Conducted by Andrew Manze, the Collegium Vocale Hannover, the Capella St. Crucis Hannover, the Johannes-Brahms-Chor Hannover, the Junges Vokalensemble Hannover, and the NDR Radiophilharmonie perform Gustav Mahler’s monumental Symphony No. 2 in C minor, popularly known as the Resurrection Symphony. Soloists: Katharina Konradi, soprano; Marianne Beate Kielland, alto. This performance was recorded on July 1, 2023, at the Kuppelsaal, Hannover Congress Center.
Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 “Resurrection”
Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, known as the “Resurrection” Symphony, stands as one of the monumental works in the symphonic repertoire, both for its grandeur and its profound thematic exploration. Composed over several years in the late 19th century, this symphony marks a significant development in Mahler’s artistic vision, reflecting his deep philosophical inquiries into life, death, and the afterlife.
The “Resurrection” Symphony is notable for its vast scale and complex structure, requiring a large orchestra, choir, and soloists, which contributes to its powerful and immersive live performances. The work is imbued with a wide range of emotional textures, from the depths of despair to the heights of ecstatic triumph, mirroring the human struggle with mortality and the quest for understanding and redemption.
Mahler integrates texts from the “Des Knaben Wunderhorn” collection and the “Resurrection” poem by Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock, which he modifies and extends with his own verses. This incorporation of vocal elements into a symphonic framework was revolutionary at the time and exemplifies Mahler’s innovative approach to composition, blending orchestral and vocal music to convey a narrative of spiritual resurrection and renewal.
Throughout the symphony, Mahler employs thematic transformation, a technique where themes evolve across movements to reflect the progression of the symphony’s narrative. This process mirrors the symphony’s underlying philosophical journey from existential questioning to the affirmation of life and spiritual rebirth.
The “Resurrection” Symphony’s premiere was met with critical acclaim and has since occupied a revered place in the classical music canon, celebrated for its emotional depth, structural complexity, and profound exploration of themes central to the human experience. Its performances remain significant events, capable of evoking intense emotional responses from audiences worldwide.
With start times in the video:
- Allegro maestoso. Mit durchaus ernstem und feierlichem Ausdruck. 00:36
- Andante moderato. Sehr gemächlich! Nie eilen! 24:35
- In ruhig fließender Bewegung 34:50
- “Urlicht”. Sehr feierlich, aber schlicht 45:25
- Im Tempo des Scherzos – Langsam. Misterioso. 50:35
1. Allegro maestoso
The first movement of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 is marked Mit durchaus ernstem und feierlichem Ausdruck (With complete gravity and solemnity of expression). It
is a monumental and intense opening that sets the tone for the entire symphony. This movement, marked as Allegro maestoso, unfolds in a sonata form, which is traditional yet expanded and transformed under Mahler’s innovative hand. It begins with a dramatic and powerful introduction, instantly capturing the listener’s attention with its depth and complexity.
The movement is characterized by its dynamic contrasts, ranging from the thunderous opening to moments of serene beauty and introspective calm. Mahler masterfully manipulates the orchestra to produce a vast palette of colors and textures, creating a vivid portrayal of the struggle between life and death, a central theme of the symphony. The thematic material is developed through a series of variations and transformations, showcasing Mahler’s skill in orchestration and thematic development.
Throughout the movement, Mahler employs motifs that suggest a narrative of existential questioning and the angst associated with the human condition. The music oscillates between moments of turmoil and tranquility, reflecting the composer’s philosophical preoccupations with mortality and the meaning of life. The movement concludes with a dramatic climax that fades into silence, leaving the listener in anticipation of the journey ahead.
This opening movement is not just a musical piece; it’s an emotional experience that encapsulates Mahler’s profound understanding of the complexities of human emotion and existence. It serves as a powerful introduction to the symphony’s exploration of death and the possibility of resurrection and renewal.
2. Andante moderato
The second movement of Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 is marked Sehr gemächlich. Nie eilen. (Very leisurely. Never rush.) It provides a striking contrast to the dramatic and intense first movement. This movement is often described as a gentle, lyrical Andante moderato, evoking a sense of nostalgic reminiscence. Mahler here turns to a more traditional, almost dance-like form, reminiscent of the Ländler, a folk dance popular in Austria and southern Germany. This choice imbues the movement with a rustic charm and a touch of simplicity, standing in sharp relief against the complexity and turmoil of the surrounding movements.
In this movement, Mahler explores themes of innocence, beauty, and the fleeting nature of life. The music is characterized by its graceful melodies and delicate orchestration, creating an atmosphere of serene beauty and pastoral tranquility. The orchestration is lighter, allowing for moments of intimacy and tender expressiveness that touch upon the joys and sorrows of everyday life.
