Friday, January 22, 2010

Sunday Classics preview: "Earthly Life" is just one of the treasures Mahler found in the anthology "The Youth's Magic Horn"

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The Youth's Magic Horn: Old German Songs, as gathered in three volumes by the poet-novelists Achim von Arnim and Clemens Brentano, was a source of enormous inspiration, not to mention a slew of song texts, for Mahler.

by Ken

Last week our friend Bil, in a comment on my Sunday Classics post on Gluck's literally death-defying operas Alceste and Orfeo ed Euridice, offered us some music of his own: the finale of Mahler's Fourth Symphony, a setting of "Das himmlische Leben" ("Heavenly Life"), from the anthology of folk poetry Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Youth's Magic Horn), edited by Achim von Arnim and Clemens Brentano, as sung by Kathleen Battle -- or, as I like to think of her, Miss Kathleen Battle.

In "Heavenly Life," we have a child's vision of the most sumptuous feast the little one can imagine. It doesn't take much to get me going on Mahler, and in response I mentioned its close Wunderhorn kin "Das irdische Leben," "Earthly Life," also set by Mahler. We're going to return to "Heavenly Life" tomorrow and especially in Sunday's main post. Here, meanwhile, is Mahler's "Earthly Life":

MAHLER: "Das irdische Leben" ("Earthly Life")
[German text from the anthology Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Youth's Magic Horn)]

"Mother, oh Mother! I'm hungry!
Give me bread; otherwise I will die!"
"Just wait, just wait, my darling child.
Tomorrow we will sow quickly."

And when the corn was sown,
The child still kept on crying:
"Mother, oh Mother, I'm hungry!
Give me bread; otherwise I will die!"
"Wait a little, my darling child.
Tomorrow we will harvest quickly."

And when the corn had been harvested,
The child cried again:
"Mother, oh Mother, I'm hungry!
Give me bread, or I shall die!"
"Just wait, just wait, my darling child.
Tomorrow we will thresh quickly."

And when the corn was threshed,
The child cried again:
"Mother, oh Mother, I'm hungry!
Give me bread; otherwise I will die!"
"Just wait, just wait, my darling child.
Tomorrow we will mill quickly."

And when the corn was milled,
The child cried again:
"Mother, oh Mother! I'm hungry!
Give me bread; otherwise I will die!"
"Just wait, just wait, my darling child.
Tomorrow we will bake quickly."

And when the bread was baked,
The child lay on the funeral bier.


Christa Ludwig, mezzo-soprano; Gerald Moore, piano. EMI, recorded May 1959


Maureen Forrester, contralto; Vienna Festival Orchestra, Felix Prohaska, cond. Vanguard, recorded May-June 1963


Janet Baker, mezzo-soprano; London Philharmonic Orchestra, Wyn Morris, cond. Delysé/Nimbus, recorded c1965


Matthias Goerne, baritone; Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Riccardo Chailly, cond. Decca, recorded June 2000

For reasons that should be obvious, Das irdische Leben for me always tracks back to Schubert's "Erlkönig," different as the two songs are. Pianist Graham Johnson, who served not only as accompanist but as artistic director and annotator for Hyperion's invaluable 37-CD traversal of the complete Schubert songs, describes it in his note for Vol. 8 as "perhaps the best known of all Schubert Lieder." In tomorrow night's preview we're going to give it a listen, including not one but two performances of it from the Hyperion series.


POSTSCRIPT: FOR SOME NOTES ON
THE CHOICE OF PERFORMANCES --

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3 Comments:

At 4:43 AM, Blogger binkley said...

Is there a way to find the music posts and not the political posts? Are they tagged somehow? Apologies if it is something obvious.

 
At 6:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well this is a political post.

Surely the post is inspired by the clownish dilettantes in Congress and their health care bill. We'll all be dead before we get access to health care. See here:
http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com/archives/2010/01/one_readers_sob-story.php#more?ref=fpblg

Here's a hint to the previous poster: in order to get to the point where you click to comment, you had to pass the point where you click to see the list of music posts.

 
At 6:55 PM, Blogger KenInNY said...

Hi, Binkley -- sorry to be so long responding, but the list of current posts is designed to do just what you're asking. I try to keep it up-to-date, and finally got around to updating it last week after a protracted naughty streak, but now I'm already a week behind.

If there isn't a music post currently displayed on DWT, you can search for "Sunday Classics" or "Sunday Classics Posts," and you should at least get posts that contain the link to the list.

Thanks for asking!

Ken

 

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