Friday, March 30, 2012

Preview: From song to symphony -- the journey of Mahler's lonely wayfarer

Thomas Allen sings the second song, "Ging heut' Morgen übers Feld," from Mahler's Songs of a Wayfarer, in a 1991 performance conducted by Václav Neumann. (See below for German and English texts.)

by Ken

As we've already established, Mahler's early symphonies -- through, say, No. 4 -- were intertwined with his song-writing of the period, especially drawing on the folk-poetry collection Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Youth's Magic Horn). The poems that became his first great song cycle, the Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (Songs of a Wayfarer), sound like Wunderhorn poems, but they're not -- they're actually the composer's own.

Mahler's First Symphony took shape by an almost indescribably convoluted process -- in other words, pretty much the way all the later symphonies did. And when the dust settled, some of the Wayfarer Songs had found their way into the symphony, most conspicuously the second, "Ging heut' Morgen übers Feld" ("Went this morning across the field"). And here is more or less how that transformation sounds, allowing for the fact that we're skipping a step. By the time the song was pressed into service to provide the exposition of the first movement of the First Symphony, Mahler had already produced an orchestral version of the originally piano-accompanied Wayfarer Songs.

We're going to hear the orchestral version of "Ging heut' Morgen" in the click-through, along with the complete first movement of the First Symphony. For now let's just hear the piano-accompanied version of the song and the incorporation of the song as the symphonic movement's exposition.

MAHLER: Songs of a Wayfarer:
No. 2, "Ging heut' Morgen übers Feld"
("Went this morning across the field")

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone; Leonard Bernstein, piano. CBS/Sony, recorded in New York, Nov. 4, 1968

MAHLER: Symphony No. 1 in D:
1st movement exposition

New York Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein, cond. CBS/Sony, recorded Oct. 4 and 22, 1966

Leonard Bernstein conducts the Vienna Philharmonic in this October 1974 performance of the first half of the first movement of Mahler's First Symphony. (The rest of the movement is here. The later movements are also posted.)