Friday, September 28, 2012

Sunday Classics preview: Before and after -- Mahler learns that the's dying


by Ken

We've actually heard the music we're going to hear (again) in tonight's preview -- an an August 2010 poat called "In the opening vision of Mahler's "Song of the Earth": "Dark is life, is death", which focused on the three tenor songs -- Nos. 1, 3, and 5 -- from Das Lied von der Erde, the work that Mahler undertook following his diagnosis of untreatable heart disease. It seemed obvious to begin by hearing the way his preceding work work, the Eighth Symphony, had closed, with the conclusion of Goethe's Faust. (FYI: This excerpt begins very softly. It gets louder.)

MAHLER: Symphony No. 8 in E-flat: conclusion, "Alles Vergängliche ist nur ein Gleichnis"
All things transitory are but parable;
here insufficiency becomes fulfillment,
here the indescribable is accomplished;
the ever-womanly draws us heavenward.
[much repeated]
-- English translation by Peggie Cochrane

Soloists and chorus; London Symphony Orchestra, Jascha Horenstein, cond. BBC Legends, live performance from the Royal Albert Hall, March 20, 1959 (6:39)


MAHLER: Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth):
i. "Das Trinklied vom Jammer der Erde"
("The Drinking Song of the Sorrow of the Earth")

Now beckons the wine in the golden goblet,
but drink not yet, first I'll sing you a song!
The song of sorrow
shall in gusts of laughter through your souls resound.
When sorrow draws near,
wasted lie the gardens of the soul.
Withered and dying are joy and song.
Dark is life, is death.

Master of this house!
Your cellar holds its fill of golden wine!
Here, this lute I name my own!
To strike the lute and to drain the glasses,
these are the things that go together.
A full goblet of wine at the right time
is worth more than all the kingdoms of this earth!
Dark is life, is death.

The firmament is blue eternally, and the earth
will long stand fast and blossom in spring.
But thou, O man, how long then livest thou?
Not a hundred years canst thou delight
in all the rotten trash of this earth!

Look there, down there! In the moonlight, on the graves
squats a mad spectral figure!
It is an ape! Hear how his howling
screams its way through the sweet fragrance of life!

Now take the wine! Now it is time, companions!
Drain your golden goblets to the dregs!
Dark is life, is death!

Fritz Wunderlich, tenor; Philharmonia/New Philharmonia Orchestra, Otto Klemperer, cond. EMI, recorded 1965-66

Ernst Häfliger, tenor; New York Philharmonic, Bruno Walter, cond. Columba/CBS/Sony, recorded April 1960

Jon Vickers, tenor; London Symphony Orchestra, Sir Colin Davis, cond. Philips, recorded March 1981


No, we're not going forward, we're going back, to the beginning of the Eighth Symphony. Having heard the conclusion of the symphony's much longer Part II, Mahler's setting of the final scene from Faust, we're going to focus on Part I, his setting of the medieval hymn "Veni, Creator Spiritus."

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