MAHLER: Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (Cord Garben/ Hanover Radio Philharmonic Orchestra/ Hidenori Komatsu) (Naxos: 8.554164)
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Kindertotenlieder;Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen; Ruckert-Lieder
The great Viennese symphonic tradition found worthy successors in twocomposers of very different temperament and background, Anton Bruckner, the sonof a village schoolmaster, and Gustav Mahler. The latter, indeed, extended theform in an extraordinary way that has had a far-reaching effect on the courseof Western music. Mahler was heir to two great traditions, the tradition of thesymphony and the tradition of German song, combining the second with the firstin a remarkable synthesis. His music, in its all-encompassing variety, hasexercised a growing fascination over the musical consciousness of the twentiethcentury, with all its doubts, troubles and divisions.
Mahler was to express succinctly enough his own position in the world.
He saw himself as three times homeless, a Bohemian in Austria, an Austrianamong Germans and a Jew throughout the whole world. The second child in hisfamily, the first of fourteen to survive, he was born at Kaliste in Bohemia.
Soon after his birth the family moved to Jihlava, where his father, by his ownvery considerable efforts, had raised himself from being little more than apedlar, with a desire for intellectual self-improvement, to the running of atavern and distillery. Mahler's musical abilities were developed first inJihlava, before a brief and unhappy period of schooling in Prague, followed bya later course of study at the Conservatory in Vienna, where he turned from thepiano to composition, and, as a necessary corollary, to conducting.
It was as a conductor that Mahler made his career, at first at a seriesof provincial opera-houses, and later in Prague, Budapest and Hamburg, beforereaching the highest position of all when, in 1897, he became Kapellmeister ofthe Vienna Court Opera, two months after his baptism as a Catholic, a necessaryand perhaps not unwelcome preliminary. In Vienna he instituted significantreforms in the Court Opera but made enough enemies, particularly represented inthe anti-semitic press, to lead to his resignation in 1907, followed by a finalperiod conducting in America and elsewhere, in a vain attempt to secure hisfamily's future before his own imminent death, which took place shortly after hisreturn to Vienna, on 18th May, 1911.
Although his career as a conductor involved him most closely with opera,Mahler attempted little composition in this field. His work as a composerconsists chiefly of his songs and of his ten symphonies, the last leftunfinished at his death, and his monumental setting of poems from the Chinesein Das Lied von der Erde ('The Song of the Earth'). His first songs datefrom the early 1880s and include various settings of verse of his own and ofother poets. He later turned his attention to Des Knaben Wunderhorn ('TheBoy's Magic Horn'), the influential collection of German folk-songs assembledin the first decade of the nineteenth century by Achim von Arnim and Clemensvon Brentano, the spirit of which influenced Mahler, as it had influenced thewhole course of German Romanticism.
Mahler's Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen ('Songs of a Wayfarer'),with verses of his own composition, were written between the end of 1883 andthe beginning of 1885. They were orchestrated in the 1890s and first performedin this version in Berlin on 16th March 1896 with the Dutch bass-baritone AntonSistermans as soloist. The orchestra was the Berlin Philharmonic and theprogramme included Mahler's First Symphony, without its Andante, theso-called Blumine movement, and Todtenfeier ('Funeral Ceremony'),the first movement of the Second Symphony. The cycle of songs opens with'Wenn mein Schatz Hochzeit macht' ('When my love has her wedding-day'), itspoignant mood created at the outset by the opening clarinet motif, leading toan episode of deeper sorrow and the gentle lilt of the following section,before the mood of the opening returns. The second song, 'Ging heut' morgens??bers Feld' ('I went this morning over the field') is familiar in its openinghappiness from its use in the first movement of the First Symphony. Itends in predictable wistful sorrow. This is followed by the more turbulent 'Ichhab' ein gl??hend Messer' ('I have a glowing dagger'), its pain the pain of theworld. The last song, part of which is used in the third movement of the FirstSymphony, is 'Die zwei blauen Augen' ('The two blue eyes').
The early 1890s brought a set of twelve songs from Des KnabenWunderhom, some of which find a place in the Third and FourthSymphonies Between 1901 and 1904 Mahler wrote his settings of the moving Kindertotenlieder('Songs on the Death of Children') by Friedrich R??ckert, posthumouslypublished poems that reflect the poet's own experience and sorrow. Howeverdeeply he may have felt these verses from his own unhappy family experiences oras a more general expression of Weltschmerz, by the time Mahler came tocomplete the set of five songs he had married Alma Schindler and was the fatherof two daughters. The elder of the two died of scarlet fever and diphtheria in1907, allowing Alma Mahler, at least with hindsight, to reproach her husbandfor tempting Fate in these songs. The cycle was first performed in Vienna on29th January 1905, together with the first six of a group of songs under thetitle Sieben Lieder aus letzter Zeit ('Seven Songs of Latter Days').
These last include settings of five other R??ckert poems, the last of which wasnot orchestrated by Mahler and was not performed with the others in 1905. Thesoloist at the first Vienna performance of both groups of songs was thebaritone Friedrich Weidemann.
The Kindertotenlieder open with 'Nun will die Sonn' so hellaufgeh'n' ('Now will the sun rise as brightly'). This is followed by 'Nun seh'ich wohl, warum so dunkle Flammen' ('Now I see clearly why such dark flames'),the more ingenuous 'Wenn dein M??tterlein' ('When your little mother') and 'Oftdenk' ich sie sind nur ausgegangen' ('Often I think they have only gone out').
The other collection of songs, written in the same period, offers adifferent aspect, one of the songs, at least, more exactly the obverse. Thegroup itself starts with two songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn not hereincluded, 'Revelge' ('Reveille') and 'Der Tambourg'sell' ('The Drummer Boy').
The R??ckert songs are 'Blicke mir nicht in die Lieder!' ('Do not look at mysongs'), with its running accompaniment, 'Ich atmet' einen linden Duft' ('Ibreathed a gentle scent'), the most beautiful of all, 'Ich bin der Weltabhanden gekommen' ('I am lost to the world'), words that seem to some toepitomize Mahler's own feelings, 'Um Mitternacht' ('At midnight'), with itscharacteristic opening motifs and air of nocturnal sadness, and 'Liebst du umSchonheit' ('Do you love beauty'), dedicated to Alma Mahler (not recordedhere). These songs, imbued with a tender lyrical quality, are at variance withthe turbulence of the new symphonies on which Mahler was now embarking.
Hidenori Komatsu studied at the Tokyo University of Arts and at theL??beck Musikhochschule with Edith Lang, embarking on a career as a Lieder singerand a performer in opera-houses and concert-halls. He has enjoyed a notablecollaboration with the conductor Seiji Ozawa, involving, in the 1990s,productions of Salome and Manon Lescaut, in the r??les of Jochanaanand Lescaut respectively, and appearances as a soloist in performances of Gounod'sLa damnation de Faust, Beethoven's Choral