About this Recording
2.110550 - MUSICAL JOURNEY (A) - SWITZERLAND / AUSTRIA / GERMANY / ITALY (NTSC)
English 

A Musical Tour of Switzerland, Austria, Germany and Italy
With music by Gustav Mahler

 

CHAPTER 1

Switzerland. Steckborn • Liebenfels Castle • Rhine Falls

The old town of Steckborn is on the banks of the Untersee, an arm of Lake Constance (the Bodensee), one side of which is in Germany. Schloss Liebenfels, also in the Swiss canton of Thurgau, was built in the 13th century and acquired in the 17th by Cistercian monks. After the secularitation of 1848 it fell under private ownership, most recently, in the 1990s, to undergo restoration. Following what is now the River Rhine, which runs into the Untersee, we come to Schaffhausen and then to one of the most picturesque sights in Europe, Rheinfall, the Rhine Falls, rapids overlooked by the 16th century Schloss Laufen.

Music Mahler: Symphony No. 1 ‘Titan’—I. Langsam, schleppend

Born in the Bohemian town of Kalište in 1860, Gustav Mahler later described himself as three times homeless, a native of Bohemia in Austria, an Austrian among Germans and a Jew throughout the whole world. His father had risen by his own efforts from beginnings as a pedlar to the ownership of a tavern and distillery in Jihlava, where Mahler spent his childhood before schooling in Prague and subsequent study at the Vienna Conservatory. He made his principal career as a conductor, reaching the pinnacle of his profession when, after conversion to Catholicism, he was able to take the position of Kapellmeister of the Vienna Court Opera. This came as the climax of a career in which he had won growing distinction, first in provincial opera houses and then in Hamburg. In Vienna he made important reforms but aroused hostility, particularly from the anti-semitic press and in 1907 he resigned. Anxiety about his health led him now to accept conducting engagements in America and elsewhere, in part in an effort to secure the future of his wife Alma and their surviving daughter before his own imminent death, which took place in May 1911.

For his First Symphony, completed in 1888 and first performed the following year in Budapest, where Mahler had been appointed director of the Hungarian opera, he provided a programme, later discarded. The first part was described as From the days of youth—flower, fruit and thorn-pieces. It starts with the awakening of nature and earliest dawn, while the scherzo proceeds in full sail.

CHAPTER 2

Austria. Styria: Burg Hochosterwitz

Burg Hochosterwitz, the castle of Hochosterwitz, in Styria (Steiermark), a region of Lower Austria, is remarkable in its siting, set, as it is, on a rock at a height of some 180 yards above the surrounding valley. The castle was built by Georg Freiherr von Khevenhüller in the third quarter of the 16th century on the site of an earlier building dating from the 9th century. There are fourteen gates on the road winding up to the castle, before the entrance itself is reached.

Music Mahler: Symphony No.1 ‘Titan’—II. Scherzo: Kräftig bewegt, doch nicht zu schnell

After the first movement the Scherzo proceeds, according to Mahler’s suggested programme, in full sail. The main theme has echoes of mountain yodelling in its contours, while the Trio, marked Recht gemächlich (Very leisurely) suggests a Ländler in a movement filled with the spirit of the Austrian countryside.

CHAPTER 3

Germany. Bavaria: Weikersheim Castle Austria: Eastern Tyrol: Assling Wild Park

The Romantische Strasse (Road of Romance) leads through south Germany from the Mainz to the Alps. Near the spa town of Bad Mergentheim, along the valley of the Tauber, is Weikersheim, the residence of the Hohenlohe family. The Renaissance princely residence, with its Baroque modifications, on the site of an earlier moated castle, is set in fine gardens, with statuary and an orangery. The building itself contains the Rittersaal (Knights’ Hall), with paintings of scenes of hunting and knightly combat. The theme of wild animals is followed in the Assling Wild Life Park in the Austrian East Tyrol, on the way south along the Pustertal, leading to the Italian border.

Music Mahler: Symphony No.1 ‘Titan’—III. Feierlich und gemessen

The second part of the symphony, Commedia umana (Human Drama), shipwrecked, has a slow movement based on a well-known engraving, The Huntsman’s Funeral, and is described as a dead march in the manner of Callot. Animals escort the body of the huntsman to the grave, to the sound of a theme based on Frère Jacques, now in a minor key, a blend of ironic jesting and brooding melancholy.

CHAPTER 4

Austria and Italy. South Tyrol: Dolomites

The region of the South Tyrol includes part of the southern region of Austria and the mountainous north of Italy, once part of the Habsburg Empire. Dominating the area are the Dolomites, which can be approached from the south from the Italian town of Bolzano (Bozen). The curiously-shaped limestone crags, with their stark cliffs and jutting summits, take their name from the 18th century French geologist Déodat Guy Gratet de Dolomieu, who was born in the French town of Dolomieu in 1750.

Music Mahler: Symphony No.1 ‘Titan’—IV. Stürmisch bewegt

The last movement, Dall’inferno al Paradiso (From Hell to Paradise), starting with a clash of cymbals, a flash of lightning, expresses the feelings of a deeply wounded heart. The literary references in Mahler’s programme and the title Titan reflect the influence of the early romantic writer Jean Paul, while the music itself contains elements drawn from Mahler’s songs, part of that synthesis which he achieved, bringing together the great German symphonic tradition with that of German song.

Keith Anderson

Recording

Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Zdenĕk Košler [Naxos 8.550120]


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