Thursday 16 April
Mahler Symphony No 2
Semyon Bychkov conductor
Christiane Karg soprano
Anna Larsson alto
London Symphony Chorus
Simon Halsey chorus director
London Symphony Orchestra
Concert recorded in February 2018
Symphony No 2 in C minor, 'Resurrection'
1. Allegro maestoso: Mit durchaus ernstem und feierlichen Ausdruck (With a serious and solemn expression throughout)
2. Andante moderato: Sehr gemählich! Nie eilen! (Very moderate. Never rushing)
3. In ruhig fliessender Bewegung (Calmly flowing)
4. 'Urlicht': Sehr feierlich, aber schlicht (Choralmässig) (Very solemn but simple, like a chorale)
5. Im Tempo des Scherzos: Wild herausfahrend (Scherzo tempo: In a wild outburst)
Christiane Karg soprano
Anna Larsson alto
London Symphony Chorus
Mahler was once asked by a young admirer for a key to the ‘meaning’ of Symphony No 2 (1888–94). He refused:
‘I would regard my work as having failed completely if I found it necessary to give people like yourself even an indication as to its mood-sequence. In my conception of the work I was in no way concerned with the detailed setting forth of an event, but much rather of a feeling’.
One can understand Mahler’s frustration. At first he’d provided explanatory programme notes, but the public kept getting the wrong end of the stick. His wife Alma remembered how, after a performance of this Symphony, an old Russian lady approached the composer, ‘telling him that she felt her death to be near, and would he enlighten her about the other world, as he had said so much about it in his Second Symphony? Alas, he was not so well informed about it as she supposed, and when he took his leave he was made to feel very distinctly that she was displeased with him’. Mahler’s final verdict on this issue was succinct: ‘Perish all programmes!’
But the question remains: how are we to make sense of a work like the ‘Resurrection’ Symphony? Obviously this is not ‘music about music’. The last two movements have texts dealing with matters of faith and doubt, and how belief in a God of Love can be reconciled with human suffering. Even when there are no words, there are pointers: the first movement, for instance, is unmistakably a gigantic funeral march.
So the Second Symphony as a whole marks a huge progression from darkness to light, from death to life – ‘Resurrection’. Mahler may have had his doubts about a benign, omnipotent personal ‘God’, but he never really doubted the redeeming power of love. It is also possible to find a humanist meaning: resurrection as a rising from the dead into the fullness of life here and now. As in Henrik Ibsen’s almost exactly contemporary play When We Dead Awaken, the challenge is to rise above fear of mortality. In the words of Klopstock’s Resurrection Ode, with which Mahler closes the finale:
‘Cease from trembling! Prepare yourself to live!’
After the grimly arresting beginning (growls from cellos and basses through nervous string tremolos) the long first movement settles into a steady march tempo. Mahler revealed that he imagined a spectator watching a hero being carried to his grave, and asking, ‘Why did you live? Why did you suffer? Is it all nothing but a huge, dreadful joke?’
A gentler second theme in the major key (violins) briefly holds out the promise of an answer, but it soon fades back into the funeral march – faster now, and more urgent. The alternation of the two themes, one dark and despairing, the other light and hopeful continues, but ultimately the funeral tread returns darker than ever, until the movement is extinguished with a furious final gesture – like Macbeth’s despairing ‘Out, out, brief candle!’
The shorter second movement, according to Mahler’s instructions in the score, should follow a five-minute pause after the first movement, although this is not always observed in performance. Mahler’s original programme describes the movement as ‘a memory – a shaft of sunlight from out of the life of this hero’. The music is steeped in the kind of Austrian country dance tunes (especially the Ländler, country cousin of the sophisticated urban Waltz) with which Mahler had a lifelong love-hate relationship.
The Ländler was a late-18th century folk dance from Austria, popular also in southern Germany, Switzerland and Slovenia. It was a dance for couples, in triple meter, featuring hopping, stamping and sometimes even yodelling. A number of Mahler’s symphonies feature this form.
