Showcase March-April 2015 - page 44

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MINNESOTA ORCHESTRA SHOWCASE
is the most challenging, for it embraces so much.
From the moment the horn fanfare of the orchestral
introduction sets the epic tone, the music quickly
proceeds to disclose musical ideas—whole themes as well
a striking motifs—that will be contrasted, developed,
truncated, cross-fertilized and reprised, but not
necessarily as they were heard before. Praising wine, a
symbol of exuberance, the tenor voice launches a song in
a powerful rising line, energetic and defiant.
But much of this movement’s thought tends toward a
downward inflection, not only inside the textures but in
the top line. An example is the anguished refrain, “Dark
is life, dark is death,” whose sustained descent lifts only
at the reference to life. The composer associated the
downward, depressive motion with death, against which
the ascending line embodies life and vitality—a conflict
gradually resolved across the long span of the work,
before the transcendent close.
“As if tired,” Mahler instructs at the top of
The Lonely One
in Autumn
, which positions the protagonist in a misty
landscape (violins) through whose dank fogs the plaintive
voice of the oboe yields an expressive song before the
mezzo voice brings the poetic text to Mahler’s tonal
landscape. Thus begins the four-movement centerpiece of
the score, so diverse and plentiful in vivid nature imagery,
only to arrive in the fifth movement of the exuberant
outburst of the happy drunkard in springtime—the most
hedonistic and colorful episode of the work. Spring
awakens with the chirruping of the bird, and the piping
and trilling of nature, taking the work to the threshold
of
The Farewell
. There the mood changes: an ominous
vibration of the tam-tam, conjoined with a funereal tread
in horns, harps and lowest strings, sets a grave tone.
For a summary of the expansive finale, here are the
insights of the late Mahler scholar and editor Deryck
Cooke:
“The Adagio finale,
The Farewell
, is by far the longest
movement, and the crown of the whole work. The
atmosphere is somber and tragic; a deep booming tam-
tam, a stab of pain in the oboe, a melancholy ‘marching
away’ rhythm on horns and clarinets. A ‘lonely’ narrative
passage, with only a flute obbligato over a held double
bass note, tells of sunset in the mountains, twilight and
the coolness of night. Later a winding oboe melody
evokes murmuring streams; the words speak of night
bringing sleep to weary men and beasts. The narrative
returns: a solitary figure is waiting for a friend to come
and take a last farewell. More murmuring music speaks of
separation and passionate longing. The sounds of nature
fade into silence and darkness, and the opening returns
like a stroke of doom, continuing with bursts of dissonant
counterpoint which strain the tonality to breaking point.
Out of the ‘marching away’ figure grows a flowing, elegiac
funeral march which culminates in a tragic climax. The
narrative returns in utter darkness, without the flute
obbligato: the friend has arrived and takes his farewell….
Then in hushed, broad C-major coda, Mahler looks back
lovingly at life, to words the composer himself added
to the text: ‘The lovely earth blossoms forth all over in
spring and grows green anew’…. The work fades out
in unsatisfied longing, the soloist’s last ‘forever’ floating
suspended on the air.”
Instrumentation:
tenor and mezzo soloists with
orchestra comprising piccolo, 3 flutes (1 doubling second
piccolo), 3 oboes (1 doubling English horn), 3 clarinets,
E-flat clarinet, bass clarinet, 3 bassoons (1 doubling
contrabassoon), 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba,
timpani, bass drum, cymbals, bells, suspended cymbal,
tam-tam, triangle, 2 harps, celesta, mandolin and strings
Excerpted from a program note by
Mary Ann Feldman
.
Program Notes
apr
10, 11
“The last song of his
great symphony,
The Song of the Earth
is one of the most
beautiful endings
any piece of music
has ever had.”
– Leonard Bernstein
to students attending a
New York Philharmonic
Young People’s Concert in 1960,
Mahler’s centenary year
Mahler in 1907, the
year he began writing
Das Lied von der Erde.
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