Friday, February 05, 2010

Sunday Classics preview: If we add a bit of Nietzsche, we're nearly ready to assemble (most of) the Mahler Third


From the 2007 Lucerne Festival: Mezzo Anna Larsson sings Mahler's setting of Nietzsche's "O man! Take heed!" (the "Midnight Watch" from Thus Spake Zarathustra), the 4th movement of his Third Symphony, with Claudio Abbado conducting. (Scroll way down for the English text.) We're going to hear better performances, but I think it's interesting to see one.

by Ken

We're working toward our stealth goal of piecing together Mahler's monumental Second (Resurrection) and even more monumental Third Symphonies, using mostly ingredients we've already contemplated.

For the Third Symphony, tonight we're going to look just at the two vocal movements, the 4th and 5th of the symphony's six. Tomorrow night we're going to tackle the grand finale of the Resurrection, which is both enormous and apocalyptic. Not so the two vocal movements of the Third.

We've already listened to the 5th movement, the setting of the Des Knaben Wunderhorn poem "Es sungen drei Engel" ("Three Angels Were Singing"). We slipped it in back when we were tracing the lineage of the great symphonic adagio from Beethoven through Bruckner to Mahler, and used as our Mahler example the ineffably beautiful concluding movement of the Third Symphony. We slipped in -- to show the immediate context of that haunting finale -- this song setting that precedes it, in which the boys choir "bimm-bamm"s cherubically while a women's chorus sings the narrative in which a poor sinner appears weeping before the Lord Jesus, and the alto soloist takies the part of the weeping sinner.

Back then we heard what I think is a simply gorgeous recording featuring the great contralto Maureen Forrester, from the lovely 1978 Mahler Third by Zubin Mehta and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. If we've already heard Forrester, that means we need to hear my other favorite Mahler mezzo/alto, Christa Ludwig. We're going to hear her with her great Mahler pal Leonard Bernstein -- when our Christa was closing in on her 60th birthday! Before we get there, though, we're going to back up a little and hear "Es sungen drei Engel" sung as a song, by just one soloist, first with piano accompaniment and then with orchestral accompaniment.

MAHLER: Symphony No. 3

v. "Es sungen drei Engel" ("Three Angels Were Singing")
Lustig im Tempo und keck im Ausdruck
(Merry in tempo and saucy in expression)

[German text from Des Knaben Wunderhorn]

Three angels sang a sweet song,
with blessed joy it rang in heaven.
They shouted too for joy
that Peter was free from sin!

And as Lord Jesus sat at the table
with his twelve disciples and ate the evening meal,
Lord Jesus said: "Why do you stand here?
When I look at you, you are weeping!"

"And should I not weep, kind God?
I have violated the ten commandments!
I wander and weep bitterly!
O come and take pity on me!"

"If you have violated the ten commandments,
then fall on your knees and pray to God!
Love only God for all time!
So will you gain heavenly joy."

The heavenly joy is a blessed city,
the heavenly joy that has no end!
The heavenly joy was granted to Peter
through Jesus, and to all mankind for eternal bliss.

Diana Damrau, soprano; Stephan Matthias Lademann, piano. Telos Music Vocal, recorded 2003

Evelyn Lear, soprano; Ralf Weikert, cond. VAI, recorded live in Paris, 1978

Christa Ludwig, mezzo-soprano; Brooklyn Boys Chorus, women of the New York Choral Artists, New York Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein, cond. DG, recorded live November 1987

* * * * *

The movement that precedes this one belongs entirely to the alto soloist (and the orchestra, of course). It's a setting of the "Midnight Watch" from Friedrich Nietzsche's Also sprach Zarathustra (Thus Spake Zarathustra). (More or less as Mahler was finishing his Third Symphony, a somewhat younger composer took an interest in the Nietzsche tract, name of Richard Strauss. How would Stanley Kubrick have gotten 2001 going without it?)

I'm not going to say anything more about this movement, but will just let you listen to it. Naturally we start with Maureen Forrester (again from the 1978 Mehta recording) and Christa Ludwig (this time from an earlier recording than the Bernstein-DG one). And then I've thrown in two more quite lovely performances, just because I like them and they're different.

MAHLER: Symphony No. 3

iv. "O Mensch! Gib Acht" ("O man! Take heed!")
Langsam. Misterioso. Durchaus ppp.
(Slow. Mysterious. Throughout ppp.)

[German text from Nietzsche's Thus Spake Zarathustra]

O man! Take heed!
What says the deep midnight?
"I slept, I slept -- ,
from a deep dream have I awoken: --
the world is deep,
and deeper than the day has thought.
Deep is its pain -- ,
joy -- deeper still than heartache.
Pain says: Pass away!
But all joy
seeks eternity -- ,
-- seeks deep, deep eternity!"

Maureen Forrester, contralto; Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, Zubin Mehta, cond. Decca, recorded 1978

Christa Ludwig, mezzo-soprano; Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, Václav Neumann, cond. Supraphon, recorded 1981

Jessye Norman, soprano; Boston Symphony Orchestra, Seiji Ozawa, cond. Philips, recorded April 1993

Jard van Nes, contralto; Berlin Philharmonic, Bernard Haitink, cond. Philips, recorded December 1990


As noted above, we take a quick look at the grand finale of the Resurrection Symphony -- and then Sunday we put together what we've got of these two inexhaustible symphonies.


The current list is here.

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At 11:13 AM, Anonymous Bil said...

The only way to really enjoy the Superbowl is with the sound off on the talkinghead announcers (Except for commercials).

Thanks KenI, this will be perfect, plus lots to learn.

At 12:27 PM, Anonymous Bil said...

oops, just noticed Zoroaster and the ouroboros, I'm thinking this is not Sunday superbowl cover...


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