Das Lied von der Erde
Das Lied von der Erde ("The Song of the Earth") is a large-scale work for two vocal soloists and orchestra by the Austrian composer Gustav Mahler. Laid out in six separate movements, each of them an independent song, the work is described on the title-page as Eine Symphonie für eine Tenor- und eine Alt- (oder Bariton-) Stimme und Orchester (nach Hans Bethges "Die chinesische Flöte") – "A Symphony for Tenor and Alto (or Baritone) Voice and Orchestra (after Hans Bethge's 'The Chinese Flute'"). Bethge's text was published in the autumn of 1907. Mahler's use of 'Chinese' motifs in the music is unique in his output. Composed in the years 1908–1909, it followed the Eighth Symphony, but is not numbered as the Ninth, which is a different work. Following the most painful period (1907) in his life, Mahler touches on issues of living, parting and salvation with this work. It lasts approximately 65 minutes in performance.
In 1960, 100 years after Mahler's birth, the great composer / conductor and Mahler champion Leonard Bernstein described this work "The Song of the Earth" as Mahler's greatest work, in Bernstein's own "Concerts for Young People" television series.
Mahler conceived the work in 1908. This followed closely on the publication of Hans Bethge's volume of ancient Chinese poetry rendered into German, Die Chinesische Flöte ("The Chinese Flute"), based on several intermediate works (see Text). Mahler was very taken by the vision of earthly beauty and transience expressed in these verses and chose seven (two of them used in the finale) to set to music. Mahler himself wrote: "I think it is probably the most personal composition I have created thus far." Bruno Walter called it "the most personal utterance among Mahler's creations, and perhaps in all music."
According to the philosopher Theodor W. Adorno, in Chinese poetry Mahler found what he had formerly sought in the genre of German folk song: a mask or costume for the sense of rootlessness or "otherness" attending his identity as a Jew. This theme, and its influence upon Mahler's tonality, has been further explored by John Sheinbaum. It is also claimed that Mahler found in these poems an echo of his own increasing awareness of mortality.
Mahler's experiences during the preceding summer (1907) are likened to the three hammer blows of his Sixth Symphony (written in 1903–1904). He was pushed to resign his post as Director of the Vienna Court Opera, through political intrigue partly involving anti-semitism. His eldest daughter Maria died from scarlet fever and diphtheria. In addition, 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".
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", a hybrid of the two forms that had occupied most of Mahler's creative life.
Mahler was aware of the so-called "curse of the Ninth", 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, which he subtitled A Symphony for Tenor, Contralto and Large Orchestra, but left unnumbered as a symphony. His next (instrumental) symphony was numbered his Ninth. That was indeed the last he fully completed, for only the first movement of the Tenth had been orchestrated at the time of his death.
The original public performance was given on 20 November 1911 in the Tonhalle in Munich, with Bruno Walter conducting and sung by Sara Cahier and William Miller. One of the earliest in London (possibly the first) was in January 1913 at the Queen's Hall, under Henry Wood, where it was sung by Gervase Elwes and Doris Woodall: Wood thought it 'excessively modern but very beautiful'.
Four of the Chinese poems used by Mahler ("Das Trinklied vom Jammer der Erde", "Von der Jugend", "Von der Schönheit" and "Der Trunkene im Frühling") are by Li Bai, the famous Tang dynasty wandering poet. The German text used by Mahler was derived from Hans Bethge's translations in his book Die chinesische Flöte (1907). These 'translations' were in fact loose imitations of translations in Hans Heilman's 1907 book Chinesische Lyrik, and draw also upon Heilman's two sources in French translation from the Chinese. These French sources were Poésies de l'époque des Thang by Marie-Jean-Léon, Marquis d'Hervey de Saint Denys, and the Livre de Jade by Judith Gautier (an intimate friend of Richard Wagner).
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 did not occur: the work's publication and first performance occurred posthumously.
The scoring also calls for tenor and alto soloists. However, Mahler also 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 contralto, and he never repeated the experiment.
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 apparently never finished this in his lifetime, and the arrangement was completed by Rainer Riehn in 1980.
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.
- 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 philosopher Theodor W. Adorno, the tenor should here create the impression of a "denatured voice in the Chinese (falsetto) style", perhaps in the style of Peking opera.
- "The wine in the golden cup calls us, but first let me sing you a song of sorrow which shall ring laughingly in your soul. When sorrow comes the gardens of the soul lie waste, joy and song fade and die: Dark is life, dark is death. Master of this house! Your cellar is full of golden wine! This lyre I shall call mine, for emptying the glass and sounding the lyre are things that go together. A full beaker of wine at the right time is worth more than all the riches of this world: Dark is life, dark is death. The sky is endlessly blue, and the earth will long remain, and bloom in Spring. But you, Man, how long will you remain? Not even a hundred years shall you enjoy all the mouldering trinkets of this earth! A wild, ghostly figure crouches in the moonlight on the tombs - it is an Ape! Listen, its howling cuts through the sweet scent of Life. Now, drink the wine! Now is the time, comrades! Empty your golden cups to the lees! Dark is life, dark is death."
