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Gurre-Lieder is a massive cantata for five vocal soloists, narrator, chorus and large orchestra, composed by Arnold Schoenberg, on poems by the Danish novelist Jens Peter Jacobsen (translated from Danish to German by Robert Franz Arnold). The title means 'Songs of Gurre', referring to Gurre Castle in Denmark, scene of the medieval love-tragedy (related in Jacobsen's poems) revolving around the Danish national legend of the love of the Danish king Valdemar Atterdag (Valdemar IV, 1320-1375, spelt Waldemar by Schoenberg) for his mistress Tove, and her subsequent murder by Valdemar's jealous Queen Helvig (a legend which is historically more likely connected with his ancestor Valdemar I).
In 1900, Schoenberg began composing the work as a song cycle for soprano, tenor and piano for a competition run by the Wiener Tonkünstler-Verein (Vienna Composers' Association). It was written in a lush, late-romantic style heavily influenced by Richard Wagner. According to Schoenberg, however, he "finished them half a week too late for the contest, and this decided the fate of the work." Later that year, he radically expanded his original conception, composing links between the first nine songs as well as adding a prelude, the Wood Dove's Song, and the whole of Parts Two and Three. He worked on this version sporadically until around 1903, when he abandoned the mammoth task of orchestrating the work and moved on to other projects.
By the time he returned to the piece in 1910, he had already written his first acknowledged atonal works, such as the Three Pieces for Piano, Op. 11, Five Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 16 and Erwartung, Op.17. He had also come under the spell of Gustav Mahler, whom he had met in 1903 and whose influence may be discernible in the orchestration of the latter parts of the Gurre-Lieder. Whereas Parts One and Two are clearly Wagnerian in conception and execution, Part Three features the pared-down orchestral textures and kaleidoscopic shifts between small groups of instruments favoured by Mahler in his later symphonies. In Des Sommerwindes wilde Jagd, Schoenberg also introduced the first use of Sprechgesang (or Sprechstimme), a technique he would explore more fully in Pierrot Lunaire of 1912.
The orchestration was finally completed in November 1911.
Premieres and early recordings
Franz Schreker conducted the premiere of the work in Vienna on February 23, 1913. By this time, Schoenberg was disenchanted with the style and character of the piece and was churlishly dismissive of its positive reception, saying "I was rather indifferent, if not even a little angry. I foresaw that this success would have no influence on the fate of my later works. I had, during these thirteen years, developed my style in such a manner that to the ordinary concertgoer, it would seem to bear no relation to all preceding music. I had to fight for every new work; I had been offended in the most outrageous manner by criticism; I had lost friends and I had completely lost any belief in the judgement of friends. And I stood alone against a world of enemies." At the premiere, Schoenberg did not even face the members of the audience, many of whom were fierce critics of his who were newly won over by the work; instead, he bowed to the musicians, but kept his back turned to the cheering crowd. Violinist Francis Aranyi called it "the strangest thing that a man in front of that kind of a hysterical, worshipping mob has ever done."
It would be wrong to assume that Schoenberg considered Gurre-Lieder a composition of no merit, however. A few months after the premiere he wrote to Wassily Kandinsky, "I certainly do not look down on this work, as the journalists always suppose. For although I have certainly developed very much since those days, I have not improved, but my style has simply got better... I consider it important that people give credence to the elements in this work which I retained later."
Schoenberg's champion and former pupil, the BBC programme planner Edward Clark, invited the composer to London to conduct the first British performance on January 27, 1928. Clark had tried to have the premiere the previous year, on April 14, 1927, but these plans fell through.
Leopold Stokowski conducted the American premiere on April 8, 1932, with the Philadelphia Orchestra, soloists and chorus. His two succeeding performances (April 9 and 11) were recorded 'live' by RCA (see below). They issued the third one on twenty-seven 78rpm sides and it remained the only recording of the work in the catalogue until the advent of LP. This recording was later reissued on LP and CD by RCA. Bell Laboratories had been experimentally recording the Philadelphia Orchestra in high fidelity and stereophonic sound; RCA used the new technology to record the performances on 33-1/3 rpm masters.
The cantata is divided into three parts. Whereas the first two parts are scored for solo voices and orchestra only, the third part introduces a further two soloists, a narrator, three four-part male choruses as well as a full mixed chorus.
