellner (piano). Recorded 2008 at the occasion of the 100th anniversary in the Kulturzentrum Toblach, in cooperation with the Gustav-Mahler-Musikweks Toblach 2008 (C-AVI MUSIC 4260085531257).

Schoenberg and Riehn arrangement[edit]

Cantonese translation[edit]

In 2004 a Cantonese version was prepared by Daniel Ng and Glen Cortese. The world premiere of this version was given on 14 August 2004 by the Chamber Orchestra Anglia at the British Library, conducted by Sharon Andrea Choa with soloists Robynne Redmon and Warren Mok.[25] It was performed again by Singapore Symphony Orchestra on 22 July 2005 with mezzo Ning Liang and tenor Warren Mok under the direction of Lan Shui.

Related works[edit]

The American poet Ronald Johnson wrote a series of concrete poems called "Songs of the Earth" (1970) based on a "progression of hearings" of Mahler's work.[26]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b Das Lied von der Erde | Eine Symphonie für eine Tenor- und eine Alt- (oder Bariton-) Stimme und Orchester (nach Hans Bethges "Die chinesische Flöte") | von Gustav Mahler | Partitur | Translated: The Song of the Earth. A Symphony for Tenor and Alto (or Baritone) Voice and Orchestra (after Hans Bethge's "The Chinese Flute"). By Gustav Mahler. Score. Published by Universal Edition, 1911.
  2. ^ New York Philharmonic Young People's Concerts. Original Broadcast February 7, 1960. "Who is Gustav Mahler?"
  3. ^ Richard Freed, programme note
  4. ^ J. Johnson, 'Mahler and the idea of Nature', in J. Barham (ed.), Perspectives on Gustav Mahler (Ashgate Publishing Ltd., 2005), 22ff.
  5. ^ Hans Bethge. Die chinesische Flöte. Insel-Verlag. Page 103. 'Geleitwort'. Final paragraph.
  6. ^ R. Piper & Co. Verlag, München 1907.
  7. ^ D'Hervey de Saint-Denys (1862). Poésies de l'Époque des Thang (Amyot, Paris). See Minford, John and Lau, Joseph S. M. (2000)). Classic Chinese Literature (Columbia University Press) ISBN 978-0-231-09676-8.
  8. ^ Judith Gautier. Le livre de Jade. Felix Juven. Paris.
  9. ^ S. Spencer. Wagner Remembered. Faber. London, 2000. Page 213.
  10. ^ Teng-Leong Chew, 'Perspectives: The Identity of the Chinese Poems Mahler adapted for 'Von der Jugend',' in The Mahler Archive
  11. ^ a b Quantangshi, 卷236_23 《效古秋夜長》, by 錢起 (Qian Qi)
  12. ^ A summary of the interpretations of Tang poem origins of Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde (in Chinese:关于马勒《大地之歌》唐诗歌词之解译研究的综述)
  13. ^ M. Kennedy and J. Bourne Kennedy (Eds.), The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music (OUP, London 2007).
  14. ^ Audiophile Audition
  15. ^ New York Times 23 February 1993
  16. ^ H.J. Wood, My Life of Music (Gollancz, London 1946 edn), 287.
  17. ^ Adorno 1960, 1966.
  18. ^ John J. Sheinbaum, 'Adorno's Mahler and the Timbral Outsider', Journal of the Royal Musical Association, 2006, Vol. 131 no. 1, pp. 38–82.
  19. ^ M. Kennedy, The Dent Master Musicians: Mahler (Dent, London 1974 and 1990), p. 155. 'It voices the aching regret of a man who must soon leave the world', (Blom 1937, p. 4).
  20. ^ M. Kennedy, The Dent Master Musicians: Mahler (J.M. Dent, London, 1974 and 1990), p. 156.
  21. ^ Theodore W. Adorno, Mahler:Eine musikalische Physiognomik Bibliothek Suhrkamp no 62 (Suhrkamp 1960). See also T. W. Adorno, Wagner - Mahler: Due Studi (Einaudi, Saggi, Torino 1966.
  22. ^ a b Gustav Mahler, "Das Lied von der Erde: Eine Symphonie für eine Tenor- und eine Alt- (oder Bariton-) Stimme und Orchester (nach Hans Bethges "Die chinesische Flöte")" (Universal-Edition, Vienna, 1912)
  23. ^ "Das Lied von der Erde: A Personal Introduction (1972); documentary by Humphrey Burton starring Leonard Bernstein, Rene Kollo, Christa Ludwig, and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra
  24. ^ SCO Programme Note
  25. ^ See http://idp.bl.uk/archives/news24/idpnews_24.a4d#4
  26. ^ Songs of the Earth, © 1970 by Ronald Johnson and 2000 by his estate.

References[edit]

  • Theodor W. Adorno, Mahler:Eine musikalische Physiognomik, Bibliothek Suhrkamp 62 (Suhrkamp 1960).
  • Adorno, Wagner - Mahler: Due Studi (Einaudi, Saggi, Torino 1966).
  • Jeremy Barham, Perspectives on Gustav Mahler (Ashgate Publishing Ltd., 2005).
  • Hans Bethge, Der Chinesische Flöte: Nachdichtungen von chinesischer Lyrik (Leipzig 1907).
  • Eric Blom, Mahler's "Song of the Earth" (with introduction by Bruno Walter)" (Columbia Graphophone Company, Hayes (Middlesex) 1937).
  • Teng-Leong Chew, 'Perspectives: The identity of the Chinese poem Mahler adapted for 'Von der Jugend', Naturlaut, Vol 3 no 2, p. 15-17.
  • Teng-Leong Chew, 'Tracking the Literary Metamorphosis in Das Lied von der Erde'
  • Teng-Leong Chew, 'Das Lied von der Erde: the Literary Changes'
  • Henry-Louis de La Grange, Gustav Mahler III: Le Génie Foudroyé (1907–1911) (Paris 1984).
  • Fusako Hamao, 'The Sources of the Texts in Mahler's Lied von der Erde,' 19th Century Music 19 Part 1 (Summer 1995), 83-94.
  • S. E. Hefling, Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth)', (Cambridge University Press 2000).
  • Hans Heilman, Chinsesischer Lyrik Vom 12 Jahrhundert vor Christ bis zur Gegenwart (Munich 1907).
  • M. Kennedy, The Dent Master Musicians: Mahler (Dent, London 1974 and 1990).
  • Kennedy (ed.), Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music', (OUP, London 1996 edn.).
  • G. Mahler, Das Lied von der Erde in Full Score (Dover 1998).
  • Donald Mitchell, Gustav Mahler: Songs and Symphonies of Life and Death (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1985).
  • John J. Sheinbaum, 'Adorno's Mahler and the Timbral Outsider,' Journal of the Royal Musical Association, 2006 Vol 131 no 1, 38-82.
  • Arthur B. Wenk, 'The composer as poet in Das Lied von der Erde,' 19th Century Music 1 Part 1 (1977), 33-47.

External links[edit]