4. Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth) by Gustav Mahler
The song of sorrow shall ring laughingly in your soul.
When the sorrow comes, blasted lie the gardens of the soul,
wither and perish joy and singing.
Dark is life, dark is death!
The heavens are ever blue and the Earth
shall stand sure, and blossom in the spring.
But you O man, what long life have you?
Not a hundred years may you delight
in all the rotten baubles of this earth
Loss is the main driver behind this composition: of his post as Director of Vienna Court Opera, of his daughter due to scarlet fever and diphtheria, of his health due to a heart condition. By all means, this was one of Mahler’s darkest life periods. He even refused to refer to this work as his ninth symphony, trying to avoid the “curse of the ninth”, according to which no great composer got to live past his ninth symphony. Being described by Leonard Bernstein as Mahler’s “greatest symphony”, The Song of the Earth is a collection of six songs for a tenor, an alto and orchestra, the lyrics being based on translations of Chinese poetry. The extract above is from the first one, The Drinking Song of Earth’s Sorrow, Li Bai having written the original drinking poem “Bei Ge Xing”. Both orchestra and tenor give chills on your spine, competing over who’s more powerful in expressing drunken excitement and wretchedness, a combination which makes this song my favourite of the whole work, especially this section towards the end:
Hört ihr, wie sein Heulen
Hinausgellt in den süßen Duft des Lebens!
Hear you his howl go out
in the sweet fragrance of life.
3. Lyric Pieces Book 5, op. 24 by Edward Grieg
We continue with another Romantic composer, the Norwegian Edward Grieg and his Lyric Pieces, 66 miniature solo piano compositions. Here we’re listening to Book 5 out of the 10 volumes he published, but we’re going to focus only on four of them:
- 02 – Norwegian March: light and gentle notes with a splash of energy here and there, with a great rhythm at around the 1:20 mark, not your typical powerful march I must say
- 03 – March of the Dwarfs: an awesome hypnotic beginning theme, one of Grieg’s most known pieces
- 04 – Nocturne: this one has the great quality of not being your average boring nocturne
- 05 – Scherzo: a pleasant combination of ups and downs, of grave and light sounds
2. Piano Quintet in E flat major, op. 44 by Robert Schumann
Staying within the Romantic repertoire, this week’s runner up is one of the major chamber music compositions of the 19th century, the Piano Quintet in E flat Major by Robert Schumann. What makes this work so special, besides the music itself, is the importance it has in music history, being the first quintet between a piano and a string quartet (two violins, viola and cello) and becoming the standard of Romantic chamber music. The composition has four movements, but we’re going to skip ahead to the second one, as the first one sounds too shrill for me in too many places. II. In modo d’una Marcia. Un poco largamente is an exquisite lyrical section, with a famous funeral march played by the first violin and cello. There is also a piano intervention which sounds a bit messy to me, but luckily it’s short and I can enjoy the strings. The III. Scherzo. Molto Vivace has all the instruments in a frenzy, ascending and descending in maddening scales that keep you on the edge. The last movement IV. Allegro ma non troppo comes to the rescue with seven minutes of beautiful and pleasing music, bringing everything together.
1. Chaconne in G major by Andrea Falconieri
Baroque – checked! Harpsichord – checked! Theorbo/Lute – checked! Andrea Falconieri, a 17th century Italian composer and lutenist from Naples ticks all the boxes with this composition. I just love baroque court melodies and the specific sound of these instruments. It’s such a light and uplifting music, it makes your feet start dancing, puts a smile on your face and lifts all the worries away.
IDAGIO and Amazon for: Daniel Hope (Violin), Lorenza Borrani (Violin), Jonathan Cohen (Violoncello), Kristian Bezuidenhout (Harpsichord), Stefan Maass (Theorbo), Stefan Rath (Theorbo), Hans-Kristian Kjos Sørensen (Percussion)
Disclaimer: this is not an exhaustive list of all the works curated by Clemency Burton-Hill in the book Year of wonder: classical music for every day. To enjoy the full catalogue of pieces proposed by the author along with her comments on the composers and the music itself, feel free to pick up her awesome book here (not affiliated, nor sponsored).