In the first part of the work, the love of Waldemar for Tove and the theme of misfortune and impending death are recounted in nine songs for soprano and tenor with orchestral accompaniment. A long orchestral interlude leads to the Wood Dove's Song which tells of Tove's death and Waldemar's grief.
The brief second part consists of just one song in which the bereft and distraught Waldemar accuses God of cruelty.
In the third part, Waldemar calls his dead vassals from their graves. The undead's restless roaming and savage hunt around the castle at night is thunderously depicted by the male chorus, until the horde, driven by the radiance of the sunrise, recedes back into death's sleep. During this, a peasant sings of his fear of the eerie army and there is a humorous interlude in the grotesque song of the fool Klaus who is forced to ride with the macabre host when he would rather rest in his grave. A gentle orchestral interlude depicting the light of dawn leads into the melodrama The Summer Wind's Wild Hunt, a narration about the morning wind, which flows into the mixed-choral conclusion Seht die Sonne! ("See the Sun!").
- Orchestral Prelude
- Nun dämpft die Dämm'rung
- O, wenn des mondes Strahlen
- Ross! Mein Ross!
- Sterne jubeln
- So tanzen die Engel vor Gottes Thron nicht
- Nun sag ich dir zum ersten Mal
- Es ist Mitternachtszeit
- Du sendest mir einen Liebesblick
- Du wunderliche Tove!
- Orchestral Interlude
- Tauben von Gurre! (Wood Dove's Song)
Herrgott, weisst du, was du tatest
- Erwacht, König Waldemars Mannen wert!
- Deckel des Sarges klappert
- Gegrüsst, o König
- Mit Toves Stimme flüstert der Wald
- Ein seltsamer Vogel ist so'n Aal
- Du strenger Richter droben
- Der Hahn erhebt den Kopf zur Kraht
Des Sommerwindes wilde Jagd (The Wild Hunt of the Summer Wind)
- Herr Gänsefuss, Frau Gänsekraut
- Seht die Sonne!
Gurre-Lieder is scored for an unusually large ensemble consisting of the following forces (approximately 150 instrumentalists and 200 singers):
- Leopold Stokowski, with soloists Jeanette Vreeland, Rose Bampton, Paul Althouse, Robert Bette, Abrasha Robofsky, Benjamin de Loache. The original recordings were made during live performances at the Metropolitan Opera Philadelphia, in two distinct versions with the same personnel, on 9 and 11 April 1932. (The 9 April performance was released on two 'Pearl' CDs in 1993.) In 1949, Stokowski recorded the Song of the Wood-Dove in Erwin Stein's edition, with Martha Lipton, mezzo-soprano, and the New York Philharmonic (Columbia Records; reissued on Cala Records). Stokowski returned to Gurre-Lieder in 1961 for performances in Philadelphia and again in Scotland, where he and the London Symphony Orchestra opened that year's Edinburgh International Festival with the work. Recordings of the Philadelphia and Edinburgh radio broadcasts have survived, with the 1961 Edinburgh Festival performance having been issued in 2012 on the Guild Historical label. The soloists in that performance were James McCracken, Gré Brouwenstijn, Nell Rankin, Forbes Robinson, John Lanigan and Alvar Lidell (GHCD 2388/89).
- Michael Gielen, SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg, Melanie Diener, Robert Dean Smith, Ralf Lukas, Yvonne Naef. Hänssler, Art.-Nr.: 093.198.000, 2 SACDs
- René Leibowitz, Chorus and Orchestra of the New Symphony Society, Paris, Arnold Schönberg: Gurre-Lieder, Richard Lewis, Ethel Semser, Nell Tangement, John Riley, Ferry Gruber, Morris Gesell. Vox Records 222943-311 (rec. 1953, CD issue 2005, mp3 issue August 2011).
- Rafael Kubelik, Symphonie-Orchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Schoenberg: Gurre-Lieder, Herbert Schachtschneider, Inge Borkh, Hertha Töpper, Kieth Engen, Lorenz Fehenberger, Hans-Herbert Fiedler. DGG 431 744-2 (1965).
- Janos Ferencsik, Danish State Radio Symphony and Concert Orchestra, with Martina Arroyo, Janet Baker, Alexander Young, Niels Moller, Odd Wolstad, Julius Patzak, Chorus of Danish Radio. EMI 7243 5 74194 2 (1968; CD issue 2000).