Despite its seemingly straightforward character, the second movement is not without its undercurrents of melancholy and introspection. Mahler subtly weaves in darker harmonies and shifts in mood, suggesting the complexity of memory and the bittersweet nature of reminiscence. This movement serves as a reflective pause in the symphony’s narrative, offering a moment of calm and reflection before the drama of the subsequent movements unfolds.
Through this Andante moderato, Mahler demonstrates his mastery of contrasting moods and his ability to evoke a wide range of emotions, from the most delicate to the most profound. The movement is a testament to the composer’s deep connection to nature and his nuanced understanding of the human heart, providing a crucial emotional and narrative bridge within the larger structure of the “Resurrection” Symphony.
3. In ruhig fließender Bewegung
The third movement of Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, “Resurrection,” marks a return to a more introspective and complex emotional landscape, following the serene and nostalgic second movement. This movement is based on Mahler’s earlier work, “Des Antonius von Padua Fischpredigt” (St. Anthony of Padua’s Sermon to the Fish), which itself is a setting of a text from the collection “Des Knaben Wunderhorn.” This origin imbues the movement with a distinct character, blending irony, profundity, and a sense of existential questioning.
Musically, the movement is characterized by its scherzo-like quality, with a rhythmic vitality that contrasts sharply with the tranquility of the preceding movement. However, this energy is not merely joyful or light-hearted; it carries an undercurrent of darkness and satire. The movement oscillates between moments of whimsicality and deep, sometimes unsettling introspection, reflecting the absurdity and futility that can underlie human endeavors.
The orchestration in this movement is notably intricate, with Mahler utilizing the full capabilities of the orchestra to create a rich tapestry of sound. This complexity is not just for show; it serves to highlight the multifaceted nature of the movement’s themes, from the superficiality of the sermon’s reception among the fish to the deeper, more universal questions about the purpose and meaning of life.
This third movement stands as a pivotal point in the symphony, bridging the more earthly, human concerns expressed in the earlier movements with the spiritual and transcendent themes that will emerge in the final movements. It challenges the listener to consider the contrast between the mundane and the sublime, the trivial and the profound, setting the stage for the dramatic developments to come.
Through this movement, Mahler demonstrates his unique ability to blend humor with seriousness, and light with shadow, creating a complex emotional and philosophical exploration that is both challenging and rewarding for the listener. It encapsulates Mahler’s talent for expressing the ineffable aspects of human experience through music, making it a crucial component of the “Resurrection” Symphony’s narrative and emotional arc.
The fourth movement of Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, “Resurrection,” is a profound and introspective interlude within the larger symphonic journey, providing a moment of serene contemplation before the dramatic finale. This movement is centered around a solo alto voice that performs “Urlicht” (Primeval Light), a text from the “Des Knaben Wunderhorn” collection. The choice of “Urlicht” underscores the symphony’s deep philosophical and spiritual themes, particularly the yearning for redemption and the quest for a transcendent, eternal light beyond the suffering of the earthly existence.
The music begins with a simple, yet profoundly moving, melody that evokes a sense of timeless beauty and solemnity. The solo alto’s voice, rich and emotive, conveys a deep longing and a heartfelt plea for deliverance from mortal woes to a higher, divine realm. The orchestration is understated but meticulously crafted, providing a delicate backdrop that enhances the soloist’s message of hope and faith.
“Urlicht” serves as a pivotal moment in the symphony, marking the transition from the mortal concerns and turmoils depicted in the preceding movements to the promise of spiritual resurrection and renewal. The text speaks to the soul’s aspiration to transcend the limitations of the physical world, seeking refuge and solace in the eternal light of the divine. This movement, with its intimate scale and profound emotional depth, contrasts sharply with the expansive and complex narrative of the rest of the symphony, offering a moment of introspective calm before the storm of the final movement.
Mahler’s setting of “Urlicht” is a masterful blend of simplicity and depth, showcasing his ability to convey complex spiritual and existential themes through music. The movement’s beauty and poignancy lie in its directness and sincerity, capturing the essence of human longing for meaning and redemption. As a bridge to the symphony’s climax, the fourth movement deepens the work’s emotional resonance, preparing the listener for the culminating vision of resurrection and eternal life that Mahler unfolds in the finale.
O Röschen rot!
Der Mensch liegt in größter Not!
Der Mensch liegt in größter Pein!
Je lieber möcht’ ich im Himmel sein.
Da kam ich auf einen breiten Weg:
Da kam ein Engelein und wollt’ mich abweisen.
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!
From Des Knaben Wunderhorn
English translation: Primeval Light
O little red rose!
