Article: Zsuzsanna Deák
Translation: Zsófia HacsekMüpa celebrates Earth Day with one of the most monumental and unforgettable pieces from the history of music. Leonard Bernstein called Das Lied von der Erde (Song of the Earth) Mahler’s greatest symphony which contrasts the everlasting beauty of nature with the short and insignificant human existence. Nowadays, when climate change threatens us more and more, the Song of the Earth cannot be more topical: Earth will be beautiful forever, but most humans do not even live up to a century. Mahler also considered his work a symphony, but did not give it a number. There is the ‘curse of the ninth’: since Beethoven it is widely considered that after your ninth symphony, you inevitably have to die. And it indeed happened to many artists: Schubert could not finish his tenth symphony; Dvořák tried to keep his finished works in secret but even he died after the ninth; Mahler wrote the Song of the Earth after his eighth symphony, then he wrote the “official” ninth – before he died in 1910 while writing the tenth. He could not escape the famous curse. Mahler had a uniquely beautiful farewell. In his symphonies, he often dealt with the topic of death, either in a grotesque way (like in the first), or with peaceful acceptance (like in the third), or with tragic (like in the gloomy funeral march of the fifth). But alongside death, there is always the deep love for life, not as a lived experience but more like a distant admiration. One can feel that Mahler knew passing, loss, farewell and loneliness the most. The Song of the Earth was written in the most difficult period of his life. Due to anti-semitic media attacks, he had to resign from his role of director of the Viennese opera. His health deteriorated, his beloved daughter Maria died. His marriage to Alma Mahler was spoiled by her grudge, as she believed that his Songs on the Death of Children cycle had something to do with Maria’s subsequent death.
“I lost everything from one moment to another. Now I need to relearn every step, like a newborn”Mahler wrote to his friend, conductor Bruno Walter. In this horrible life situation he came across a poetry collection of ancient Chinese poems in a freestyle German translation. The main topic was the contrast between the beauty of life and inevitable transience, which captured Mahler’s interest immediately. He chose seven poems and worked on the cycle for years. The first movement, The Drinking Song of Earth’s Sorrow starts seemingly cheerfully but leads to grotesque and bitterness, reminding us of the uselessness of life and human sorrows. Then comes the tired sadness of The Solitary One in Autumn, then the only truly joyful part: Of Youth. But we need to say farewell right away, as it is the essence of Mahler’s art. Of Beauty deals with loss, and The Drunkard in Spring is irrevocably dark and hopeless. Nevertheless, the last movement which makes half of the whole cycle (The Farewell) puts everything in a much bigger dimension. As Bruno Walter recollected, Mahler showed him the score and asked:
“Do you think people will go home after this and shoot themselves in the head?”But the final message of the movement – and the whole piece – is not hopelessness and burning ache. This wonderful, ethereal music shows the hope of eternal life with the following words:
Ah my friend, Fortune was not kind to me in this world! Where do I go? I go, I wander in the mountains. I seek peace for my lonely heart. I wander homeward, to my abode! I’ll never wander far. Still is my heart, awaiting its hour. The dear earth everywhere blossoms in spring and grows green anew! Everywhere and forever blue is the horizon! Forever … Forever …The Song of the Earth, this complex, monumental, incredibly beautiful and matchless piece will be played tonight, on 22 April, in the Müpa after Haydn’s Symphony 99 in E-flat major. The Dohnányi Orchestra Budafok will be conducted by Roberto Paternostro; soloists are Atala Schöck (mezzo soprano) and Erin Caves (tenor).
Article: Zsuzsanna Deák
Translation: Zsófia Hacsek