Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) arr. Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) - Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen

Filmed live on 7th March 2014 at The Martin Harris Centre, The University of Manchester, UK.

Psappha Ensemble
Stephen Barlow conductor
Heather Shipp mezzo soprano

Conrad Marshall flute
Dov Goldberg clarinet
Richard Casey piano
Jonathan Scott harmonium
Tim Williams percussion
Benedict Holland violin
Lucy Baker-Stockdale violin Heather Wallington viola
Jennifer Langridge cello
Daniel Whibley double bass

Programme note:
1. Wenn mein Schatz Hochzeit macht
2. Ging heut’ Morgen über’s Feld
3. Ich hab’ ein glühend Messer
4. Die zwei blauen Augen von meinem Schatz

These Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (Songs of a Traveling Journeyman) travel through many dimensions of time. They had a traveling growth, begun in the mid-1880s as songs with piano but not definitively completed until shortly before the first performance, which was of the composer’s orchestrated version, in Berlin in 1896. They thus traveled with Mahler from the threshold of his First Symphony (to which the second song is related) up to the time when he was finishing his Third, and the texts, which he wrote himself, are close to the folk poetry that was on his mind at the time, especially the early nineteenth-century collection Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Boy’s Magic Horn). The settings, too, hark back to that same early Romantic period, and in particular to Schubert’s Winterreise. Here again is a traveler singing out his hopes and (even more) his anxieties, and finding them mirrored in the world around him as he passes. The songs also travel harmonically, from key to key. And they go on travelling in this arrangement, which Schoenberg made for a performance under the auspices of his Society for Private Musical Performances in February 1920, rescoring the music for a deeply Schoenbergian ensemble of solo string quintet with flute, clarinet, harmonium, piano and a percussion part necessary to maintain the crucial triangle and glockenspiel interventions of the orchestral original.

The first song introduces the dejected protagonist, whose confessional melody is perkily parodied in an orchestral ritornello going at double speed. As the words move from indoors to outdoors, from self to nature, the music visits a glowing E flat major. Then it’s back to D minor and gloom.

Next comes a kind of dancing march in D major, turning into B major and becoming more reflective at the start of the third stanza, and closing in F sharp.

D minor bursts back for the third song, almost an operatic aria, with a slow, chromatic central section, where the protagonist recalls his beloved’s blue eyes, and a trailing close.

The finale starts out as a funeral march in E minor, from which it achieves calm in F major, though only momentarily before the harmony is undercut, necessitating an ending in F minor.

© Paul Griffiths

About the composer: Gustav Mahler
A professional opera conductor, in Europe and finally in New York, Mahler wrote no operas of his own. His drama was that of human existence and aspiration, and his principal forum the symphony, in which themes of effort and defeat, of hope and disintegration, of love and prayer could be played out. He wrote nine numbered symphonies, plus an unfinished tenth and The Song of the Earth, a symphony in songs. Several of the others also have solo vocal or choral movements, and one, No. 8, is choral throughout. The heart of his music, though, is in the orchestra, voicing, through expanded symphonic forms, passion and pain.

About the composer: Arnold Schoenberg
Responsible for two of the early twentieth century’s great musical revolutions, atonality and serialism, Schoenberg was a thorough-going conservative who regarded his work as a logical extension of the Austro-German tradition from Bach to Mahler. He was born in Vienna into a modest Jewish family and was largely self-taught. Perhaps that helped make him an extraordinary teacher – of Alban Berg and Anton Webern among others. In 1933 the new Nazi authorities forced him to leave his teaching post in Berlin, and he settled in Los Angeles, where his pupils included John Cage. He loved chamber music, and a large part of his output comprises works for small groupings, including four string quartets, though he also wrote symphonic pieces and one of the great operas, Moses und Aron.

Psappha’s YouTube Channel

You can also visit Psappha’s YouTube Channel, where you can watch:

  • Films of works by emerging composers
  • Films of Psappha’s Hong Kong Residency (2013)
  • All of the films on Psappha’s website