After this, the sinister, sarcastic humour of the third movement (a Scherzo in all but name) comes as a shock. ‘It can easily happen,’ Mahler wrote, ‘that existence becomes horrible to you, like the swaying of dancing figures in a brightly lit ballroom, into which you peer from the dark night outside ... from which you perhaps start away with a cry of disgust.’ The terrifying full orchestral ‘cry of disgust’ near the end is unmistakable.
Again we have complete contrast. The tiny fourth movement opens with the alto singing the first line of the anonymous folk poem Urlicht (Primal Light). An anguished central section reaches its climax at the words ‘I am from God and will return to God’. At this, peace is resumed, and the movement ends with a beautiful final sigh on the word Leben – ‘Life’.
Then the finale erupts with the ‘cry of disgust’ that ended the third movement. But gradually a new stillness comes over the music, with distant horn-calls and stirrings of life from woodwind and strings. A woodwind chant recalls the Medieval chant Dies irae – Day of Wrath. Then an apocalyptic march section (with off-stage bands) builds to an awe-inspiring climax as Mahler paints a quasi-Medieval picture of the dead arising on the day of judgement. This culminates in another ‘cry of disgust’, now amplified with fanfares from the enlarged brass section.
Another moment of stillness, then more off-stage fanfares are heard, enriched with sweet woodwind birdsong. A different view of resurrection now follows as the chorus enters: ‘Rise again, yes, you shall rise again’. Soprano and alto soloists recall and develop the Urlicht music. Finally chorus, full orchestra and organ lead to a thrilling apotheosis on the final lines of Klopstock’s hymn: ‘What you have struggled for shall carry you to God’. The symphony culminates in massive brass calls and the triumphal clangour of gongs and bells.
Notes by Stephen JohnsonStephen Johnson is the author of Bruckner Remembered (Faber). He also contributes regularly to BBC Music Magazine and The Guardian, and broadcasts for BBC Radio 3 (Discovering Music), BBC Radio 4 and the BBC World Service.
Images: Dawn Journey 1, The Heavens Wept by Paul Bennett
Symphony No 2
Texts & translation
O Röschen roth!
Der Mensch liegt in grösster Noth!
Der Mensch liegt in grösster Pein!
Je lieber möcht’ ich im Himmel sein!
Da kam ich auf einem breiten Weg;
Da kam ein Engelein und wollt’ mich abweisen.
O tiny rose so red!
Mankind is in greatest distress!
Mankind is in greatest agony!
How much better it would be to be in Heaven
As I came to a broad highway,
An Angel came and tried to turn me away.
Ach nein! Ich liess mich nicht abweisen!
Ich bin von Gott und will wieder zu Gott!
Der liebe Gott wird mir ein Lichtchen geben,
Wird leuchten mir bis in das ewig selig Leben!
But no! I would not be turned away:
From God I come and shall return to God!
Dear God will give to me a little light,
To light my way to eternal, blessed life!
5. IM TEMPO DES SCHERZOS
Chorus and Soprano
Aufersteh’n, ja aufersteh’n wirst du,
Mein Staub, nach kurzer Ruh!
Unsterblich Leben! Unsterblich Leben!
Wird der dich rief dir geben.
Wieder aufzublühn wirst du gesät!
Der Herr der Ernte geht
Und sammelt Garben
Uns ein, die starben!
Rise again, yea, rise again shalt thou,
My mortal dust, after brief repose!
Eternal life! Eternal life!
Shall he who called thee grant thee.
To bloom again wert thou sown!
The Lord of the Harvest goes
And gathers in the sheaves,
Of us who died!
O glaube, mein Herz, O glaube;
Es geht dir nichts verloren!
Dein ist, was du gesehnt!
Dein, was du geliebt,
Was du gestritten!
Oh believe, my heart, oh believe:
Nothing is lost for thee!
Thine, yea, thine is all thou hast longed for!
Thine is all thou hast loved,
All thou hast striven for!
O glaube, Du wardst nicht umsonst geboren!
Hast nicht umsonst gelebt, Gelitten!
Oh believe, thou wert not born in vain,
Neither hast thou vainly lived, nor suffered!
Was entstanden ist, das muss vergehen!