- 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, lamenting the dying of flowers and the passing of beauty. The orchestration in this movement is sparse and chamber music-like, with long and independent contrapuntal lines.
- "Autumn mists roll across the lake, as if a dust of Jade had been spread over the flowers, and their scent is gone. The withered lotus leaves will soon float on the lake waters. My heart is weary, and I come to this beautiful place of rest, for I need solace: I weep much in my loneliness. Autumn lasts too long in my heart: Sun of Love, will you never shine and dry away my bitter tears?"
- 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.
- "A pavilion of green and white porcelain stands in the middle of a tiny pond. Like a tiger's back, a Jade bridge arches over to it. Inside the house beautifully-dressed friends drink and chat, and some write poetry: their silk sleeves slip back and their silk caps hang cheerfully over their necks. Everything is marvellously reflected in the still surface of the water. Everything stands on its head in the green and white pavilion. The bridge is like a half moon, the arch upturned. Beautifully dressed friends drink and chat."
- Von der Schönheit
- The music of this movement, "Of Beauty", is mostly soft and legato, with a loud articulated section in the brass as the young men ride by. There is a long orchestral postlude to the sung passage.
- "Maidens gather blossoms in their laps as they sit among the bushes of the river bank, and the sunlight reflects them in the water. Handsome youths ride past on horses among the willows, trampling the flowers. The loveliest of the maidens looks on the handsome young man with burning desire, her heart's excitement beseeching him through her gaze behind her mask of pride."
- Der Trunkene im Frühling
- The scherzo of the work is represented by the fifth movement, "The drunken man in Spring". Like the first, it opens with a horn theme. In this movement Mahler uses extensive variety of tempo, which alters every few measures. The middle section features a solo violin and solo flute.
- "If Life is a dream, why all this work and worry? I drink all day, till I can drink no more! Then I roll home and sleep. When I wake, a bird is singing, and I ask him if Spring has come. Yes! he replies, it came last night, and he sings and laughs, and I listen in wonder. And I fill my cup and drain it, and sing till the moon fills the night sky, and fall asleep again. What's the Spring to me? Just let me be drunk!"
- 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 sun sinks beyond the hills, evening descends into the valleys with its cooling shade. See, like a silver boat the moon sails up into the lake of the sky. I sense a soft wind blowing beyond the dark fir-trees. The brook sings melodiously through the dark. The flowers grow pale in the twilight. The earth breathes a deep draught of rest and sleep. All longing now will dream: tired people go homewards, so that they can learn forgotten joy and youth again in sleep! Birds sit motionless on their branches. The world is slumbering! It grows cool in the shade of my fir-trees. I stand and await my friend, I wait for him for our last farewell. O friend, I long to share the beauty of this evening at your side. Where do you linger? Long you leave me alone! I wander here and there with my lyre on soft grassy paths. O Beauty! O endless love-life-drunken world!
- He dismounted from the horse and handed to him the drink of farewell. He asked him where he was bound and why it must be so. He spoke, and his voice was muffled: 'You, my friend, Fortune was not kind to me in this world! Where do I go? I am departing, I wander in the mountains. I am seeking rest for my lonely heart. I am making my way to my home, my abode. I shall never stray far away. My heart is still and awaits its moment.'
- The beloved Earth blooms forth everywhere in Spring, and becomes green anew! Everywhere and endlessly blue shines the horizon! Endless... endless..."
- (The last lines were added by Mahler himself.) The singer repeats the final word like a mantra, accompanied by a sparse mix of strings, mandolin, harps, and celesta, until the music fades into silence, the final chord "imprinted on the atmosphere" as Benjamin Britten put it.[this quote needs a citation]
- The last movement is very difficult to conduct because of its cadenza writing for voice and solo instruments, which often flows over the barlines, "Ohne Rücksicht auf das Tempo" (Without regard for the tempo) according to Mahler's own direction. 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.[this quote needs a citation]
Selected recordings 
Mahler score 
- Bruno Walter, with Kerstin Thorborg and Charles Kullman, Vienna Musikvereinsaal 1936 (live). (Columbia Records, 78rpm, 7x12" Mahler Society Issue)
- Carl Schuricht, with Kerstin Thorborg and Carl Martin Öhmann, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam (October 1939 broadcast concert, live). (Bel Age CD, from acetates.)
- Bruno Walter, with Kathleen Ferrier and Julius Patzak, Wiener Philharmoniker (Decca LP LXT 2721-2722) 1952. Remastered in 2003 by Mark Obert-Thorn (Naxos Historical 8.110871).
- Bruno Walter, with Mildred Miller and Ernst Haefliger, New York Philharmonic Orchestra (Sony CD SMK 64455).
- Jascha Horenstein, with Alfreda Hodgson and John Mitchinson, BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra (BBC Legends BBC 4042).
- Hans Rosbaud, with Grace Hoffman and Helmut Melchert, SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden (Vox Turnabout LP, TV 34220S).
