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Gustav Mahler

Rückert-Lieder

for voice and orchestra

Mahler’s songs based on poems by Friedrich Rückert (1788 –1866) are not a cycle. The only link between them is that they were penned by the same poet. Mahler himself presented them in different selections and varying sequences, as well as together with Wunderhorn songs. As far as can be reconstructed today, they were written at different times: The oldest draft of Blicke mir nicht in die Lieder (Look not, love, on my work unended) is dated 14 June 1901. This means it was composed during the theatre summer break in 1901 at Mahler’s summer residence in Maiernigg by Lake Wörthersee. Liebst du um Schönheit (Lov’st thou but beauty), which Rückert named Sicilianisches, was either composed in August 1902 or the summer of 1903, also in Maiernigg, according to Alma Mahler. Um Mitternacht (At midnight hour) was written either in 1899 or 1900. If it was composed in 1899, it would have been in Alt-Aussee and if in 1900, in Carinthia or Val Pusteria. Ich atmet’ einen linden Duft (I breathed the breath of blossoms red) was probably also written in the summer of 1901, during the first summer break that Mahler spent in his own villa by Lake Wörthersee. The first draft of Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen (O garish world, long since thou hast lost me) is also dated the same year: 16 August 1901. All of the Rückert-Lieder were initially composed as songs for voice and piano and then orchestrated at a later time which was Mahler’s usual way of working. Four were published in 1905 by the Leipzig-based publisher C. F. Kahnt who later published the Kindertotenlieder and Symphony No. 6 as well, while the late-comer Liebst du um Schönheit was not printed until 1907. This is also the only Rückert-Lied that Mahler himself presented exclusively in a piano version. The orchestral version commissioned by Kahnt was scored by the Leipzig conductor Max Puttmann (1864 –1935) and was not published until 1916, after Mahler’s death. The world premiere of the four songs published in 1905 was conducted by Mahler himself at a concert in the Brahms-Saal of the Vienna Musikverein (29 January 1905). The soloists were Anton Moser and Friedrich Weidemann, both singers from the ensemble of the Vienna Court Opera of which Mahler was the director. The choice of concert room is not without significance, even for today’s performances: Mahler wrote that his songs should only be heard in ‘small halls’ because they are ‘written in a chamber music tone’. The surviving performance materials show that the Vienna Court Opera Orchestra performed with reduced forces. Unlike Mahler’s large-scale symphonies, which were fuelled by harsh contrasts, and unlike the sometimes epic, ballad-like Wunderhorn songs, these songs are short, self-contained, mostly intimate character pieces, with the exception of Um Mitternacht. The words are almost of a private nature, as though the poet and composer were talking of themselves: about their process of creation, the fragrance of lime trees in the bedroom and, most importantly, about their love. Liebst du um Schönheit was meant specifically for Alma. It is almost a justification of their relationship ‘in spite of’ the age gap, the problem of which Mahler was well aware of. It is probably not a coincidence that Mahler did not orchestrate the song – in other words did not ‘intend it for the public’ (Alma even protested – in vain – against Puttmann’s orchestral version). Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen, arguably Mahler’s most beautiful love song, was composed before he even met Alma in winter 1901. Without wanting to subscribe to the viewpoint that every one of Mahler’s notes had an autobiographical background, Mahler did experience an intense, tempestuous and ultimately failed relationship with the singer Selma Kurz during the time in question (spring 1900). The motivic material of this song has a central role in Mahler’s work and its echoes run like a golden thread through those works that focus on ‘love’, such as the well-known Adagietto in Symphony No. 5, where it dominates the entire closing complex. The handwritten manuscript of the orchestral version had an eventful fate: In 1905, Mahler presented it to his friend Guido Adler (founder of the Vienna faculty of musicology) on his 50th birthday. Guido Adler suffered a terrible fate during the Nazi regime. He was ostracised, robbed of his dignity and titles, and lost his library to the National Socialist Erich Schenk who went on to achieve great honours in the university world of post-war Vienna. The undignified expropriation proceedings were performed by a lawyer who received or kept the handwritten Rückert-Lied as payment – although it is no longer clear what really happened. The matter came to light when the son of the then-deceased lawyer wanted to sell the precious manuscript (it had been thought to have been lost). An heir of Guido Adler’s came forward and the ensuing legal battle ended in a settlement. Eventually, the Kaplan Foundation (New York) purchased the pages and the proceeds were shared. As a dedication, Mahler had written on the title page that he hoped he ‘would never lose’ his friend Guido Adler. In the Rückert-Lieder, Mahler wanted to position the music and song texts so as to create an unmistakable, closed atmosphere instead of an overly narrow, detailed interpretation of the words. In spite of this, however, western musical traditions known as ‘musical rhetoric’ since the Renaissance do play a certain role. Mahler portrays the industrious, restless hustle and bustle of the worker, ‘the bees’, in Blicke mir nicht in die Lieder, by using a continuous quaver movement with a pattern which musical rhetoric calls ‘kyklosis’ or ‘circulatio’ – an entity moving as if it were in a circle. Of the other rhetorical figures, I will only mention the ‘fuga’ (‘flight’) between the voice and instrumental bass which Mahler uses for the words ‘mit der ich sonst viele Zeit verdorben’ (‘whose sweet delights my fond heart once cherished’) in Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen: The offsetting of rhythms expresses the loss of time itself – ‘tempus fugit’ (‘time flees’) after all, as the saying goes. With both its pentatonic tone material and specific sonority (harp, celeste), the music to Ich atmet’ einen linden Duft makes reference to Far-Eastern music as it was known around 1900. Its relatively static nature and the word play of ‘linden Duft’ (sweet fragrance) and ‘Lindenduft’ (lime tree fragrance) are clearly reminiscent of a haiku (and of course Das Lied von der Erde). Um Mitternacht is different. Its beginning recalls familiar, nocturnal atmospheric pictures, such as the fourth movement of Symphony No. 3, which was composed in 1895: the song O Mensch! Gib acht! based on a text by Friedrich Nietzsche. Of decisive importance are the descending scales which pervade everything (in musical rhetoric: ‘katabasis’). Then, however, there is a noticeable eruption in the orchestra, with a religious text and music that confounded many a critic (e. g. Theodor W. Adorno). Mahler and Christianity is a topic of its own. On 23 February 1897, Mahler converted to Catholicism in Hamburg, partly in view of his desired position at the Vienna Court Opera. However, his interest in Christian themes went far beyond opportunistic acceptance. Symphony No. 2 – written long beforehand – had already entered the world of Christian beliefs in movements 4 and 5, as had the fifth movement of Symphony No. 3, ‘Es sungen drei Engel’ (‘Three angels were singing’) in particular. The final movement of Symphony No. 4, ‘Das himmlische Leben’ (‘The heavenly life’) fits into this pattern, as does the phenomenal first part of Symphony No. 8, ‘Veni Creator Spiritus’. Um Mitternacht has to be seen in this context. Mahler does not only ask haunting questions and portray devastating breakdowns – he is also a composer of a gentle lyricism, flourishing utopias and hopes that are carried by his strong will. Reinhold KubikAutumn 2008

