29 July 2011

Arnold Schoenberg - Gurrelieder

As a rule I like my music loud (surprise, surprise). What I like to be especially loud are choral and vocal works. Although beautiful subdued choral works can be lovely too (like the heartbreaking Rothko Chapel by Morton Feldman), I find it much more exhilirating when there's just lots of noise. A little while ago my dad bought a CD of Arnold Schoenberg's Gurrelieder and even though I have a bit of an ambiguous relationship with Schoenberg's music I have to say that this piece is exactly my cup of tea. Here's why:

Arnold Schoenberg - Gurrelieder Part I: 4 Ross! Mein Ross!

Part I: 12 Tauben von Gurre!

Part II: Herrgott, weisst du, was du tatest

Part III: 3 Gegrüsst, o König

All these recordings are conducted by Riccardo Chailly with the Radio Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Siegfried Jerusalem, Susan Dunn, Brigitte Fassbaender, Hermann Becht, Peter Haage, Hans Hotter and the Chor der St. Hedwigs-Kathedrale Berlin. I prefer Esa-Pekka Salonen's recent recording with the Philharmonia because that one's EXTRA-LOUD but this will do just fine.

Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) was an Austrian/American composer. He is perhaps most well-known for his twelve-tone technique and atonal works. He wrote all sorts of weird things I can't wrap my head around but also some other wonderful pieces like Pierrot Lunaire and some of his chamber music. He seems to have been one of those composers that spent just as much time thinking about the structure of his music as he did composing it (though this could just be my interpretation). He was ridiculously influential though and influenced composers like Alban Berg (who I love), Alexander Zemlinsky, Milton Babbitt, Pierre Boulez and of course Anton Webern. If I had my copy of Alex Ross's The Rest is Noise with me I'm sure I could come up with some more interesting information, but that will have to wait till next time I'm afraid.

Gurrelieder is an absolutely massive work (probably most accurately called a cantata) for five soloists, a chorus, a narrator and orchestra. It is based around poems by Jens Peter Jacobsen (translated to German by Robert Franz Arnold). The story tells of two lovers, Waldermar and Tove. Waldemar was a king in love with his mistress Tove but Helvig the queen jealously murdered Tove. The distraught Waldemar somehow brings his dead soldiers back to life (rising of the dead always makes for good music, doesn't it?) and then they go riding around scaring everyone silly at night, until the sun rises again. The entire text can be read here (with an English translation). The composing-process of this piece was very interesting and complex. Schoenberg started writing it in 1900, intending it to be a small-ish piece and worked on it until 1903, although by this time it had taken on its more massive scale. In 1910 he returned to it, and by this time he had already written a bunch of atonal works (like the Five Pieces for Orchestra) but the Gurrelieder remain far from being atonal. Apparently he was influenced by both Mahler and Wagner in the writing of this piece, which is definitely not a surprise when you're listening.

1 comment:

  1. Inderdaad een geweldig stuk, en makkelijker verteerbaar dan zijn atonale werk, in ieder geval bij mij.
    Keep up the good work! Mooi blog!