Was vergangen, auferstehen!
Whatsoever is created must also pass away!
Whatsoever has passed away, must rise again!
Chorus and Alto
Hör’ auf zu beben! Bereite dich zu leben!
Cease thy trembling! Prepare to live!
Soprano and Alto
O Schmerz! Du Alldurchdringer!
Dir bin ich entrungen!
O Tod! du Allbezwinger!
Nun bist du bezwungen!
Mit Flügeln, die ich mir errungen,
In heissem Liebesstreben,
Werd’ ich entschweben
Zum Licht, zu dem kein Aug’ gedrungen!
O pain! Thou piercer of all things!
From thee have I been torn away!
O death! Of all things the master!
Now art thou mastered!
On wings that I have won me
In fierce contest of love,
Shall I soar away
To the light to which no eye hath penetrated!
Mit Flügeln, die ich mir errungen,
Werd’ ich entschweben
Sterben werd’ ich, um zu leben!
On wings that I have won me
Shall I soar away!
I shall die, in order to live!
Chorus, Soprano and Alto
Aufersteh’n, ja aufersteh’n
Wirst du, mein Herz, in einem Nu!
Was du geschlagen
Zu Gott wird es dich tragen!
Rise again, yea, rise again
Shalt thou, my heart, in an instant!
All that thou hast fought for
To God shall it bring thee!
Translation by Rod Isted
Mahler’s early experiences of music were influenced by the military bands and folk singers who passed by his father’s inn. He received formal piano lessons from local musicians, gave his first recital in 1870 and, five years later, applied to the Vienna Conservatory.
After graduation, Mahler supported himself by teaching, before accepting a succession of conducting posts, culminating in the position of Resident Conductor and then Director of the prestigious Vienna Hofoper. The demands of both opera conducting and administration meant that he could only devote the summer months to composition. Working in the Austrian countryside he completed his nine symphonies and a series of eloquent, often poignant songs.
An anti-Semitic campaign in the Viennese press threatened Mahler’s position at the Hofoper, and in 1907 he accepted an invitation to become Principal Conductor of the Metropolitan Opera. In 1911 he contracted a bacterial infection and returned to Vienna. When he died a few months before his 51st birthday, Mahler had just completed part of his Tenth Symphony and was still working on sketches for other movements.
Composer profile by Andrew Stewart
Andrew Stewart is a freelance music journalist and writer. He is the author of The LSO at 90, and contributes to a wide variety of specialist classical music publications.
Semyon Bychkov’s second season as the Czech Philharmonic’s Chief Conductor and Music Director saw the culmination of The Tchaikovsky Project started in 2015 before Bychkov’s appointment to the Orchestra. In addition to the release on Decca Classics of all of Tchaikovsky’s symphonies, the three piano concertos, Romeo & Juliet, Serenade for Strings and Francesca da Rimini, Bychkov led Tchaikovsky residencies with the Orchestra in Prague, Tokyo, Vienna and Paris as well as conducting the Orchestra for the first time at the BBC Proms. Highlights in Prague included Bychkov’s first Má vlast with the Czech Philharmonic as well as the Czech première of Detlev Glanert’s Requiem für Hieronymus Bosch.
Recognised for his interpretations of the core repertoire, Bychkov also worked closely with many extraordinary contemporary composers including Luciano Berio, Henri Dutilleux and Maurizio Kagel. In recent seasons he has collaborated with René Staar, Thomas Larcher, Richard Dubignon, Detlev Glanert and Julian Anderson, conducting premières of their works with the Vienna Philharmonic, New York Philharmonic, Royal Concertgebouw and the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the BBC Proms.
On the concert platform, the combination of innate musicality and rigorous Russian pedagogy has ensured that Bychkov’s performances are highly anticipated. In the UK, in addition to regular performances with the London Symphony Orchestra, his honorary titles at the Royal Academy of Music and the BBC Symphony Orchestra – with whom he appears annually at the BBC Proms – reflect the warmth of the relationships. In Europe, he tours frequently with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and Munich Philharmonic, as well as being a frequent guest of the Vienna and Berlin Philharmonics, the Leipzig Gewandhaus, the Orchestre National de France and the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia; in the US, he can be heard with the New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, Los Angeles Symphony, Philadelphia and Cleveland Orchestras.
