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8.554164 - MAHLER: Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen / Kindertotenlieder / Ruckert-Lieder
The great Viennese symphonic tradition found worthy successors in two composers of very different temperament and background, Anton Bruckner, the son of a village schoolmaster, and Gustav Mahler. The latter, indeed, extended the form in an extraordinary way that has had a far-reaching effect on the course of Western music. Mahler was heir to two great traditions, the tradition of the symphony and the tradition of German song, combining the second with the first in a remarkable synthesis. His music, in its all-encompassing variety, has exercised a growing fascination over the musical consciousness of the twentieth century, with all its doubts, troubles and divisions.
Mahler was to express succinctly enough his own position in the world. He saw himself as three times homeless, a Bohemian in Austria, an Austrian among Germans and a Jew throughout the whole world. The second child in his family, the first of fourteen to survive, he was born at Kalište in Bohemia. Soon after his birth the family moved to Jihlava, where his father, by his own very considerable efforts, had raised himself from being little more than a pedlar, with a desire for intellectual self-improvement, to the running of a tavern and distillery. Mahler's musical abilities were developed first in Jihlava, before a brief and unhappy period of schooling in Prague, followed by a later course of study at the Conservatory in Vienna, where he turned from the piano to composition, and, as a necessary corollary, to conducting.
It was as a conductor that Mahler made his career, at first at a series of provincial opera-houses, and later in Prague, Budapest and Hamburg, before reaching the highest position of all when, in 1897, he became Kapellmeister of the Vienna Court Opera, two months after his baptism as a Catholic, a necessary and perhaps not unwelcome preliminary. In Vienna he instituted significant reforms in the Court Opera but made enough enemies, particularly represented in the anti-semitic press, to lead to his resignation in 1907, followed by a final period conducting in America and elsewhere, in a vain attempt to secure his family's future before his own imminent death, which took place shortly after his return to Vienna, on 18th May, 1911.
Although his career as a conductor involved him most closely with opera, Mahler attempted little composition in this field. His work as a composer consists chiefly of his songs and of his ten symphonies, the last left unfinished at his death, and his monumental setting of poems from the Chinese in Das Lied von der Erde (‘The Song of the Earth’). His first songs date from the early 1880s and include various settings of verse of his own and of other poets. He later turned his attention to Des Knaben Wunderhorn (‘The Boy's Magic Horn’), the influential collection of German folk-songs assembled in the first decade of the nineteenth century by Achim von Arnim and Clemens von Brentano, the spirit of which influenced Mahler, as it had influenced the whole course of German Romanticism.
Mahler's Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (‘Songs of a Wayfarer’), with verses of his own composition, were written between the end of 1883 and the beginning of 1885. They were orchestrated in the 1890s and first performed in this version in Berlin on 16th March 1896 with the Dutch bass-baritone Anton Sistermans as soloist. The orchestra was the Berlin Philharmonic and the programme included Mahler's First Symphony, without its Andante, the so-called Blumine movement, and Todtenfeier (‘Funeral Ceremony’), the first movement of the Second Symphony. The cycle of songs opens with 'Wenn mein Schatz Hochzeit macht' (‘When my love has her wedding-day’), its poignant mood created at the outset by the opening clarinet motif, leading to an episode of deeper sorrow and the gentle lilt of the following section, before the mood of the opening returns. The second song, 'Ging heut' morgens übers Feld' (‘I went this morning over the field’) is familiar in its opening happiness from its use in the first movement of the First Symphony. It ends in predictable wistful sorrow. This is followed by the more turbulent 'Ich hab' ein glühend Messer' (‘I have a glowing dagger’), its pain the pain of the world. The last song, part of which is used in the third movement of the First Symphony, is 'Die zwei blauen Augen' (‘The two blue eyes’).
The early 1890s brought a set of twelve songs from Des Knaben Wunderhom, some of which find a place in the Third and Fourth Symphonies Between 1901 and 1904 Mahler wrote his settings of the moving Kindertotenlieder (‘Songs on the Death of Children’) by Friedrich Rückert, posthumously published poems that reflect the poet's own experience and sorrow. However deeply he may have felt these verses from his own unhappy family experiences or as a more general expression of Weltschmerz, by the time Mahler came to complete the set of five songs he had married Alma Schindler and was the father of two daughters. The elder of the two died of scarlet fever and diphtheria in 1907, allowing Alma Mahler, at least with hindsight, to reproach her husband for tempting Fate in these songs. The cycle was first performed in Vienna on 29th January 1905, together with the first six of a group of songs under the title Sieben Lieder aus letzter Zeit (‘Seven Songs of Latter Days’). These last include settings of five other Rückert poems, the last of which was not orchestrated by Mahler and was not performed with the others in 1905. The soloist at the first Vienna performance of both groups of songs was the baritone Friedrich Weidemann.
The Kindertotenlieder open with 'Nun will die Sonn' so hell aufgeh'n' (‘Now will the sun rise as brightly’). This is followed by 'Nun seh' ich wohl, warum so dunkle Flammen' (‘Now I see clearly why such dark flames’), the more ingenuous 'Wenn dein Mütterlein' (‘When your little mother’) and 'Oft denk' ich sie sind nur ausgegangen' (‘Often I think they have only gone out’).
The other collection of songs, written in the same period, offers a different aspect, one of the songs, at least, more exactly the obverse. The group itself starts with two songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn not here included, 'Revelge' (‘Reveille’) and 'Der Tambourg'sell' (‘The Drummer Boy’). The Rückert songs are 'Blicke mir nicht in die Lieder!' (‘Do not look at my songs’), with its running accompaniment, 'Ich atmet' einen linden Duft' (‘I breathed a gentle scent’), the most beautiful of all, 'Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen' (‘I am lost to the world’), words that seem to some to epitomize Mahler's own feelings, 'Um Mitternacht' (‘At midnight’), with its characteristic opening motifs and air of nocturnal sadness, and 'Liebst du um Schönheit' (‘Do you love beauty’), dedicated to Alma Mahler (not recorded here). These songs, imbued with a tender lyrical quality, are at variance with the turbulence of the new symphonies on which Mahler was now embarking.
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