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Gustav Mahler

Symphony No. 8

for soli, boys' choir, 2 mixed choirs and orchestra

Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 is a work of exceptions. Seen from the outside, this is true of the forces that are used: with its three choirs, eight soloists and an orchestra of far more than one hundred musicians, there are few similar works in the annals of music. This cast of performers determines the second exceptional element of the work, the mix of instrumental and vocal characteristics that makes it to the prototype of a ‘vocal symphony’, which – as Mahler put it – ‘is sung from beginning to end’. In turn, the texts that are sung influence the structure of the whole, replacing, as it were, the usual four movements of a symphony with two strongly divergent ‘parts’. And, finally, as if to emphasize this divergence, the texts used – the hymn Veni creator spiritus in the first part and the final scene of Goethe’s Faust in the second – are not only written in two languages but also separated in their origins by more than one thousand years. Thus it is a work of extremes, and a work of contradiction. It seems, however, that it was exactly these distinctive features that lifted the symphony above the others and convinced Mahler that his Symphony No. 8 was ‘the greatest’ work ‘that I have composed’. It is an understandable coincidence that he thus raised Symphony No. 8 to the same rank within his oeuvre as Goethe, who claimed that the drama was his ‘Hauptgeschäft’ [main work], did with Faust. Even after composing his late works Mahler retained his belief that Symphony No. 8 was his ‘opus summum’. The work was surrounded by this aura even as it was conceived. Mahler emphasized that in no other work had he been inspired so quickly and completely as with this symphony: ‘It was a vision, like lightning – the entire work was in front of my eyes within an instant and I just needed to write it down as if it had been dictated to me.’ The unbelievable rapidity with which he composed the first complete draft – between the middle of June and the end of August 1906 – seems to verify his depiction. Even more vivid was his statement of 1910, when he remembered that the ‘spiritus creator’ had abruptly taken possession of him and not let loose until ‘the greatest was finished’. This exceptional creative state repeated itself when Mahler conducted the first performance of Symphony No. 8 in 1910. The first (and only) public performances under his baton, on 12 and 13 September in Munich, were great triumphs for both the composer and the conductor Mahler. Decades later, Otto Klemperer still spoke enthusiastically of the ‘perfection of interpretaXIII tion’ at the time: ‘he always strove to achieve more clarity, more tonal colour, more dynamic contrast. During a rehearsal […] he spoke to us that were in the hall: “If, after I die, something does not sound right, change it. It is not only your right; it is your obligation to do so.”’ The experience of the first performance induced no less a figure than Thomas Mann to write a eulogistic letter thanking Mahler that contained the memorable formulation that the composer embodied ‘the most serious and venerable artistic volition of our time’. The emotions of superlative that have accompanied the composition that Mahler declared to be his main work from the beginning, and which can also be read in Mann’s homage, could lead one to misinterpret Symphony No. 8 as being a product of late Gründerzeit (late 19th century) megalomania. Naive intoxication caused by the outer dimensions of the work is the reason why the questionable surname ‘Symphony of a Thousand’ continues to be used; the mistrust that is nurtured by this name is still today cause for critique. Those that are prepared to involve themselves with the work, however, will recognize that the gigantic cast is simply the reflection of a much higher-reaching spiritual expression – a claim that can for good reason be described as being ‘all-encompassing’: ‘Imagine that the universe begins to sound and ring’, wrote Mahler to Willem Mengelberg in the summer of 1906. ‘There are no longer human voices, but planets and suns that circulate.’ In order to justify a philosophical claim that leads back to the idea, born in the Middle Ages, of a music of spheres, Symphony No. 8 offers an unprecedented variety of forms and musical characteristics. As if he had wanted to lead occidental music to a comprehensive synthesis, Mahler includes fugal techniques of the Baroque era as well as the solemn tone of chorale and hymn; he uses a compositional language influenced by the musical dramas of Wagner with the same aplomb as he sometimes returns to the simple style of a lied. He told Jean Sibelius in 1907, shortly after completing the fair copy of the score, that ‘the symphony has to be like the world. It must be all-encompassing.’ The resulting richness of the music, its formal and structural particularities allow a multitude of comparisons with other musical genres. The vocal component of the work establishes a connection with the traditions of cantata and oratorio. The choir, on the other hand, cannot be explained without referring to Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 and the resulting works of Mendelssohn, Berlioz and Liszt. This abundance of formal and historical references appears to be an important attribute of Mahler’s idea of a universal symphony, which – beyond the fulfilment of traditional norms – uses all available music-historical means to express an individual artistic worldview. It is this idea that determined the choice and musical setting of the two seemingly diverse texts of Symphony No. 8. In the composition, Mahler uses a very limited number of ‘leitthemes’ and, using specific musical references, he creates links between the two musically divergent parts: a dense net of cross connections for which Thomas Mann’s wonderful term ‘Beziehungszauber’ [the enchantment of correlations] fits just as well as it does to the musical dramas of Wagner. Using these linking elements, Mahler creates a web of compositional and spiritual connections that integrates all elements, even those that seem most contradictory. The central philosophical elements are the idea of love as an element of inspiration and salvation, as well as the conception of a creator who is allencompassing, who is responsible not only for the genesis of the world but also for the creativity of humans. Both principles are connected to central themes of the symphony: the adjuration, first of the spirit of the creator in the opening ‘Veni creator spiritus’, and then of love in the tremendous invocation ‘Accende lumen sensibus, / Infunde amorem cordibus’, one of the key passages of the entire work, from which – as Mahler himself put it – ‘a bridge’ is built ‘to the end of “Faust”’. And in fact, the music of the second part is based, almost monothematically, upon the metamorphosis of this theme of love. From the numerous connections between the parts and the interaction of the leitthemes the meaning of this work evolves: in short, it is the creative spirit’s hymn to the universal power of love. For Mahler, led by this ideological message, Symphony No. 8 was thus a personal credo, and more: ‘After a rehearsal’, Alfred Roller remembered, ‘he joyously exclaimed to me: “See, this is my mass!”’ Just as prayer and annunciation are combined in the liturgy to achieve confessional unity, Mahler ordained this work to be confession and revelation for an individual belief that is also religious. Asked about his confession, he stated, fittingly: ‘I am musician. Everything else is a part of this.’ Christian Wildhagen Hamburg, February 2010 (English translation by Thomas Stark)

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Pierre Boulez

Répons

for 6 soloists, ensemble and live electronics

Répons is written for six soloists, chamber ensemble, computer sonics and live electronics. Its germ, the impetus of the proliferation, lies in the composition Messagesquisse for violoncello solo and six violoncellos, created in 1976 for the 70th birthday of his Swiss friend and passionate musical patron Paul Sacher. The title “Répons” is the French word for responsorium, a “dialogue” between cantor and congregation. Boulez’ work often shows an affinity for responsorial forms; in Répons, one hears dialogues of very different kinds: between the chamber ensemble and the soloists: between instrumental families, instrumental groups and individual instruments treated as soloists within the chamber ensemble itself: between the instruments of the soloist group: between transformed and untransformed sound (the soloist group is manipulated electro-acoustically, while the chamber ensemble remains unalienated). In its sum, Répons is a result of Boulez’ “plurifunctionality,” out of the widely fanned out personal union between the composer and the conductor, the planner, the organiser, the founder and long-time spiritus rector of the IRCAM Institute in Paris. The idea of a dialogue between unalienated and electronically alienated instrumental sound in real time would not have been possible without the outcome of research at IRCAM.

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