Episode 62. Gustav Mahler’s Des Knaben Wunderhorn

Episode 62. Gustav Mahler’s Des Knaben Wunderhorn (Music for a World in Crisis VI)



This week I turn to the music of Gustav Mahler, specifically his orchestral settings of poems from the influential collection of folk poetry, Des Knaben Wunderhorn, collected by Achim von Arnim and Clemens Brentano and published in three separate volumes between 1805 and 1808. The themes of war, death, and humor, the latter often of the grimmest variety, pervades the texts that Mahler set. I present recordings of each of the fifteen orchestrated songs (several of which form movements of three of his symphonies) by such singers as Janet Baker, Christa Ludwig, Maureen Forrester, Lucia Popp, Brigitte Fassbaender, Irmgard Seefried, Bernd Weikl, Geraint Evans, Walter Berry, and many others, in performances conducted by Leonard Bernstein, Klaus Tennstedt, Wyn Morris, Bernard Haitink, and Adrian Boult. I also include a tribute to the Hungarian baritone István Gáti on the occasion of his 72nd birthday and a commemoration of the Dutch contralto Aafje Heynis on the fifth anniversary of her death. From chaos to transfiguration, Mahler conjures and depicts a world perhaps not far-removed from our own.


Frontispiece of the second volume of Des Knaben Wunderhorn, 1808.

All songs composed by Gustav Mahler; all texts from Des Knaben Wunderhorn (1805, 1808), ed. Achim von Arnim and Clemens Brentano

Wer hat dies Liedlein erdacht? Grete Stückgold; Unknown conductor and orchestra [rec. 1915]

Judith Raskin, George Schick

Ablösung im Sommer. Judith Raskin; George Schick

Es sungen drei Engel [solo version]. Anny Felbermayer; Felix Prohaska, Orchester der Wiener Staatsoper

Felix Prohaska

Es sungen drei Engel (Symphony No. 3, Fourth Movement). Kathleen Ferrier; Adrian Boult, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Chesham Ladies Choir, Boys of the London Choir School [Radio broadcast, 21 November 1947]

Adrian Boult
Jennie Tourel and Leonard Bernstein in a recording session.

Das irdische Leben. Jennie Tourel; Leonard Bernstein, New York Philharmonic

Das himmlische Leben (Symphony No. 4, Fourth Movement). Irmgard Seefried; Bruno Walter, Wiener Philharmoniker [Salzburg 24 August 1950]

Bruno Walter

Verlor’ne Müh. Maureen Forrester; Felix Prohaska, Wiener Festwochenorchester

Lied des Verfolgten im Turm. Christa Ludwig, Walter Berry; Leonard Bernstein, New York Philharmonic (The above screenshots are from a 1967 television appearance of Ludwig and Berry singing the Wunderhorn songs with Bernstein and the New York Phil.)

Leonard Bernstein

Trost im Unglück. Lucia Popp, Bernd Weikl; Klaus Tennstedt, London Philharmonic Orchestra

Klaus Tennstedt

Der Schildwache Nachtlied. Geraint Evans, Janet Baker; Wyn Morris, London Philharmonic Orchestra

Wyn Morris

Rheinenlegendchen. Brigitte Fassbaender, Hans Zender, Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Saarbrücken [live April 1979]

Hans Zender

Lob des hohen Verstandes. Walter Berry; Leonard Bernstein, New York Philharmonic

Leonard Bernstein

Der Tamboursg’sell. John Shirley-Quirk; Bernard Haitink, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra

Bernard Haitink

Revelge. Gösta Winbergh; Riccardo Chailly, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra

Riccardo Chailly

Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen. Margaret Price; Claudio Abbado, Chicago Symphony Orchestra [live October 1981]

A very young Claudio Abbado

Des Antonius von Padua Fischpredigt. István Gáti; György Lehel, Budapest Symphony Orchestra

György Lehel

Urlicht (Symphony No. 2, Fourth Movement). Aafje Heynis; Bernard Haitink, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra

Bernard Haitink

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