Gustav Mahler's spiritual union with song was the single most compelling element in his creative life. Consulting the catalog of his finished works (a list of his incomplete or lost compositions includes several vocal pieces as well as instrumental ones), one finds the chronology beginning with a set of three Lieder (1880), next the cantata Das klagende Lied, volume one of the Lieder und Gesänge, the Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, and, following the First Symphony (1888), the second and third volumes of Lieder und Gesänge and the Wunderhorn Lieder.
Notwithstanding the importance of his own poems that he set in his early songs, it was the Wunderhorn texts that inspired his vocal writing for a good dozen years. Surprisingly, considering his interest in poetry, the anthology Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Youth's Magic Horn), compiled in 1805 by von Arnim and Brentano, only came to Mahler's attention in 1888. But then the Wunderhorn folk anthology aroused the composer's already deep affinity for those things which filled its pages: the beauty of nature, the innocence of children, the standard Germanic mythical figures - ghosts, supernatural heroes, gnomes, and spirits - and for the myriad emotions covering the gamut from simple joy to profound despair.
Mahler responded to the Wunderhorn imagery with some of his most affecting creativity, in individual song settings and in vocal pieces within symphonic movements. He also fostered the Wunderhorn relationship in another way, namely by adapting the music of a song-setting as the basis of a symphonic movement.
With his affection for the Wunderhorn poems, Mahler was in good company. Goethe delighted in them, and Heine extolled them rhapsodically: "I cannot praise this book enough," the latter wrote from Paris around 1840. "Here sparkle both true German wine and true German tears - the latter often the more precious of the two, for they contain much iron and much salt."
-- Orrin Howard annotated Los Angeles Philharmonic programs for more than 20 years while serving as Director of Publications and Archives, and continues to contribute regularly to the program book.
Selections for the March 25-27 concerts include:
- Der Schildwache Nachtlied
- Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen
- Das irdische Leben
- Lied des verfolgten im Turm
- Verlor'ne Müh
- Des Antonius von Padua Fischpredigt
- Lob des hohen Verstandes Revelge
- Der Tambourg'sell