Das klagende Lied
(Song of Lamentation) is a cantata by Gustav Mahler, composed between 1878 and 1880 and greatly revised over the next two decades. In its original form, Das klagende Lied is one of the earliest of his works to have survived (the Piano Quartet movement in A minor is believed to date from 1876).
Mahler began to write the text of Das klagende Lied (presumably basing it on the fairy tale of the same name by Ludwig Bechstein and/or Der singende Knochen (The Singing Bones) by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm) during the early part of his final year in the Vienna Conservatory, where he was a student between 1875 and 1878. The draft text for the work is dated 18 March 1878, and composition of the music began in the Autumn of 1879 and was completed on 1 November, 1880. The work is laid out on a very large and complex scale, requiring a large orchestra and taking 60-70 minutes to perform in full.
As originally composed, Das klagende Lied was in three parts:
Waldmärchen (Forest Legend)
Der Spielmann (The Minstrel)
Hochzeitsstück (Wedding Piece)
The first performance did not take place until 1901, by which time Mahler had subjected his original score to several major revisions. The first revision of the work took place in the second half of 1893. This featured a significant reduction and re-arrangement of the orchestral and vocal forces, with the number of harps in the first part being reduced from six to two, and the vocal soloists from eleven to four. The boys’ voices were also removed. The off-stage orchestra, which had played an important role in the original score, was also completely removed from the second and third parts. In spite of having lavished such detailed effort on revising the work's first part, Mahler then decided (Autumn 1893) to omit it completely.
Further revisions to what was now a work in two parts (after the omission of the original first part) were made between September and December 1898. At this point, Mahler’s previous decision to remove the off-stage brass was reversed. The 1898 revisions were in fact so extensive that Mahler had to write out an entirely new manuscript score.
Part I: Waldmärchen (Forest Legend)
A beautiful, yet scornful, queen resolves to hold a contest, the winner of which will be awarded her hand in marriage. The knight who finds a red flower in the forest, she announces, will be judged the winner. Two brothers in particular, one kind and chivalrous, the other wicked and blasphemous, venture into the thicket to find the elusive flower. The gallant brother quickly finds the flower, places it in his cap, and dozes off in the field. Upon discovering his loss, the wayward brother draws his sword and kills the victor in his sleep.
Part II: Der Spielmann (The Minstrel)
A minstrel, wandering through the forest, stumbles across a bleached bone in the shade of a willow tree and carves it into a flute. The slain brother sings through the flute, telling the minstrel the details of his unfortunate death. The minstrel resolves on finding the queen and telling her the news.
Part III: Hochzeitsstück (Wedding Piece)
On the same day the minstrel is to arrive at the castle to divulge his discovery, a celebration in honor of the queen's marriage occurs. The murderer-knight, quiet and pale, reflects morbidly on his rash course of action. The minstrel arrives and plays the slain knight's song. The king-to-be confiscates the flute, and upon playing it himself, is accused by his brother of ending his life so early for such unjust cause. Pandemonium ensues; the queen faints, the partygoers flee, and the castle itself collapses.
Sieglinde Wagner, contralto
Ernst Majkut, tenor
Ilona Steingruber, soprano
Vienna State Opera Orcestra
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