Orchestral cycle of songs was undeniably one of greatest achievements of musical culture in romantic period. Although its formal idea has long evolution between early romantic songs, late-romantic cantata and postromantic symphony with vocal parts and various works for voice and orchestra, it was late Romanticism when development of symphonic cycle of songs resulted as independent form. Best examples were all cycles of orchestral songs by Gustav Mahler and cycles like Vier letzte Lieder by Richard Strauss, or Gurre-Lieder by Arnold Schoenberg. From perspective of symphonic cycle also symphonies by Gustav Mahler played significant role for numerous references to romantic song forms. In this context special role played Das Lied von der Erde as it was the synthesis uniting symphonic cycle of songs and romantic symphony. Lyrical Symphony composed in 1923 by Alexander von Zemlinsky belongs to most famous implementations of this idea.
Composer, conductor and teacher, Alexander von Zemlinsky was one of key figures of Viennese culture in last decade of 19th and first decades of 20th century. Born in Vienna in multicultural family, Zemlinsky started composer’s career as student of Johann Nepomuk Fuchs and Anton Bruckner. He was composing in postromantic style, continuing the style of Johannes Brahms, whom Zemlinsky personally met and who gave young composer strong support. At the turn of the century he was part of Vienese modernistic movement with Gustav Mahler who conducted premiere of his opera Es war einmal. These two were connected on private level since Mahler married Zemlinsky’s beloved Alma Schindler. Alexander von Zemlinsky was close friend and brother-in-law with Arnold Schoenberg who was his student of counterpoint and long time co-worker. One of Zemlinsky’s pupils was Erich Wolfgang Korngold, recommended him as infant prodigy by Gustav Mahler.
|Alexander von Zemlinsky • Lyrische Symphonie op. 18 • Klee (1981)|
The list of Zemlinsky’s works includes songs, symphonic, chamber and piano music and eight operas and stage works like Ein Tanzpoem (Dance Poem) and Mime drama Ein Lichtstrahl (Ray of Light). Completed in December 1919 one act opera Der Zwerg (The Dwarf) was his reaction for breaking engagement by Alma Schindler. Probably the best-known works by Zemlinsky are compositions for voice and orchestra: Waldgespräch with words by Joseph von Eichendorff, Sechs Gesänge after poems by Maurice Maeterlinck Op. 13, Symphonische Gesänge Op. 20 to the lyrics by afroamerican poets and Lyrical Symphony Op. 18. Symphonic intensity and power of poetry gave all modernist composers wide means of expression.
Most popular work by Alexander von Zemlinsky was Lyrical Symphony for baritone, soprano and orchestra in Seven Cantos to Texts by Nobel’s Prize laureate Rabindranath Tagore. It was written in 1922 and 1923, and lyrical cycle was set of seven poems translated by Hans Effenberger. Baritone and soprano voices take their own parts in narrative, creating dramatic tension. The main composer’s idea was to place these songs into cycle corresponding with formal scheme of symphony. But final effect is closer to symphonic poem, including cantos which can be understand as consecutive images of mystical voyage and developing symbolic vision of human faith. Performance of Radio-Symphonie-Orchester Berlin conducted by Bernhard Klee features baritone Dale Duesing and soprano Elisabeth Söderström. Recording was made between June 30 and July 2nd, 1980 in Berlin, Jesus-Christus-Kirche and published next year in Dusseldorf by Schwann Musica Mundi label.