Search This Blog

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Gustav Mahler - Des Knaben Wunderhorn (1991)

Mahler has always been one of my favorite composers. I especially like his symphonies, but his Lieder are on a par with the symphonies, and Des Knaben Wunderhorn is my favorite in this genre. This recording is good. I have heard better interpretations, but this one is skillfully done, and I have always liked Mackerras' approach to Mahler.

Liner Notes:

Here we feel the heartbeat of the German people... Here German passion burns and German jesting makes merry; here German love blooms. Here sparkle truly German wine and truly German tears. The book contains some of the loveliest flowering of the German spirit.

The enthusiasm of the celebrated poet Heinrich Heine confirms that the collection of over seven hundred verses entitled Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Boy's Magic Horn) is an important expression of German nationalism. The anthology was the work of Achim von Arnim and Clemens Brentano, and was published in three volumes between 1805 and 1808. The source material, some of it three centuries old, was collected throughout German-speaking Europe, probably in response to the trauma of the Napoleonic occupation.

The title Des Knaben Wunderhorn is derived from the opening poem of Volume One. Its dedicatee, Goethe, had recommended the verses 'to all intelligent people', and in his view their varied subjects—fairy tales, ghost stories, miracles, murders, nursery rhymes and recollections of war—were well suited to musical treatment. Although neither Beethoven nor Schubert showed interest, Weber certainly did, for it was in the Leipzig library of Weber's grandson Karl in 1888 that Mahler, who had already set several of the poems for voice and piano, discovered the edition to which he would return so often in the years to come. Together Karl Weber and Mahler embarked upon an operatic project which was abandoned, but eventually gave rise to the song 'Der Schildwache Nachtlied', completed in 1892.

Mahler was the first composer to make extensive use of Des Knaben Wunderhorn, setting twenty-one poems in all, of which the finest are those with orchestra composed between 1888 and 1901. Furthermore, the verses became so important to him that they pervaded the symphonies of these years: the Second, Third and Fourth are collectively known as the Wunderhorn Symphonies, and incorporate song material both vocally and orchestrally.

Like Arnim and Brentano before him, Mahler had no qualms about changing the verses to suit his own expressive ends. To achieve brevity for instance, he omitted stanzas in 'Das irdische Leben' and 'Verlor'ne Will'', while elsewhere he sought musical balance by repeating words or sentences, and occasionally by adding words of his own. In keeping with the nature of the originals, he avoided complex musical structures, though in the more extended songs there is thematic development and a unifying role for the orchestra. Instrumental textures often have a chamber music clarity, emphasising contrasted colours rather than rich sonorities. Although the orchestra is not large it is always varied, with percussion frequently significant; for these songs typify the subtle calculation of Mahler's orchestral language.

The moods of the poems suited Mahler well, contrasting humour and sadness, jesting and bitterness, with recurring macabre images. The songs fall into three groups: the military songs which use march-like music; the lyrical, mainly love songs and those in humorous vein. But such classifications must be approached with caution, since each song has its own special sound world.

'Revelge' (Reveille) is one of Mahler's most sinister creations: a regiment returns from battle to stage its last parade, but the soldiers are skeletons. The military aspect is vividly drawn both in the accompaniment and in several interludes, while the opening phrase of the orchestral prelude, the basis of the spectral atmosphere, was later used in 'Nachtmusik I' in the Symphony No. 7.

'Das irdische Leben' (Earthly Life) is a short song of considerable psychological depth. A hungry child appeals to its mother, only to be given empty promises of bread tomorrow. Mother and child have their own themes which are doubled by the woodwind, while the strings scurry relentlessly on towards the bitter conclusion, the child's death.

The playful love song 'Verlor'ne Müh" (All in Vain), in Swabian dialect, is a sensuous ländler for male and female singers in which the girl's personality is wittily drawn by the grace-notes in her vocal line.

The charmingly Schubertian 'Rheinlegendchen' (A Little Rhine Legend) is in the form of a ländler; here the most subtle musical feature is the extent of the tonal range beyond the home key of A major.

'Der Tamboursg'sell' (The Drummer-Boy) of 1901, the last of the songs to be written, concerns a drummer-boy awaiting execution as a deserter. A funereal tread expresses his melancholy as he bids farewell to life.
In 'Der Schildwache Nachtlied' (The Sentinel's Night Song) a sentry is killed because the apparition of his lover lures him from his duty. The effect created is suitably eerie: the girl's music has a sustained lyrical flow, while the sentry is characterised by a march tune and military motifs.

'Wer hat dies Liedlein erdacht?' (Who made up this little song?) is a light-hearted nonsense verse set to a flowing moto perpetuo. Again the model is that of the ländler, the vocal line doubled by strings or woodwind.

