Friday, March 16, 2012

Boulez – Mahler – Waldmärchen

Gustav Mahler, born in 1860 was undeniably one of greatest composers in history of symphonic music. But he was also artist immersed in the historical process who concluded romanticism with great works being both recapitulation of romantic ideas and opening to forthcoming modern music. His first full range composition which he called his “first opus” was composed between 1878 and 1880 and it was cantata called Das klagende Lied (Song of Lamentation) – huge three-movement, nearly 70 minutes long romantic cantata, composed to his own lyrics. These early Mahler’s visions were close to the canonic themes in German romantic literature and visual arts. The main idea has been taken directly from fairytale Das klagende Lied by Ludwig Bechstein but the plot has been written by Mahler in his own poem.
The plot of Das klagende Lied is derived from popular in romantic culture story about the queen, who promised marriage to someone who will go to the deep forest and will find a very rare red flower. Two brothers set off in search of plant – one fair and noble, the other an unscrupulous opportunist. When honest finds the flower, the consequence is a treacherous death from the hands of dishonest and jealous brother. Following the crime he takes the brother’s prize and marries the queen. However, the wandering minstrel finds bones of the murdered brother and is making the pipe singing whole tragic story. Minstrel goes to the castle and interrupts the wedding ceremony. Scene breaks out, all quarrel and in this pandemonium the castle collapses into the ground. 

Boulez – Mahler – Waldmärchen (1970) 

The first version of Mahler's cantata was composition in three parts, but soon he began to perform it without the first and most extensive movement. First part takes 30 minutes what takes almost half of whole cantata duration. The reason was not only the scale of the first episode. Whole story was still readable when told after hideous act of fratricide, maybe even more mysterious, and this is what always has given a chance for more general associations.  Author’s decision of reduction the work to second and third movements can be understand but still Waldmärchen is great work, even as standalone piece. Comparing to the other two movements, first part shows more ease narrative style where elegiac and lyric elements interlace with dramatic and emotional episodes. 
When tenor Ernst Haefliger chants the first line of cantata text – “Es war ein stolze Königin” – it’s just like an invitation to recall mystery feelings of a child hearing a tale about proud queen and her strange request. Originl idea is to arrange vocal parts in instrumental way. Text of Mahler’s poem has been divided to small particles sung by various sets of vocal staff. Narration about queen is sung by male voices, after tenor and choir comes bass Gerd Nienstedt. Then history of finding the flower and murder is told by soprano Elisabeth Soederstroem, mezzo-soprano Grace Hoffman and choir. 
Illustrative resources are so much diverse as far from literality. In many stylistic solutions this music is close to Richard Wagner’s style. No wonder. In his student years Mahler was clearly influenced by Wagner’s ideas of music and narration. Later, when he became famous conductor, director of Viennese Hofoper and Vienna Philharmonic, Gustav Mahler remained faithful to his esthetic choices and one of best interpreters of Wagner’s works. In his mature works he became more polyphonic and spectrum of his expression was much wider but he was still close to the idea of narrative music. Wagnerian inspirations were clearly dominating over young Mahler’s style. This relationship can be observed on many levels from formation of lyrics, through characteristic references like leitmotiv technique and totality of orchestration, to the precedent idea of whole composition’s narratives reflecting in work’s structure. 
It was good idea to collate Mahler’s first and early works on opposite sides of one album. Waldmärchen from Das klagende Lied and Adagio from his final 10th Symphony are frame closing one of most original visions of romantic symphonic music and despite composers untimely death it shows how consistently he was developing his music. In Pierre Boulez interpretation both works are sparkling like a precious stones. London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus sound perfectly clear and massive. Great solo voices gave this part of cantata an additional dimension of narrative contents. It’s worth to notice this was premiere recording of Waldmärchen in the history and unlike many premiere recordings, this one is probably the best.

1 comment:

conductor said...

Very precious information and approach to Mahler's music, especially this rarely performed piece. The Internet sources about classical music are rare after all, this blog gives us the author's subjective but scholar precious point of view.

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