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Gustav Mahler

The Song of the Earth

for high and low voice with piano

‘Death, towards whose mysteries his thought and perception had so often taken their flight, had suddenly come in sight. The world and life now lay in the sinister shadow of its nearness.’ Such was Bruno Walter’s assessment of Mahler’s recent misfortunes in the autumn of 1907. As is well known, during the first half of that year Mahler was shaken by three crises that would alter his life profoundly. In the spring, after ten extraordinary years as director of the Royal and Imperial Court Opera in Vienna, he resigned, ‘because I can no longer endure the rabble’. On 21 June 1907 he signed a contract for a new position in the New World, at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Nine days later the ‘summer composer’ retreated as usual to his country home at Maiernigg on the Wörthersee. But within less than a fortnight his beloved elder daughter had perished from the rapid onset of scarlet fever and dyptheria. Soon thereafter Alma Mahler fainted from grief and fatigue, and the local doctor was summoned to her aid. He also examined Mahler, and discovered a cardiac valvular defect, subsequently confirmed by a specialist in Vienna. This condition was not in itself life-threatening, but it had long been known that there was a connection between valvular defects and bacterial endocarditis – a disease that was invariably fatal before the discovery of antibiotics, and which would lead to Mahler’s death four years later. The Mahler family fled Maiernigg, spending the remainder of summer 1907 in the tiny hamlet of Schluderbach (near Toblach, in South Tyrol). According to Alma Mahler’s memoirs, ‘years ago’ an old friend of her family (Dr. Theobald Pollak) gave Mahler ‘the newly translated “Chinese Flute” (Hans Bethge). These poems pleased Mahler enormously, and he set them aside for later. […] now these immeasurably sad poems came back to him, and already in Schluderbach, during long, lonely walks, he sketched the orchestral songs that would become “The Song of the Earth” one year later!’ But Alma’s writings are frequently mistaken (sometimes intentionally so). Alfred Roller, Mahler’s chosen stage director at the Opera who visited him in Schluderbach, reports: ‘This summer remained without artistic fruit.’ Moreover, the Börsenblatt für den deutschen Buchhandel announced the publication of Bethge’s Die chinesische Flöte only on 5 October 1907, well after Mahler had left the Tyrol for Vienna. Even had he received an advance copy (which seems unlikely), Mahler’s later correspondence plus the dated manuscripts of his new work – as yet untitled – indicate that it was composed largely if not entirely during the summer of 1908. It seems curious that Mahler should have found texts so well suited to his purpose in poems from the 8th century T’ang dynasty. But these verses are not ‘newly translated’; rather, they are reworkings of earlier German and French translations, twice and thrice removed from the original Chinese. Appropriately, Bethge calls them ‘Nachdichtungen’ (paraphrase poems). Bethge was no Sinologist, but rather an ‘empathetic aesthete’ (Einfühlungsaesthetiker); in his view, ‘Translating a poem literally is not what matters; what matters much more is to enable the spirit, the style, the melody of a poem to arise somewhat anew in the foreign language.’ The result in many respects resembles German late 19th century poetry with added oriental overtones. From this collection of 83 paraphrases of 38 poets, Mahler ultimately selected seven and shaped them into an allegory of transitory existence merging into eternity. And as he had done with the Wunderhorn- and Rückert-Lieder, he retouched the poetry to serve his own expressive purposes (most notably, the rapturous concluding lines of Der Abschied are his own, beginning with ‘Still ist mein Herz, und harret seiner Stunde!’ [Still is my heart, and awaits its hour!]). Nevertheless, the oriental impetus is inherent in Das Lied von der Erde through its Yin-Yang polar dynamism of opposites – night / day, autumn / spring, youth / death, intoxication / meditation, and in the distribution of the singing, high/low (usually tenor / alto; see below). Additionally, the anhemitonic pentatonic scale, which is the most common mode of pitch organization in Asian music, is motivically prominent in every movement, and Mahler draws as well upon the improvisational practice of heterophony (the ‘indistinct unison’, as Adorno termed it). In the summer of 1908 Mahler found it extremely difficult to resume composing, as two poignant letters to Bruno Walter attest. On 18 July he writes: ‘But, without here trying to explain or describe to you something for which there are perhaps no words at all, I shall only tell you that quite simply at a stroke I lost all the clarity and reassurance that I ever achieved; and that I stood vis-à-vis de rien [face to face with nothing] and now at the end of a life I must learn to walk and stand as a beginner. –’ In particular, his doctors’ restrictions against physical activity, including his customary vigorous walks, left him miserable: ‘I can’t work at a desk. For my inner activity I need outer activity. […] I confess – superficial though it seems – this is the greatest calamity that has ever befallen me. I must absolutely begin a new life – and in that I am also a complete beginner. –’ Yet he successfully accomplished this difficult transition. In early September, just over six weeks later, he could report to Walter: ‘I was very diligent (from which you can gather that I’ve fairly well “gotten used to things”). I myself do not know how to express what the whole thing might be called. A beautiful time was granted me, and I believe it is the most personal thing I have yet created.’ According to several contemporaries, Mahler’s reluctance to give this latest composition a title stemmed from a superstitious fear of a Ninth Symphony – the last of the genre for both Beethoven and Bruckner.  Finally during the winter of 1909–1910 Mahler entitled the work Das Lied von der Erde on the same sheet of paper where he assigned the much-feared number 9 to the symphony he had completed the previous summer. Stephen E. Hefling March 2010

