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Object #66 / Gustav Mahler: Das Trinklied vom Jammer der Erde

The Song of the Earth
Text: Li Tai-Po (German: Hans Bethge: Das Lied von der Erde)
Beginning of an arrangement for small ensemble by Arnold Schönberg

Arnold Schönberg Center, Wien

For Schönberg’s contemporary Gustav Mahler, nature embodies not so much outward appearance but rather creative principle, as embodied by the “god Dionysos” or the “great Pan.” Referring to this mythical power that pierces through rationalized nature, Mahler remarked that his music only wants to be “the sound of nature at all times and in all places” (letter to Richard Batka, 1896). Mahler’s pronounced tendency towards internalization and solitude correlates with a virulent inclination in Bethge’s adaptation of the Chinese original to prefer a reclusive life among nature to the pressures of society. While in the 1st verse of the first song from the cycle the expressive gestures of a drinking song already give way to a melancholic, resigned world view in the third line of the verse (as the “song of sorrow”), and in the second verse (apart from the refrain) a broadly unburdened dedication to the muse of the moment is predominant, the second half of the text (verses 3 and 4) describes an aura of the keenest contrasts between the permanence of the earth and the finiteness of human existence on the one hand, and the nightmare scenario of the “wild” and “ghostly” ape and the return to the sphere of the drinking song (final three lines of the verse) on the other. Schönberg planned an arrangement of Mahler’s orchestral song cycle for a concert by the Society of Private Musical Performances around 1920 (ultimately not implemented).

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