Symphony cantata "The Song for the Earth"

Mahler found the full expression of his creative invention in two singular, interpenetrating genres, symphonies and songs. His vocal cycles have orchestral accompaniment, and themes, images and concrete motifs fill most of his symphonies, woven into solo voice or huge choral canvases. Mahler’s particular ‘supra-textual’ sense of the word, glimpsed in its immanent, ineffable symbolism, most probably determines his great affinity for song – a focus of idea, feeling, philosophy, a microworld in which the signs of Mahler’s innermost world can be glimpsed. The songfulness of The Boy’s Magic Horn pervades the Second, Third and Fourth Symphonies, and it is also perceptible, if vocally unsung, in the following three purely instrumental symphonic scores, echoing also the evocative imagery of Songs on the Death of Children, to finally merge song and symphony in a perfect symbiosis in Song For the Earth, by his own definition – “Symphony in Song”, for alternating tenor and alto (or baritone).

The year 1907 was very difficult for Mahler – he was forced to leave his post at the Vienna Royal Opera, his elder daughter Maria died after a serious illness, he himself learned of his serious heart damage. Around this time, Hans Bethge’s collection of poems by medieval Chinese poets, The Chinese Flute, appeared in German translation and made a strong impression on the composer with its poetics, wise philosophy and suggestions of timeless values. Mahler chose poems by celebrated authors of the Tangoth dynasty of the seventh century – four poems by Li Bo (in the first, third, fourth and fifth movements), Zhang Zi (in the second), Meng Hao-Zhan and Wang Wei (in the sixth) – which are in tune with his own reflections and state of mind. In the imagery of the six movements flow the main lines of Mahler’s musical poetics, from the achingly intense expression and doom in “The Drinking Song of Earth’s Sorrow” (with its symbolic image of the lamenting monkey in a graveyard on a moonlit night, a symbol of deep sorrow in Chinese poetry), through the soft grief and melancholic suggestion of old age in “The Solitary One in Autumn“, the serene vitality in the luminously exquisite miniatures “Of Youth” and “Of Beauty“, the skeptical illusionism and allegorical pastorality in “The Drunkard in Spring” to the enlightened, wisely peaceful “The Farewell” – a kind of premonition of Mahler’s own imminent farewell to the world, to life. ..

What is strange about it, in fact, is that it seems to be Mahler’s own sense of a Last Song (though he then wrote the Symphony No 9 and sketched the No 10). Working on the symphony in the small village of Schluderbach, near Toblach in South Tyrol, Mahler wrote to his close friend, the conductor Bruno Walter: ‘I have been given a wonderful time and I believe it is the most personal thing of all I have created’. ( 1908)

Completed in 1909, Song for the Earth was first performed on November 20th,  1911, six months after Mahler’s death, at the Tonhalle in Munich, conducted by the celebrated Bruno Walter, with the American singers Sara Cahier and William Miller as soloists. Although the composer noted in the score that the soloists are tenor and alto or baritone, the substitution of the female timbre did not initially gain popularity. After the work has been recorded, though, with the celebrated Dieter Fischer Dieskau, conducted by Paul Kletzki and Leonard Bernstein, the baritone version also became established in concert practice.

Later, Arnold Schoenberg began to arrange Song of the Earth for chamber ensemble, reducing the orchestra to string and brass quintets, piano, celesta, harmonium and three percussionists, but was unable to complete the score, which was finally shaped by the German composer and conductor Rainer Riehn (1941 – 2015) in 1980.

Какво търсиш днес?

Search in our website...