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Pierre Boulez

Dérive 1

for 6 instruments

Dérive translates roughly as “derivative”; the piece is derived from the two compositions Répons (1981) and Messagesquisse (1976/77). The “derivative” is also a sequence of variations “on the name Sacher”. Six chords build a circular rotation, which mimic the structure of the piece, but also soften it.

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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

7 Early Songs

for high voice and orchestra

The Seven Early Songs as they appear here are revisions, or to be even more precise, revisions of reworkings of Berg’s own composi­tions. Together with many others, the songs were composed during the years 1905 to 1908, that is, at a time when Berg was already studying with Arnold Schoenberg. They were not a part of these studies but nevertheless cannot be seen as completely independ­ent of Schoenberg’s influence, since three of them, Die Nachtigall, Liebesode, and Traumgekrönt, were first performed publicly on 7 November 1907 in a concert of Schoenberg’s students. In that same decisive year for Berg, the very beautiful and much admired Helene Nahowski, who later became his wife, entered his life. Even before he met her personally, he sent her the manuscript of an ex­travagant love song. To celebrate this occasion ten years later in 1917, Berg prepared a scrupulously corrected final version of a selection of Ten Songs. Aside from the seven, which are all included here (although in a dif­ferent order), this manuscript contained the compositions Schliefe mir die Augen beide by Theodor Storm, Gustav Falke’s Die Sorglichen and Gleim’s Leukon. We can safely assume that these ten songs had a special meaning for Berg – possibly even one that goes beyond musical considerations. As a composer who worked slowly and concentrated on a few compositions for performance, Berg decided to rework these early compositions yet again ten years later. This was an important pe­riod in Berg’s life when several major changes took place: The first successful performances of Wozzeck and Schoenberg’s move to Berlin. Berg was probably thinking of the example of Gustav Mahler when he set several of these songs both for voice and piano, as well as with orchestra. How many of these should be finished was still uncertain at that time but there were finally seven. Per­haps the title given by the publisher to a collection of posthumous songs by Mahler, Seven Last Songs, which had just been published (and had later been abandoned), had a certain influence on Berg’s choice. When the composer revised his songs in 1927, he made his choice with the determination of developing their musical content better while at the same time making them more effective. Berg had already revised the song on the poem by Storm in 1925 as a first attempt at writing a dodecaphonic composition. His revi­sions included occasional changes in the melody (for example in Nacht and Die Nachtigall), expansion of the ending (Schilflied), text changes (Sommertage) and other general enrichment of the musical texture. He decided however not only to make these revi­sions and improvements in the songs, but he also wanted to create a cyclic unity in spite of the differences of the poetic material. He had to transpose several of the songs to create a convincing unity of keys, and to achieve a well-balanced series of the moods expressed in the songs, he was forced to change their order several times. The most important artistic element employed to make a convincing cycle out of this simple series of songs was the instrumentation, i.e. the orchestral disposition. The full orchestra including the subtle use of percussion instruments was reserved for the outer songs to create a framework. The second, fourth and sixth song employs a reduced orchestra: Schilflied (No. 2) requires only brass and a solo string quintet without percussion; Traumgekrönt (No. 4) uses muted, divided strings and cymbals but no clarinets, bassoons or trumpet; Liebesode (No. 6) has no flutes, oboes or trombones but once again muted strings and a small drum; finally Die Nachtigall (No. 3) requires only strings but they are used very subtly, and Im Zimmer (No. 5) there is a pure but reduced brass accompaniment. Thus we can see a certain symmetry: Songs 1 and 7 require the full orchestra; 2, 4 and 6 a reduced orchestra, and 3 and 5 just a section of the orchestra. The reduced orchestra is different in each case and achieves additional ‘colour’ by using a variety of per­cussion instruments. Theodor W. Adorno, who studied with Berg, chose this particular aspect of the work as the central element of his considerations in his article Klangfiguren of 1959, reprinted in Gesammelte Schriften, volume 16. The Seven Early Songs are dedicated to Berg’s wife, ‘Meiner Helene’. They are testimony of an everlasting and inspiring rela­tionship. The first performance of the Seven Early Songs with orchestra was sung by Claire Born and conducted by Robert Heger on 6 No­vember 1931. The score was first published posthumously in 1959. A new critical edition appeared as part of Berg’s Complete Edition as: Alban Berg, Orchestergesänge, Sämtliche Werke, I. Abteilung, volume 6 in 1997. Rudolf Stephan, June 1997 (Translation: Robert Lindell)

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