Gustav MahlerBlumine/ Verlorene Müh'/ Wer hat dies Liedlein erdacht?/ Das irdische Leben/ Rheinlegendchen/ Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen/ Symphony no. 4 Conductor Daniel Harding/ Soprano Mojca Erdmann
“Humor left unrecognized even by the best”
The last NRW Residence concert of this season is dedicated to the orchestra’s namesake, the anniversary of whose death is on 18 May 2011. For the occasion, Daniel Harding will conduct the long-lost symphonic movement Blumine (originally composed as the second movement of the first symphony), a selection of Lieder from the Wunderhorn cycle, and the Fourth Symphony (which premiered 110 years ago). Mocja Erdmann will be the soloist.
Mahler completed his first symphony in 1888 after many revisions. The original second movement was an Andante titled “Blumine” (“flower”; the piece was also known as “Bluminen-Kapitel” or “Blumenstück”), a reference to Jean Paul’s Herbstblumine. Mahler utilized incidental music he had already composed for Joseph Victor’s Der Trompeter von Säckingen. This relatively sweet melody, with its longing moonlight mood, was neither musically nor structurally suited for the rest of the symphony, and Mahler eventually had to take out the entire movement.
Mahler’s oeuvre consists mostly of songs and symphonies. He mixes the genres freely: the first three symphonies contain elements of songs he had already composed, reworked for instruments. One of his most significant sources was the collection Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Youth’s Magic Horn), edited by Clemens von Brentano and Achim von Arnim and published in 1805. For Mahler, these texts counted among the most important literary works—he set about 25 of them. He used them freely, changing words and structure according to his expressive needs; he retained, however, their thematic variety and their irony, and emphasized religious, transcendental, and unearthly elements.
Verlorn’ne Müh was published in 1892 in Hamburg. The dialogue between a pleading maiden and the youth who denies her is presented as a Ländler (an Austrian rustic melody). Mahler made some alterations to the text, originally in Swabian dialect, but kept the idiom for the most part. Wer hat dies Liedlein erdacht was also composed and premiered in 1892. Here, the composer made more changes to the text; he also only used two of the three stanzas and added his own words to them. Das irdische Leben from 1893 is one of Mahler’s most famous songs. The original text was called Verspätung and is thematically reminiscent of Goethe’s ballad Der Erlkönig; the song is in the form of a humoresque, but is an expression of fateful pain and fatal destiny. Its sinister tone is achieved through instrumentation. Rheinlegendchen (1893) also shows a contrast between character and content. According to Natalia Bauer-Lechner, Mahler composed the music first, and only later chose the text, which expresses renunciation and despondency. The composer described the song thusly: “Despite the simplicity and folksy character, the whole thing is very individual, especially the harmonies, which are not easily understood.” Five years later, he composed Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen. This song is based on two texts from the collection, complemented with some of Mahler’s own writing. It starts as a love song, but changes character quickly, focusing ultimately on premonitions and fear of death. As Mahler composed this soldier’s song, he was already artistic director of the Vienna Court Opera. His duties at the opera cost him much effort, so that he was forced to neglect his composing. He could only write music during the opera’s summer break.
Mahler completed his Fourth Symphony in his first summer in Malernigger, 1900; the work was premiered a year later in Munich. Mahler broke new ground as a writer of symphonies—he saw the genre as universal, able to express everything, as long as universality was intended. He was no longer interested in the musical treatment of pure moods, but rather in the small steps from one emotion to the next, in conflicts, and in “the poetic idea, its object and its humour.” The first four symphonies were based on artistic programmes, which were also published in order to increase listener comprehension.
Mahler reduced the musical material in the Fourth Symphony, in contrast to the Third Symphony: the four movements are related to each other, and all lead towards the finale, based on the Wunderhorn song Vom himmlischen Leben. A very individual, subtle, and ambiguous humour runs through the symphony, which Mahler describes thusly: “It is the cheer of a higher world, a world foreign to us, which also has something gruesome for us. In the last movement, the child, who has already had an inkling of what this higher world could be, explains how everything is meant.” A symphonica humoristica, in whose second movement Death plays and in whose finale the angels describe a heavenly battlefield.
Mahler’s sense of humor has many ties to Jean Paul, one of his favourite poets, and also has much in common with the “black Romantics” like E.T.A. Hoffmann, who showed the permeability between the beautiful and the terrible and the panicked fear on the other side of idyll and cheer.
Mahler’s work is a focal point of the MCO’s programming in the Mahler years 2010 and 2011. High points include appearances at the international Mahler festivals in Kaliste and Leipzig as well as a performance of Das Lied von der Erde with Kent Nagano in the Festspielhaus Baden-Baden. The concert in Dortmund is part of an extended tour which will take the orchestra from there to Leipzig, Singapore, Hong Kong and Tokyo.