'Lob des hohen Verstandes' (Praise from a lofty intellect) is a comic verse in which a singing contest between a cuckoo and a nightingale is judged by a donkey. It mocks pomposity and self-importance characterised especially as the donkey's braying 'Ija' motif. Interestingly, Mahler used the opening theme of this song in the complex Rondo-finale of the Fifth Symphony. Of 'Des Antonius von Padua Fischpredigt' (Anthony of Padua's Sermon to the Fishes) Mahler wrote: 'Not one of the fish is the wiser for the sermon, even though the saint has performed for them! But only a few people will understand my satire on mankind.' A smoothly-contoured ostinato represents the swimming fish; this parodistic song became the basis of the orchestral scherzo of the Resurrection Symphony.

'Lied des Verfolgten im Turm' (Song of the Prisoner in the Tower) concerns a prisoner who maintains his thoughts of freedom while locked in his cell. All the while his sweetheart stands outside the tower, and her music has a gracefulness and charm which contrasts with the prisoner's passionate vigour.

While 'Trost im Unglück' (Solace in Sorrow) is a lively duet between a Hussar and his former sweetheart, it is also a negation of love with an undercurrent of bitterness.

'Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen' (Where the shining trumpets blow), a lovers' rendezvous at midnight, became in Mahler's hands an eerie meeting between a girl and the ghost of her dead soldier sweetheart. The mood is tender and intimate, though the structure is among the most sophisticated in the Wunderhorn songs, with recurring quasi-military music for woodwind, horns and trumpet. Fanfare figures surround the soldier's ghost, while his sleeping lover has string music of melting lyricism.


In 1899, Mahler published twelve orchestral songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn, under the title 'Humoresken'. Of these twelve songs however, two had been later incorporated into symphonies ('Urlicht' into the fourth movement of the Second and 'Es sungen drei Engel' into the fifth movement of the Third). For this reason they are usually omitted from modern performances of the songs, and are not recorded here.
The two remaining songs which make up the twelve on this disc—'Revelge' and 'Der Tamboursg' sell'—were published independently in 1905.

Hailed by the Guardian newspaper as the leading baritone of the day, and perhaps the best British baritone ever, THOMAS ALLEN has received international acclaim for his operatic performances, concerts and recitals in the major musical centres of Europe, America and the Far East. Particularly renowned for his interpretations of Count Almaviva, Papageno and especially Don Giovanni, his repertoire ranges over a broad spectrum to include such roles as Eugene Onegin, Rossini's Figaro, Orestes in Iphigénie en Tauride, Valentin, Pelléas, Wolfram von Eschenbach, Mandryka, Prince Andrei in War and Peace, Busoni's Doctor Faust, Malatesta and Billy Budd.

On the concert platform he appears regularly with all the great orchestras under such conductors as Abbado, Davis, Muti, Haitink, Giulini, Sawallisch, Rattle, Tate, Ozawa, Sinopoli and Solti. As a recitalist he works closely with Roger Vignoles and Geoffrey Parsons, and has appeared at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, the Prague Spring Festival, the Salzburg Festival and the Aldeburgh Festival. He has made numerous highly-praised recordings.

Thomas Allen has received honorary degrees from the Universities of Newcastle and Durham, an Hon RAM from the Royal Academy of Music and is a Fellow of the Royal College of Music. In 1989 he was invested with the order of Commander of the British Empire by Her Majesty the Queen.

ANN MURRAY has built a formidable international reputation and is one of the world's most sought after mezzo-sopranos in the repertoire of Handel, Mozart, Rossini and Strauss. She sings with the world's great orchestras working with such conductors as Levine, Muti, Solti, Boulez, Ozawa, Harnoncourt and Sawallisch.

She has sung in all the world's great opera houses. In the UK she is a regular guest with the Royal Opera House Covent Garden and the English National Opera. Her career now centres on the Munich and Vienna State Operas, La Scala Milan (where she has sung all her major roles—Cherubino, Dorabella, Donna Elvira and Sesto) and the Salzburg Festival, where she has appeared every year since her debut there in 1981.

  • Thomas Allen, baritone
  • Ann Murray, soprano
  • The London Philharmonic
  • Sir Charles Mackerras, conductor
Track List:
  1. Revelge (baritone)
  2. Das irdische Leben (soprano)
  3. Verlor'ne Müh (duet)
  4. Rheinlegendchen (baritone)
  5. Der Tamboursg'sell
  6. Das Schildwache Nachtlied (duet)
  7. Wer hat dies Liedlein erdacht? (soprano)
  8. Lob des hohen Verstandes (baritone)
  9. Des Antonius von Padua Fischpredigt (soprano)
  10. Lied des Verfolgten im Turm (duet)
  11. Trost im Unglück (duet)
  12. Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen (soprano)
Download Links: Enjoy the Music, or here.

Other recordings of Des Knaben Wunderhorn:

1 comment:

  1. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.