Image: Umberto Nicoletti
Born in Feuchtwangen, Bavaria, Christiane Karg studied singing at the Salzburg Mozarteum with Heiner Hopfner and Wolfgang Holzmair, where she was awarded the Lilli Lehmann Medal. While still a student, she made her debut at the Salzburg Festival and has been a welcome guest ever since.
After a first engagement in the opera studio of the Hamburg State Opera, she joined the ensemble of the Frankfurt Opera, where she appeared in roles including Susanna (Le nozze di Figaro, Mozart), Pamina (The Magic Flute, Mozart), Servilia (La clemenza di Tito, Mozart), Musetta (La bohème, Puccini), Zdenka (Arabella, Strauss), Mélisande (Pélleas et Mélisande, Debussy) and Sophie (Der Rosenkavalier, Strauss). She performs regularly at leading opera houses such as the New York Metropolitan Opera, La Scala in Milan, the Vienna State Opera, the Bavarian State Opera, the Semperoper Dresden and the Theater an der Wien. In recent seasons, she has given her debut at the Festspielhaus Baden-Baden as Susanna in a concert performance of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro under Yannick Nézet-Séguin, as Pamina at London's Royal Opera House Covent Garden, as Sophie at La Scala, as well as her US opera debut at the Lyric Opera Chicago as Pamina. In autumn 2017, the German soprano first performed at the Metropolitan Opera in New York as Susanna. She also sang the title role of Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto at the Bavarian State Opera, as well as Euridice in Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice at La Scala in Milan next to Juan Diego Flórez.
In the past two seasons, she has performed concerts with, amongst others, the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich under the baton of Lionel Bringuier, Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin under Rafael Payare, Staatskapelle Dresden under Christian Thielemann and for the first time at the Gewandhaus Orchestra Leipzig led by Semyon Bychkov.
Image: Gisela Schenker
Swedish Court Singer Anna Larsson made her international debut in Mahler's Second Symphony with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and Claudio Abbado in 1997, and her opera debut as Erda in Wagner's Das Rheingold at Staatsoper Unter den Linden Berlin the year after, conducted by Daniel Barenboim.
Anna Larsson's previous roles include Kundry (Parsifal, Wagner), Erda (Das Rheingold, Wagner), Waltraute (Götterdämmerung, Wagner), the eponymous Orphée (Gluck), Fricka (Die Walküre, Wagner), Delilah (Samson and Delilah, Saint-Saëns), Lucretia (The Rape of Lucretia, Britten), Clytaimnestra (Elektra, Strauss), Gaea (Daphne, Strauss), the eponymous Carmen (Bizet) and Zia Principessa (Suor Angelica, Puccini) at theatres including Teatro alla Scala, Wiener Staatsoper, Bayerische Staatsoper, Festspiele Salzburg and Aix-en-Provence, the Royal Opera House London, Teatro Maggio Musicale Firenze, La Monnaie Brussels, Palau des Arts Valencia, Royal Opera Copenhagen, Finnish National Opera and Drottningholm Court Theatre Dalhalla, and the Swedish Royal Opera.
In concert, Anna Larsson is internationally positioned as the premier and most consummate interpreter of Gustav Mahler's works. She regularly sings with all the great orchestras; Berliner Philharmoniker, Lucerne Festival Orchestra, New York Philharmonics, Wiener Philharmoniker, The Orchestra of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Chicago Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, London Symphony and London Philharmonic Orchestras.
In December 2010 Anna Larsson was appointed Court singer by King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden, and in 2011 she opened her own concert house, Vattnäs Concert Barn, in the village Vattnäs near Mora in Dalecarlia.
Image: Anna Thorbjörnsson
LSO Choral Director
Simon Halsey occupies a singular position in classical music. He is the trusted advisor on choral singing to the world’s greatest conductors, orchestras and choruses, and also an inspirational teacher and ambassador for choral singing to amateurs of every age, ability and background. By making singing a central part of the world-class institutions with which he is associated, he has been instrumental in changing the level of symphonic singing across Europe.
