Thursday, October 30, 2014

Alma Mahler-Werfel – Complete Songs

   Importance of song in societal life was an effect of many factors. Probably most important was its semantic value which was derivative of song lyrics. Most appreciated songs and song cycles were composed to cycles of poems of best romantic poets. Most of them were great poets like Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Alexander Pushkin, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Heinrich Heine, Théophile Gautier, Wilhelm Müller, Adelbert von Chamisso, Robert Louis Stevenson, Joseph von Eichendorff, Friedrich Rückert. We can recall many other famous names of great poets. Even if some of them are forgotten or underrated like Alois Isidor Jeitteles, author of texts to Beethovens cycle An die ferne Geliebte (To the Distant Beloved) or Mathilde Wesendonck who’s poems has been used by Richard Wagner in famous cycle called Wesendonck Lieder, their contribution in building romantic imagery was huge. 
   Some composers used biblical texts – like Johannes Brahms in his famous cycle of Vier ernste Gesänge (Four Serious Songs) where he uses verses from Ecclesiastes, Sirah and 1st Epistle to the Corinthians. Others were writing lyrics on their own – sometimes with astonishingly good results like Gustav Mahler in his well known cycle Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen. Many song cycles were composed to the collection of one poet’s works, others to choice of texts by various poets. There are many different strategies but main ideas are almost the same – all composers wish to create perfect connection of sound and meaning. One of romantic song composers was Alma Mahler-Werfel.

Alma Mahler-Werfel – Sämtliche Lieder (1986)

   When Gustav Mahler discovered musical works of his wife, he was shocked and ashamed. It was undoubtedly reason of deep frustration to remember eight years earlier he rejected her compositions without any checking. He compiled choice of five songs and published it as Fünf Lieder in 1910 in Universal Edition. Authors of these songs were Richard Dehmel, Otto Erich Hartleben, Gustav Falke, Rainer Maria Rilke and Heinrich Heine. After publication she composed more songs and in last months of his life Mahler edited next cycle Vier Lieder of two new and two older songs, this time only contemporary poets Otto Julius Bierbaum, Richard Dehmel and Gustav Falke. This cycle was published four years after Gustav Mahler’s death in 1915. On the cover was graphic by Oskar Kokoschka.
   Alma Schindler was famous of her beauty and selfconfident. After Gustav Klimt, Alexander von Zemlinsky and Gustav Mahler with whom she was married, Kokoschka was Alma’s next love. Although she was his muse this temperamental relationship has no chance. After parting with Kokoshka she composed next few songs, and one was composed to poem Der Erkennende by Franz Werfel. She was totally captivated by this poem, but at this moment she was already a month after her wedding with Walter Gropius. Two years later she begin affair with Werfel and in 1920, after divorce with Gropius, she started living with Franz Werfel, whom she married nine years later in 1929. Fünf Gesänge were published in 1924.
   Album with songs by Alma Mahler-Werfel in performance by soprano Izabel Lippitz and pianist Barbara Heller was great exposure of forgotten composer. Recorded for Classic Production Osnabruck in 1986 was complete presentation of composer’s works only for the moment. In 2000 next two songs for voice and piano were published. First was composed to Rilke’s poem, author of the second remains unknown. There are many new recordings of Alma Mahler’s songs, but in fact Lippitz-Heller rendition still sounds perfect. Songs mainly in form of through-composed lied are subtle and balanced, rhythmically are subordinated to inner rhythm of the lyrics. Modest cover is focusing our attention on the inside. Three and a half stars for perfect performance and for possibility to hear such talented composer. 

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