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.)


FIRST LET'S HEAR THE ORCHESTRAL VERSION OF THE SONG

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



Hermann Prey, baritone; Concertgebouw Orchestra, Bernard Haitink, cond. Philips, recorded May 1970
For comparison here's the piano-accompanied version again, this time in Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau's later recording, with Daniel Barenboim. As I've mentioned previously, I'm not a great fan of Fischer-Dieskau's fussy way with Mahler, which doesn't seem to me to have been nearly as clever as he seems to have thought. (Of course the fussiness also cleverly conceals, or at least works around, technical peculiarities and difficulties in the voice.) But I can't offhand think of other recordings I have of the piano-accompanied Wayfarer Songs.


Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone; Daniel Barenboim, cond. EMI, recorded Feb. 5-10, 1978

NOW LET'S HEAR HOW MAHLER SETS UP THE SONG AS THE
EXPOSITION OF THE FIRST MOVEMENT OF THE SYMPHONY


And I thought that for some consistency we would hear Maestro Haitink and the Concertgebouw Orchestra again, even though this recording of the First Symphony is a good deal earlier than that of the Wayfarer Songs. I was tempted to turn instead to the maestro's next recording of the symphony, but it's with the Berlin Philharmonic rather than the Concertgebouw, and while it's a little more picturesquely recorded, I really don't like it as well.

MAHLER: Symphony No. 1 in D:
i. Langsam. Schleppend -- opening only


Concertgebouw Orchestra, Bernard Haitink, cond. Philips, recorded September 1962

Tell you what, why don't we hear the opening of the Bernstein-NY Phil recording? You'll notice that this time we hear the exposition -- the part that we heard originally, before the click-through -- twice. In his First Symphony Mahler held onto the symphonic tradition of repeating the exposition before moving on to the development section.


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

(Mahler would only indicate an exposition repeat once more, and we've actually heard that one: in the Sixth Symphony, in a July 2011 post I was pretty fond of: "Is Mahler's Sixth Symphony any more 'tragic' than life itself?")


IT SEEMS A SHAME TO LEAVE THE SYMPHONY WITH JUST
THIS TEASE. SO LET'S HEAR THE WHOLE FIRST MOVEMENT


And in case you were wondering how the first movement of the 1966 Bernstein-New York Philharmonic recording turned out, we'll hear that as well as the 1962 Haitink-Concertgebouw one.

MAHLER: Symphony No. 1 in D:
i. Langsam. Schleppend


Concertgebouw Orchestra, Bernard Haitink, cond. Philips, recorded September 1962
New York Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein, cond. CBS/Sony, recorded Oct. 4 and 22, 1966


IN THIS WEEK'S SUNDAY CLASSICS POST

Now that we've heard how Mahler incorporated "Ging heut' Morgen" into the First Symphony, we move on to the question: Ya wanna make sumpin' of it?
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