He holds positions across the UK and Europe as Choral Director of the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus; Chorus Director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra Chorus; Artistic Director of Orfeó Català Choirs and Artistic Adviser of the Palau de la Música; Barcelona; Artistic Director of the Berlin Philharmonic Youth Choral Programme; Creative Director for Choral Music and Projects of WDR Rundfunkchor; Director of the BBC Proms Youth Choir; Artistic Advisor of the Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival Choir; Conductor Laureate of the Rundfunkchor Berlin; and Professor and Director of Choral Activities at the University of Birmingham. He is also a highly respected teacher and academic, nurturing the next generation of choral conductors on his post-graduate course in Birmingham and through masterclasses at Princeton, Yale and elsewhere.
Halsey has worked on nearly 80 recording projects, many of which have won major awards, including a Gramophone Award, Diapason d’Or, Echo Klassik, and three Grammy Awards with the Rundfunkchor Berlin. He was made Commander of the British Empire in 2015, was awarded The Queen’s Medal for Music in 2014, and received the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany in 2011 in recognition of his outstanding contribution to choral music in Germany.
Image: Matthias Heyde
London Symphony Chorus
The London Symphony Chorus was formed in 1966 to complement the work of the London Symphony Orchestra and is renowned internationally for its concerts and recordings with the Orchestra. Their partnership was strengthened in 2012 with the appointment of Simon Halsey as joint Chorus Director of the LSC and Choral Director for the LSO, and the Chorus now plays a major role in furthering the vision of LSO Sing, which also encompasses the LSO Community Choir, LSO Discovery Choirs for young people and Singing Days at LSO St Luke’s.
The LSC has worked with many leading international conductors and other major orchestras, including the Berlin Philharmonic, Vienna Philharmonic, Leipzig Gewandhaus, Los Angeles Philharmonic, New York Philharmonic, the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain and the European Union Youth Orchestra. It has also toured extensively in Europe and has visited the US, Israel, Australia and south-east Asia.
The partnership between the LSC and LSO, particularly under Richard Hickox in the 1980s and 1990s, and later with the late Sir Colin Davis, led to its large catalogue of recordings, which have won numerous awards.
The Chorus is an independent charity run by its members. It is committed to excellence, to the development of its members, to diversity and engaging in the musical life of London, to commissioning and performing new works, and to supporting the musicians of tomorrow. For more information, please visit lsc.org.uk.
The LSO was established in 1904 and has a unique ethos. As a musical collective, it is built on artistic ownership and partnership. With an inimitable signature sound, the LSO’s mission is to bring the greatest music to the greatest number of people.
The LSO has been the only Resident Orchestra at the Barbican Centre in the City of London since it opened in 1982, giving 70 symphonic concerts there every year. The Orchestra works with a family of artists that includes some of the world’s greatest conductors – Sir Simon Rattle as Music Director, Principal Guest Conductors Gianandrea Noseda and François-Xavier Roth, and Michael Tilson Thomas as Conductor Laureate.
Through LSO Discovery, it is a pioneer of music education, offering musical experiences to 60,000 people every year at its music education centre LSO St Luke’s on Old Street, across East London and further afield.
The LSO strives to embrace new digital technologies in order to broaden its reach, and with the formation of its own record label LSO Live in 1999 it pioneered a revolution in recording live orchestral music. With a discography spanning many genres and including some of the most iconic recordings ever made the LSO is now the most recorded and listened to orchestra in the world, regularly reaching over 3,500,000 people worldwide each month on Spotify and beyond. The Orchestra continues to innovate through partnerships with market-leading tech companies, as well as initiatives such as LSO Play. The LSO is a highly successful creative enterprise, with 80% of all funding self-generated.
Image: Ranald Mackechnie
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Join us for our next full-length concert
Sunday 19 April 2020 7pm BST
Bernstein Prelude, Fugue and Riffs
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Stravinsky Ebony Concerto
Bernstein Prelude, Fugue and Riffs
Sir Simon Rattle conductor