Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy birthday, Mahler’s Fourth

Gustav Mahler’s Fourth Symphony, apparently his second-most popular (after the First), received its premiere under his own baton on 25 November 1901 in Munich, where it was “booed and condemned as baffling and tasteless”.

This is the last movement, with Bernard Haitink conducting the Concertgebouw Orchestra with the soprano Christine Schafer singing “Wir geniessen die himmlischen Freuden”, which in English is “We enjoy heaven’s pleasures”. A poem from the German folk poetry anthology Das Knaben Wunderhorn, it is basically a child singing the praises of gluttony.

In the notes to Lorin Maazel’s 1984 recording with the Vienna Philharmonic and Kathleen Battle, Leslie Howard translates the second verse as:
St John releases the little lamb,
The butcher watches over him,
We lead a meek, innocent, mild
Dear little lamb to death!
St Luke slaughters the oxen
Without a thought or care,
Wine doesn’t cost a penny in heaven’s cellar
The angels bake the bread.
They don’t write children’s songs like that any more.

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