- Paul Kletzki, with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Murray Dickie, Philharmonia Orchestra (HMV LP SXLP 30165).
- Leonard Bernstein, with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and James King, Wiener Philharmoniker (Decca CD 417 783-2).
- Eduard van Beinum, with Nan Merriman and Ernst Haefliger, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam (Fontana LP 894 120 ZKY).
- Herbert von Karajan, with Christa Ludwig and René Kollo, Berliner Philharmoniker (DGG CD 419 058-2).
- Otto Klemperer, with Christa Ludwig and Fritz Wunderlich, New Philharmonia and Philharmonia Orchestras (HMV LP Angel Series SAN 179).
- Bernard Haitink, with Janet Baker and James King, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam (Philips LP 6500 831).
- Carlo Maria Giulini, with Brigitte Fassbaender and Francisco Araiza, Berliner Philharmoniker (DGG CD 413 459-2).
- Daniel Barenboim, with Waltraud Meier and Siegfried Jerusalem, Chicago Symphony Orchestra (Erato CD D-2292-45624-2).
- Colin Davis, with Jessye Norman and Jon Vickers, London Symphony Orchestra (Philips B0000040W8).
- Georg Solti, with Yvonne Minton and René Kollo, Chicago Symphony Orchestra (Decca CD 414 066-2).
- Pierre Boulez, with Violeta Urmana and Michael Schade, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra (DGG, CD E4695262).
- Eugene Ormandy, with Lili Chookasian and Richard Lewis, Philadelphia Orchestra (Sony CD SBK 53518).
- Rafael Kubelik, with Janet Baker and Waldemar Kmentt, Symphonie-Orchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks (Audite B0000669K1).
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 
- Robert HP Platz, with Ingrid Schmithüsen and Aldo Baldin, Ensemble Köln, Canterino 1031 (released 1989)
- Mark Wigglesworth, with Jean Rigby and Robert Tear, Premiere Ensemble (RCA CD Dig-09026-68043-2).
- Kenneth Slowik, with John Elwes, Russell Braun, Smithsonian Chamber Players & Santa Fe Pro Musica (Dorian Recordings) (recorded 2003)
- Philippe Herreweghe, with Birgit Remmert, Hans Peter Blochwitz, Ensemble Musique Oblique (Harmonia Mundi).
- Edward Carroll, with Henry Moss, Miriam Murphy, Royal Academy of Music Chamber Ensemble (Royal Academy of Music RAM 010 66108).
Cantonese Translation 
In 2005 a Cantonese version was prepared by Daniel Ng. The world premiere of this version was given by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra on 22 July 2005 with mezzo Ning Liang and tenor Warren Mok under the direction of Lan Shui.
Related works 
- J. Johnson, 'Mahler and the idea of Nature', in J. Barham (ed.), Perspectives on Gustav Mahler (Ashgate Publishing Ltd., 2005), 22ff.
- Stephen E. Hefling, "Aspects of Mahler's Late Style," in Karen Painter, ed., Mahler and his World, Princeton University Press, 2002, ISBN 0-691-09244-3, pp. 199-226, p. 199
- Cited by James Lyons, 'Sleevenote', Das Lied von der Erde (Vienna Philharmonic, cond. Leonard Bernstein), (Decca CD 417 783-2).
- Adorno 1960, 1966.
- John J. Sheinbaum, 'Adorno's Mahler and the Timbral Outsider', Journal of the Royal Musical Association, 2006, Vol. 131 no. 1, pp. 38–82.
- 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).
- Richard Freed, programme note
- M. Kennedy and J. Bourne Kennedy (Eds.), The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music (OUP, London 2007).
- M. Kennedy, The Dent Master Musicians: Mahler (J.M. Dent, London, 1974 and 1990), p. 156.
- H.J. Wood, My Life of Music (Gollancz, London 1946 edn), 287.
- See the final paragraph of Bethge's 'Geleitwort' to Die chinesische Flöte, e.g. Insel-Verlag edition p. 103, where he acknowledges these sources.
- R. Piper & Co. Verlag, München 1907.
- 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.
- Judith Gautier, Le livre de Jade (Felix Juven, Paris, no date).
- S. Spencer, Wagner Remembered (Faber, London 2000), 213.
- Teng-Leong Chew, 'Perspectives: The Identity of the Chinese Poems Mahler adapted for 'Von der Jugend',' in The Mahler Archive
- Quantangshi, 卷236_23 《效古秋夜長》, by 錢起 (Qian Qi)
- Audiophile Audition
- New York Times 23 February 1993
- 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.
- Songs of the Earth, © 1970 by Ronald Johnson and 2000 by his estate.
- 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.
- Das Lied von der Erde: Free scores at the International Music Score Library Project
- Das Lied von der Erde: The Literary Changes – synopsis of original Chinese poems, Bethge's translations and Mahler's changes
- The Lied and Art Song Texts Page: Das Lied von der Erde German texts, with translations into several languages.
- Extensive history and analysis by renowned Mahler scholar Henry Louis de La Grange