On the 100th anniversary of Mahler's 'Das Lied von der Erde'
One hundred years ago today -- Nov. 20, 1911 -- Bruno Walter conducted the premier of Gustav Mahler's "Das Lied von der Erde" in Vienna. It was, of course, a posthumous premiere; the composer had died, much too young at 50, a few months earlier.
If this was the only work of Mahler's we had, that would still be enough to guarantee him lasting fame. With his choice of ancient Chinese poems (and a few of his own lines), Mahler created a deep reflection on nature and what it means to be a part of it, to live and love, to fear, to question, to die.
I would love to have been at the premiere, to see and feel how the audience responded, whether it touched them at all or merely perplexed them.
To this day, I think ...
some listeners, even fans of Mahler symphonies, have trouble getting "Das Lied." It took me a while, I admit, to warm up to it back in the early days of my Mahler fixation, but I found myself coming back to it time and again, riveted by the coloring and atmosphere, affected especially by the long concluding movement -- surely some of the most profound music ever created.
To mark today's centennial, I thought the fourth movement would make a good choice for an audio/visual clip. I know it's autumn now, but this burst of spring imagery still seems right -- maidens gathering blossoms, watching handsome young men rushing past on their horses (Mahler conjures up that jaunty image so perfectly).
Here's the marvelous Christa Ludwig with Leonard Bernstein conducting: