Work: Das Lied von der Erde
About This Work
Although seemingly a set of songs with orchestra, this is for all intents and purposes Mahler's ninth symphony. Das Lied represents a refinement and concentration of the means and expression of the Eighth Symphony. In Das Lied, the same
contrapuntally oriented style prevails, but the thinner textures make it seem more pronounced. Also, the more intimate and personal nature of much of the writing is a direct response to the private musings of the Chinese poems rather than a major stylistic upheaval.
Das Lied is an integrated symphonic whole, as the six songs are organized into four parts analogous to symphonic movements. Mahler's harmonic and expressive language is so powerful that he was able to create a progressive effect that unite these songs into a single semantic and artistic entity.
"Das Trinklied vom Jammer der Erde" (The Drinking Song of Earth's Sorrow). The first song is a hybrid of strophic song and sonata form. It stands by itself, not only formally, but in its black, uncompromising defiance of grief in the face of mortality. The powerfully sweeping opening is contrasted with an ethereal central section, but eventually culminates in a weird and shrieking evocation of Man's fate.
"Der Einsame im Herbst" (The Lonely One in Autumn). This resigned song evokes the mists of Fall as the poet grieves over the loss of summer and life. The thin textures and wandering lines perfectly capture bitter loneliness.
"Von der Jugend" (Of Youth). This and the next two songs comprise the "scherzo" of the symphonic structure. They are all shorter, lighter in tone, and nostalgic in mood. Here, memories of young people drinking tea is captured with light and airy pentatonic lines, invoking the innocence and carefree attitude of youth.
"Von der Schönheit" (Of Beauty). A romantic scene. The gentle innocence of the girls is depicted with a delicately moving Andante. At the appearance of the horsemen there is a sudden military outburst in the orchestra, while the voice accelerates into a breathless melody, effectively portraying the maidens' fluttering hearts.
"Der Trunkene im Frühling" (The Drunk in Spring). In spite of a longing central passage, this song is mostly comic in its evocations of nature and a young man's drunken reeling. Mahler here uses an astonishing variety of harmonic and orchestral effects.
"Der Abschied" (The Farewell). There are two separate poems here. The first depicts a solitary figure waiting for a friend to come for a last farewell, the second is the farewell itself. By far the longest movement of the work, Mahler precedes each poem with a lengthy orchestral section, also making this the most instrumentally oriented movement. The first is longing and plaintive, repeated in part after the voice finally enters. The second is a long and moving funeral march, culminating in a huge and tragic climax. In the final stanza, as the poet looks back at life, Mahler composed a resigned and expansive coda.
-- Steven Coburn
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