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Alban Berg

3 Bruchstücke

for soprano and orchestra

In January 1923 Berg sent a note to potential subscribers announcing the publication of the piano reduction of his opera Wozzeck. The cost of printing this score had been largely funded by Alma Mahler (to whom the opera is dedicated) and Berg hoped with its publication not only to recoup some of the costs but also to attract the attention of opera companies, conductors and critics to some of whom he also sent complimentary copies. At about the same time a short article on Berg and Webern by Berg’s fellow Schoenberg student Erwin Stein appeared in Universal Edition’s house magazine Anbruch and in April an enthusiastic article about the opera by Ernst Viebig was published in the Berlin periodical Die Musik. Although the uproar occasioned by the performance of two of the Altenberg-lieder at the famous ‘Skandalkonzert’ in 1913 had brought him a certain unwelcome notoriety, Berg’s music was little known outside the tiny Viennese elite around the Schoenberg School and the ‘Society for Private Musical Performances’, and there seemed little hope of an opera company taking on so difficult and complex a work by a young unknown composer. Things were to change, however. On 5 June 1923 Webern conducted the premiere of the first two of the Drei Orchesterstucke op. 6 in Berlin and on 2 August the Havemann Quartet played the String Quartet op. 3 at the ‘Salzburger Kammermusikfest’. According to Berg himself the performance was ‘fantastic’ and the work was warmly received. Amongst the audience at the performance was Hermann Scherchen who suggested to Berg that it might be possible to perform some excerpts from the opera in a concert performance. Berg sent a copy of the piano score of Wozzeck a few weeks later and in March 1924 Scherchen wrote to say that, while it was not possible to perform the whole opera, the committee of the ‘Allgemeiner Deutscher Musikverein’ had agreed to include the excerpts in a concert at the International Music Festival in Frankfurt that June. Scherchen was still, at this stage, unsure what the ‘Fragments’ would consist of: ‘Please tell me once again where the scenes should begin and end’, he wrote. Berg replied giving him the exact bar numbers in the piano score (the only score available at that point) of the Drei Bruchstücke as we know them but also asking ‘Is it possible to arrange for a tenor? [...] in which case it would be possible to perform the last scene of Act I as well’. Berg also asked for there to be a small group of ten children and a solo child to sing in the final piece. The preparations for the performance raised a number of difficulties. Berg had ‘terrible worries’ that the soprano would not have time to learn her part properly; Scherchen was worried about the military band in the first piece: ‘We have to do it in the orchestra: an extra orchestra of 20 is too costly and one can’t simply let a concert orchestra, all of whom are in full view, go off.’ But the chief problem was obtaining the material at such short notice. The Drei Bruchstücke had not yet been printed and there was very little time to make the handwritten parts and score that Scherchen and the orchestral musicians seem to have had to use: ‘Unfortunately there are many mistakes: I’ve found 50 (!) in the score alone’, wrote Scherchen after the second rehearsal a day before the premiere, but ‘the orchestra enjoys it despite our recently having spent three hours on the 1st and 3rd piece and yesterday two hours on the second and first piece’. The first performance took place in Frankfurt on 11 June 1924 with Beatrice Sutter-Kottlar of the Frankfurt Opera as soloist in a programme that included three other premieres; Ferruccio Busoni’s Faust Suite (presumably the Two Studies from Doktor Faust), a work by Ernst Wolf and a symphony by Erhard Ematinger. The Drei Bruchstücke were one of the great successes of the Festival and Berg was delighted: ‘Everything was splendid’, he wrote to Webern, ‘the performance itself, the singer who improved with every rehearsal, and the public performances [the final rehearsal and the concert] were a triumph – with the public, the musicians and the press.’ By that time, however, Erich Kleiber had already declared his intention of staging the whole opera. Kleiber had seen the piano score in the autumn of 1923 and, when in Vienna for a few days in January 1924, had arranged that the work should be played for him by the pianist Ernst Bachrich. By the time that the first two scenes had been played Kleiber had already decided to do the piece in Berlin and Wozzeck received its world premiere at the Staatsoper on 14 December 1925. The Drei Bruchstücke centre on the figure of Marie, Wozzeck’s mistress and mother of his child. The first starts with the orchestral interlude that closes act 1, scene 2, as night falls and the sound of military fanfares call Wozzeck and Andres back to the barracks, and continues into scene 3 in which Marie watches the Drum Major marching at the head of the military band that passes her house and then, slamming the window shut to escape the lewd remarks of her neighbour, sings a lullaby to the child. The second piece comprises the whole of act 3, scene 1 and the following orchestral interlude in which, overcome by guilt because of her infidelity, Marie reads the biblical story of Christ forgiving the woman taken in adultery. Like all the other scenes in the opera the scene has a strict ‘abstract’ formal design – in this case as a set of seven variations and a fugue. The final fragment opens with the music that depicts Wozzeck’s drowning at the end of act 3, scene 4. This leads into the great D minor interlude which forms the expressive climax of the whole work, followed by the final scene of the opera in which, playing in the street with other children, Wozzeck and Marie’s child (now an orphan) hears of the death of his mother. The music, marked ‘senza rit.’, fades to ppp and, rather than ending, simply stops – suggesting that the whole tragedy could start again with the child taking his father’s place. Douglas Jarman, July 2012

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Richard Strauss

Morgen! (Tomorrow!)

for medium voice and orchestra

Richard Strauss found in the soprano Pauline de Ahna not only a lifelong companion and muse but also a perfect interpreter of his songs. From the early years of their marriage dates Morgen!, composed some months before which is contained in the op. 27 (1894). The cycle consists of four songs (Ruhe meine Seele, Cäcilie, Heimliche Aufforderung and Morgen!) which Strauss wrote as a wedding present for Pauline, whom he married on September 10, 1894 in Marquatschein. The songs were composed initially for voice and piano, but 1897 Strauss orchestrated them for her to perform at the concerts he conducted. Morgen!John Henry Mackay, 1864–1933Engl. translation: William Mann Und morgen wird die Sonne wieder scheinenUnd auf dem Wege, den ich gehen werde,Wird uns, die Glücklichen, sie wieder einen,Inmitten dieser sonnenatmenden Erde … Und zu dem Strand, dem weiten, wogenblauen,Werden wir still und langsam niedersteigen,Stumm werden wir uns in die Augen schauen,Und auf uns sinkt des Glückes stummes Schweigen ... Tomorrow! And tomorrow the sun will shine again,And on the path that I shall takeIt will unite us, lucky ones, againAmid this same sun-breathing earth.  And to the beach, broad and blue-waved,We shall climb down quiet and slow;Speechless we shall gaze each in the other’s eyes,And the speechless silence of happiness will fall upon us …

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