- Seiji Ozawa, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Schoenberg: Gurre-Lieder, James McCracken, Jessye Norman, Tatiana Troyanos, David Arnold, Kim Scown, Werner Klemperer. Philips 412 511-2 (1979).
- Herbert Kegel, Dresden Philharmonic augmented by members of the Leipzig Radio Symphony, with Eva Maria Bundschuh, Rosemarie Lang, Manfred Jung, Wolf Appel, Ulric Cold, Gert Westphal, Berlin Radio Chorus, Leipzig Radio Chorus and Prague Male Chorus (Berlin Classics 0090172BC, 1986; CD issue 1997).
- Eliahu Inbal, Radio-Sinfonie-Orchester Frankfurt a.M., Arnold Schönberg: Gurre-Lieder, Paul Frey, Elizabeth Connell, Jard van Nes, Walton Grönroos, Volker Vogel, Hans Franzen, Chor des NDR Hamburg (Ltg. Werner Hagen), Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks (Ltg. Michael Gläser), Opernchor der Städtischen Bühnen Frankfurt a.M. (Ltg. Volkmar Olbrich). Denon CO 77066-67 (1990).
- Riccardo Chailly, Radio Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Gurrelieder, Siegfried Jerusalem, Susan Dunn, Brigitte Fassbaender, Hermann Becht, Peter Haage, Hans Hotter, Chor der St. Hedwigs-Kathedrale Berlin, Städtischer Musikverein, Düsseldorf. Decca 473 728-2 (1990).
- Zubin Mehta, New York Philharmonic, Schoenberg: Gurre-Lieder, Gary Lakes, Éva Marton. Sony Classical 48077 (1992).
- Claudio Abbado, Wiener Philharmoniker, Sharon Sweet, Siegfried Jerusalem, Marjana Lipovšek, Welker, Philip Langridge, Barbara Sukowa, Konzertvereinigung Wiener, Staatsopernchor, Arnold Schoenberg Chor, Slowakischer Philharmonischer Chor Bratislawa. DG 439 9442 (1995)
- Pierre Boulez, Schoenberg: Gurre-Lieder, 4 Songs Op.22, Jess Thomas, Yvonne Minton, Marieta Napier, Siegmund Nimsgern, Kenneth Bowen, Günter Reich. Sony Classical 48459 (1993).
- Giuseppe Sinopoli, Staatskapelle Dresden Arnold Schoenberg Gurrelieder for soloists, chorus and orchestra, Thomas Moser, Deborah Voigt, Jennifer Larmore, Bernd Weikl, Kenneth Riegel, Chor der Sachsischen Staatsoper Dresden, Chor des Mitteldeutschen Rundfunks Leipzig, Prager Mannerchor (1995).
- Robert Craft, Philharmonia Orchestra, with Melanie Diener, Jennifer Lane, Stephen O'Mara, David Wilson-Johnson, Martyn Hill, Ernst Haefliger, Simon Joly Chorale (Naxos 8.557518-19, 2001).
- Simon Rattle, Berliner Philharmoniker, Karita Mattila, Anne Sofie von Otter, Thomas Moser, Philip Langridge, Thomas Quasthoff. EMI 5 5730302 (2002)
- Newlin, Dika. 1978. Bruckner, Mahler, Schoenberg. Rev. ed. New York: Norton. ISBN 978-0-393-02203-2
- Malcolm MacDonald: 'Schoenberg' (Oxford University Press, 2008)[full citation needed]
- Schoenberg, Arnold. 1975. Style and Idea: Selected Writings of Arnold Schoenberg. Edited by Leonard Stein, with translations by Leo Black. New York: St. Martins Press; London: Faber & Faber. ISBN 0-520-05294-3.
- Ross, Alex. 2007. The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 978-0-374-24939-7.
- Schoenberg, Arnold (trans. Crawford) (1984) Arnold Schoenberg - Wassily Kandinsky, Letters, Pictures and Documents, Faber, p. 60
- Joseph Henry Auner, A Schoenberg Reader: Documents of a Life
- David Lambourn, Henry Wood and Schoenberg
- Jennifer Doctor, The BBC and Ultra-Modern Music, 1922-1936: Shaping a Nation's Tastes
- Full German and English translation text
- Full German and Italian translation text
- Original liner notes with full German and English translation from Vox VBX204 recording
- Gurrelieder discography
- Gurre-Lieder: Free scores at the International Music Score Library Project