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Mahler, Das Lied von der Erde

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Mahler, Das Lied von der Erde (“The Song of the Earth”) Composed between 1907-08
I myself do not know how to express what the whole thing might be called. A beautiful time was granted me, and I believe it is the most personal thing I have yet created.”

G. Mahler writing in Sept. 1908

Premiere, 1911, six months after Mahler’s death, conducted by Bruno Walter
A “song-symphony” in two parts with 5 songs (Part I) and 1 song (Part II)

*NOT A NUMBERED SYMPHONY: Mahler feared the “curse” of Symphony no 9 (Beethoven, Schubert, Bruckner died after composing a symphony no. 9)

Texts: Chinese poems in German paraphrase/translation from The Chinese Flute, by Hans Berthge (Leipzig 1907) retouched by Gustav Mahler

  1. The Drinking Song of the Misery of the Earth

  2. The Lonely One in Autumn

  3. Of Youth

  4. Of Beauty

  5. The Drunk in Springtime


  1. The Farewell

Triple Wind Orchestra with alto and tenor vocal soloists

3 flutes w/piccolo

3 oboes w/English Horn

3 B-flat clarinets w/E-flat clarinet and Bass Clarinet

3 Bassoons w/Contrabassoon

4 French Horns in F

3 Trumpets in B-flat and F

3 Trombones






Bass Drum




2 Harps
Violins I, II



ASSIGNMENTS for Das Lied von der Erde

For Sept 13/15
LISTEN to Das Lied von der Erde with and without the score until you feel that looking at the score, you can call to mind the sound of the music. (Scores are available in class as well as a CD of the entire work.)
-Read the distributed offprint:
Gustav Mahler: Formation and Transformation,” by Carl Schorske from Thinking With History (1998)
“By interjecting into the regulated movement of the lofty the dynamic of the lowly, Mahler produced a sense of shock, even of short circuit. He expanded the social and existential content of the music of the educated, forcing upon them a wider awareness, one that would include the sound world of the common people. … He also opened a second road that led away from the social into the self, to the depths of the life of feeling.”
-Prepare for our class discussion of Mahler’s employment of orchestral forces in Das Lied von der Erde. For analytic purposes, consider these various orchestration choices as a system of “signposts” that help us track the unfolding worlds of the “lofty,” the “everyday,” and the self’s life of feeling.”

NB: Each of you should take (more) responsibility for one of the movements, while thinking about the following:

  1. Determine which instruments are most prominent in each movement and how these prominent instruments contribute to a “rhetorical style” for the movement.

  2. Decide whether there is a single style of orchestration in your movement or clearly articulated contrasting sound worlds in different sections of the movement.

  3. Explore how the text for your movement relates to Mahler’s use of the orchestra.

  4. Explore whether any particular instrument or instruments seemed most closely aligned with or in dialogue with the singing voice.

  5. Ask: is the movement more intimate and personal, more public and raucous: more action-driven, or more philosophical.

  6. Identify how the textures that Mahler produces with his orchestration seem marked or encoded – to use Schorske description -- as a) the sound world of the “lofty” b) the sound world of the “common people” or c) the sound world of the “self” and the “life of the feeling.”

  7. Identify those musical moments that you would consider Mahler’s musical thumbprint and try to figure out why these sounds strike you as characteristic.

  8. Grapple with the way that orchestral textures shift among movements and consider how this progressive orchestration reflects an expected or unexpected symphonic trajectory. From opening movement to finale.

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