What Was Mahler Thinking? Behind 'The Song Of The Earth' With KSO Conductor, Soloists

Mar 5, 2020

Gustav Mahler hut by Attersee in Austria
Credit Heather Cowper, all creative commons / heatheronhertravels.com

Gustav Mahler famously said, "A symphony should be like the world. It must contain everything." As it turns out, most musicians crave the chance to return to Mahler's world-building music. In an interview with Cara Lieurance, Julian Kuerti, the music director of the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, introduces listeners to Das Lied von der Erde, or "The Song of the Earth."

Kuerti explains that superstition kept Mahler from calling it his 9th symphony, fearing that his own death would follow its completion. Mahler had used singers in his symphonies before, and in The Song of the Earth, he sets ancient Chinese poetry, translated to German, for tenor and mezzo-soprano voices. Soprano Susan Platts, who has performed and recorded this work numerous times, shares her approach to the music, and adds some anecdotes about her mentor, Jessye Norman. Tenor Charles Reid humorously points out that most of the songs have something to do with drinking, including the opening song on which he sings, "The Drinking Song of Earth's Sorrow." Mahler's personal and professional hardships at the time the work was written, says Kuerti, including the death of his child and the loss of his position at the Viennese Imperial Opera, impelled the composer to put into music what he could not put into words.

The Kalamazoo Symphony will perform Song of the Earth at 8 pm on Saturday, Mar 7 in Miller Auditorium. The concert also features Bruch's Violin Concerto No. 1, played by Stulberg Competition gold medalist Daniel Rafimayeri, and a work by Chinese composer Du Yun, called Hundred Heads

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