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Music Talks > 2016 Winter/Spring
Wednesday 20 April 2016 (7 to 8 pm - Open to all)

Work: Symphony No 4 (in G)
Composer: Gustav Mahler
Performance: Claudio Abbado conducting the Jugendorchester Orchestra
Juliane Banse (Soprano – 4th Movement)

Speaker: Akram Najjar

Click Here to download the PowerPoint Presentation in PDF Format

Language: English

Mahler’s 4th Symphony was written in 1899 and 1900, though it incorporates a song originally written in 1892. The song, "Das himmlische Leben", presents a child's vision of Heaven. (See the full text below). It is sung by a soprano in the work's fourth and last movement. The 4th movement was planned to have been the 7th movement of the 3rd Symphony but Mahler changed his mind and made it the last movement of the 4th. He then wrote the first 3 movements, each of which looks forward to the final song.
Mahler's first four symphonies are often referred to as the "Wunderhorn" symphonies because many of their themes originate in earlier songs by Mahler on texts from Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Youth's Magic Horn). The fourth symphony is built around a single song, "Das himmlische Leben". It is prefigured in various ways in the first three movements and sung in its entirety by a solo soprano in the fourth movement.

Des Knaben Wunderhorn is a collection of German folk poems and songs edited by Achim von Arnim and Clemens Brentano and published first in 1805 followed by two more volumes in 1808.
The collection of love, soldier's, wandering and children's songs was an important source of idealized folklore in the Romantic nationalism of the 19th century. Des Knaben Wunderhorn became widely popular across the German-speaking world; Goethe, one of the most influential writers of the time, declared that Des Knaben Wunderhorn "has its place in every household".
Mahler composed "Das himmlische Leben" as a free-standing piece in 1892. The title is Mahler's own: in the Wunderhorn collection the poem is called "Der Himmel hängt voll Geigen" (an idiomatic expression akin to "there's not a cloud in the sky"). Several years later Mahler considered using the song in the fifth and seventh movement, the finale, of his Third symphony. While motifs from "Das himmlische Leben" are found in the Third symphony, Mahler eventually decided not to include it in that work and, instead, made the song the goal and source of his Fourth Symphony. The Fourth Symphony thus presents a thematic fulfilment of the musical world of the Third, which is part of the larger tetralogy of the first four symphonies, as Mahler described them to Natalie Bauer-Lechner. Early plans in which the Symphony was projected as a six-movement work included another Wunderhorn song, "Das irdische Leben" ("Earthly Life") as a somber pendant to "Das himmlische Leben," offering a tableau of childhood starvation in juxtaposition to heavenly abundance, but Mahler later decided on a simpler structure for the score.
Gustav Mahler

Gustav Mahler (1860 – 1911) was an Austrian late-Romantic composer, and one of the leading conductors of his generation. As a composer he acted as a bridge between the 19th century Austro-German tradition and the modernism of the early 20th century. While in his lifetime his status as a conductor was established beyond question, his own music gained wide popularity only after periods of relative neglect which included a ban on its performance in much of Europe during the Nazi era. After 1945 his compositions were rediscovered and championed by a new generation of listeners; Mahler then became one of the most frequently performed and recorded of all composers, a position he has sustained into the 21st century.
Born in humble circumstances, Mahler displayed his musical gifts at an early age. After graduating from the Vienna Conservatory in 1878, he held a succession of conducting posts of rising importance in the opera houses of Europe, culminating in his appointment in 1897 as director of the Vienna Court Opera (Hofoper). During his ten years in Vienna, Mahler—who had converted to Catholicism to secure the post—experienced regular opposition and hostility from the anti-Semitic press. Nevertheless, his innovative productions and insistence on the highest performance standards ensured his reputation as one of the greatest of opera conductors, particularly as an interpreter of the stage works of Wagner, Mozart, and Tchaikovsky . Late in his life he was briefly director of New York's Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic.
Mahler's œuvre is relatively small; for much of his life composing was necessarily a part-time activity while he earned his living as a conductor. Aside from early works such as a movement from a piano quartet composed when he was a student in Vienna, Mahler's works are designed for large orchestral forces, symphonic choruses and operatic soloists. Most of his twelve symphonic scores are very large-scale works, often employing vocal soloists and choruses in addition to augmented orchestral forces. These works were often controversial when first performed, and several were slow to receive critical and popular approval; exceptions included his Symphony No. 2, Symphony No. 3, and the triumphant premiere of his Eighth Symphony in 1910. Some of Mahler's immediate musical successors included the composers of the Second Viennese School, notably Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg and Anton Webern. Dmitri Shostakovich and Benjamin Britten are among later 20th-century composers who admired and were influenced by Mahler. The International Gustav Mahler Institute was established in 1955 to honor the composer's life and work.

The Heavenly Life (Das Himmlische Leben)
We enjoy the heavenly pleasures,
so can dispense with earthly things!
No worldly turmoil
is to be heard in heaven!
Everything lives in gentlest repose!

We lead an angelic life!
We are, however, at times quite merry!
We dance and jump,
we skip and sing!
Saint Peter in heaven looks on!

Saint John drains the blood of the little lamb!
Herod, the butcher looks out for it!
We lead a patient,
innocent, patient,
a lovable lamb to its death!
Saint Luke slaughters the ox
without giving it thought or mind!
Wine costs not a penny
in heaven’s cellars!
The angels, they bake the bread!

Tasty herbs of every kind
grow in heaven’s gardens,
good asparagus, beans
and whatever we desire,
Whole dishfuls are ready for us.

Good apples, good pears and good grapes!
The gardeners, they let you have anything!
Do you want roebuck or hare?
In the middle of the street they come running to us!

Should, per chance, a day of fasting occur,
all the fish immediately swim up to us with joy,
there’s Saint Peter already running
with his net and bait
to the heavenly fishpond!
Saint Martha must be the cook!
No music on earth
can compare with ours.
Eleven thousand maidens
are bold enough to dance!
Even Saint Ursula herself laughs at the sight.
No music on earth
can compare with ours.
Cecilia with her relatives
are excellent court musicians!
The angelic voices
delight the senses!
So that everything for joy awakens.
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