Music You Can Understand: Part 4
(I use this title not condescendingly, but to suggest that the featured piece is not one obscured by highbrow classical ideas or too difficult to grasp. It is easy to understand and enjoy.)
performed by Leonard Bernstein and the Vienna Philharmonic, Thomas Hampson, baritone
After quite a hefty series of five piano concertos in commemoration of the first anniversary of FFT, it's time to change it up, and we'll be doing a long string of increasingly heavy symphonies that also all have a storyline to them, sort of. Well, perhaps less an actual storyline than some unifying ideas, at least in my head.
Before we get to that, though, I'd like to take a two-week interlude. Articles for this week and next week will be two quite disparate pieces that kind of have a mental association for me. They couldn't be more different, but they are linked in their opposite nature.
Today's is a fantastic piece for a number of reasons.... It serves a few purposes as I've been thinking about it. To state the obvious, it’s just damn good music.
For one, it has lyrics, which makes it immediately more accessible, less so I suppose if you have to look at a translation of said lyrics.
Two, it's a really nice primer (I think) into Mahler's music. It's one of his earliest works, and there's a lot to learn from it about who he is and where he goes as he progresses. Or maybe more where he comes from.
Three, I feel it's super relatable. It's like... breakup music.
It also begs a few questions about the human experience, at least to me.
We'll talk about all of these in more detail shortly. Let's talk a bit about the history of the piece first.
This piece is a song cycle, albeit a short one of only four songs (actual songs; it's correct to use that term here). The cycle's compositional history is blurry, but it seems it was started in December of 1884 and potentially first performed in March of 1896, but published in 1897. It is marked for low voice, but the majority of the recordings I have run across are female voices. They, too, are beautiful, but for reasons I’ll discuss presently, I prefer a male performer.
The name of the piece itself deserves some attention. The piece is known in English as Songs of a Wayfarer, but as has been pointed out before, the German ‘Geselle” isn’t Wayfarer (or wanderer