Opera Scotland

Song of the Earth Lied von der Erde; The Song of the Earth; Das Lied von der Erde

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Gustav Mahler (born Kalište, 7 July 1860; died Vienna, 18 May 1911)


From Die chinesische Flöte (1908) by Hans Bethge


Adapted from ancient Chinese poetry by Li-Tai-Po, Chang-Tsi, Mong-How-Yen and Wang Wei.



First Performance: Munich, 20 November 1911.

First Performance in UK: London (Queen's Hall), 1914.

First Performance in Scotland: Edinburgh (Usher Hall), 27 December 1937.



Das Lied von der Erde is generally regarded as a symphony in the form of six songs. It is not an opera - indeed Mahler, though a great conductor of opera, completed a comic opera Die drei Pintos, left unfinished by Weber, but composed none himself. The second half of his huge Eighth Symphony uses part of Goethe's Faust, but the first section is liturgical.

The six songs are derived from ancient Chinese poets as rendered into German by Hans Bethge. There are two singers, who alternate. A tenor sings the first, third and fifth. An alto is cast for the second, fourth and sixth, the last, Der Abschied (The Farewell) being by far the longest of the six.

The composer did specify that a baritone can be employed in place of an alto, though the female voice is the preferred option. Also the tenor is usually expected to be a heroic voice, but sometimes a lighter voice can be used if the sound balance is carefully achieved. There is an excellent recording, made in the fifties under conductor Paul Kletzki, in which the baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau is partnered by the light-voiced Scottish tenor Murray Dickie.

The British premiere, in 1914, was conducted by Sir Henry Wood, and featured the successful dramatic contralto Doris Woodall, of the Carl Rosa Opera.


The Songs

1 Das Trinklied vom Jammer der Erde - The Drinking Song of Earth's Misery (Li-Tai-Po) - Tenor.

2 Der Einsame im Herbst - The Solitary in Autumn (Chang-Tsi) - Alto or Baritone.

3 Von der Jugend - About Youth (Li-Tai-Po) - Tenor.

4 Von der Schönheit - About Beauty (Li-Tai-Po) - Alto or Baritone.

5 Der Trunkene im Frühling - The Drunkard in Spring (Li-Tai-Po) - Tenor.

6 Der Abschied - The Farewell (Mong-How-Yen & Wang Wei) - Alto or Baritone.

The Cast


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