Von Der Liebe Tod by Gustav Mahler
The intriguing musical and theatrical performance Von der Liebe Tod at Vienna State Opera celebrates the compositional and lyrical talents of Gustav Mahler. The Austrian composer played an instrumental role in bridging the Germanic musical tradition of the late 19th century with the oncoming Modernism, and his unique approach to crafting music and text as well as to conducting left an indelible mark. At Wiener Staatsoper, audiences will get to experience two distinct periods of Mahler’s creative career: Von der Liebe Tod brings together ‘Das klagende Lied’, a cantata the composer wrote while still studying at the Vienna Conservatory, and ‘Kindertotenlieder’, a song cycle he composed in the last decade of his life. Fantastic verses and expressive music act as a common thread, uniting the two works into one transporting performance.
‘Das klagende Lied’, or ‘The Song of Lamentation’, was composed in 1878–1880, early on in Mahler’s musical career. Its three distinct parts, complex orchestration, and memorable vocal melodies already hinted at the composer’s evolving signature style. The work underwent many revisions in the coming decades. Its official premiere took place in Vienna on 17 February 1901, with Mahler himself conducting. As it often happened, he also wrote the lyrics. The story is based on the fairy-tale source texts of Ludwig Bechstein and the Brothers Grimm about a treacherous knight who slays his brother to win a contest for a queen’s hand in marriage, but his crime catches up to him in a most unlikely way.
On the heels of the epic ‘Das klagende Lied’ come ‘Kindertotenlieder’, or ‘Songs on the Death of Children’, for vocal soloist and orchestra based on the poems of Friedrich Rückert. The verses describe the writer’s personal tragedy of losing two of his offspring to scarlet fever. Mahler, who had experienced the early passing of several siblings, related to the subject and picked five poems to set to music. The inaugural performance took place on 29 January 1905 and did not fail to impress with its melancholy, fantastical, and tragic atmosphere. Wiener Staatsoper celebrates Mahler’s remarkable gift for songwriting with the moving, sad, and transcendental spectacle that is Von der Liebe Tod.