Man lies in greatest need!
Man lies in greatest pain!
How I would rather be in heaven.
There came I upon a broad path
when came a little angel and wanted to turn me away.
Oh no! I would not let myself be turned away!
I am from God and shall return to God!
The loving God will grant me a little light,
Which will light me into that eternal blissful life!
From Des Knaben Wunderhorn
5. Im Tempo des Scherzos
The fifth movement of Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, “Resurrection,” is a monumental finale that brings the symphony to its climactic conclusion, weaving together the themes of death, resurrection, and eternal life that pervade the work. This movement is vast in scale and ambition, requiring a large orchestra, a mixed chorus, and soloists to deliver its profound message. It starts with a dramatic and turbulent introduction, reflecting the chaos and turmoil of a soul in the throes of death and the subsequent struggle toward enlightenment and resurrection.
As the movement progresses, Mahler introduces the chorus softly, almost imperceptibly, with the words “Aufersteh’n, ja aufersteh’n wirst du” (Rise again, yes, you will rise again), taken from Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock’s “Resurrection” ode, to which Mahler adds his own text to further develop the movement’s thematic and philosophical depth. The addition of the human voice at this point serves to elevate the work from a purely symphonic piece to a choral-symphonic hybrid, blending the power of orchestral music with the profound expressiveness of human voices.
The narrative arc of the movement is one of struggle, triumph, and transcendence, moving from the darkness of death to the light of resurrection. The music navigates through a series of episodes, each marked by distinct orchestral and vocal textures, leading to moments of intense drama and serene beauty. Mahler’s masterful orchestration creates a rich tapestry of sound, with the chorus and soloists alternating and combining to articulate the movement’s emotional and spiritual journey.
A pivotal moment in the movement is the “Auferstehn” theme, a grand and uplifting melody that embodies the promise of resurrection and eternal life. This theme, introduced by the orchestra and taken up by the chorus, serves as a recurring motif that unifies the movement’s diverse sections. The text, sung by the chorus and soloists, speaks of the triumph over death, the shedding of earthly pain, and the soul’s ascent to eternal life, culminating in a powerful and transcendent climax.
The finale of the “Resurrection” Symphony is not just a musical achievement but a philosophical statement, expressing Mahler’s deep convictions about the nature of existence, the cycle of life and death, and the possibility of rebirth. It is a work of intense emotional depth and complexity, offering a message of hope and redemption that resonates with listeners long after the final notes have faded. The fifth movement, with its dramatic narrative, intricate orchestration, and profound philosophical themes, encapsulates Mahler’s vision of a world redeemed through suffering, a vision that is as compelling today as it was at the time of its composition.
Aufersteh’n, ja aufersteh’n
Wirst du, Mein Staub,
Nach kurzer Ruh’!
Unsterblich Leben! Unsterblich Leben
wird der dich rief dir geben!
Wieder aufzublüh’n wirst du gesät!
Der Herr der Ernte geht
und sammelt Garben
uns ein, die starben!
O glaube, mein Herz, o glaube:
Es geht dir nichts verloren!
Dein ist, ja dein, was du gesehnt!
Dein, was du geliebt,
Was du gestritten!
Du wardst nicht umsonst geboren!
Hast nicht umsonst gelebt, gelitten!
Was entstanden ist
Das muß vergehen!
Was vergangen, auferstehen!
Hör’ auf zu beben!
Bereite dich zu leben!
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,
Zum Licht, zu dem kein Aug’ gedrungen!
Sterben werd’ ich, um zu leben!
Aufersteh’n, ja aufersteh’n
wirst du, mein Herz, in einem Nu!
Was du geschlagen
zu Gott wird es dich tragen!
Rise again, yes, rise again,
Will you My dust,
After a brief rest!
Immortal life! Immortal life
Will He who called you, give you.
To bloom again were you sown!
The Lord of the harvest goes
And gathers in, like sheaves,
Us together, who died.
O believe, my heart, O believe:
Nothing to you is lost!
Yours is, yes yours, is what you desired
Yours, what you have loved
What you have fought for!
You were not born for nothing!
Have not for nothing, lived, suffered!
What was created
What perished, rise again!
Cease from trembling!
Prepare yourself to live!
O Pain, You piercer of all things,
From you, I have been wrested!
O Death, You masterer of all things,
Now, are you conquered?
With wings that I have won for myself,
In love’s fierce striving,
I shall soar upwards
To the light which no eye has penetrated!
Die shall I in order to live.
Rise again, yes, rise again,
Will you, my heart, in an instant!
That for which you suffered,
To God will it lead you!
- Symphony No. 2 (Mahler) on Wikipedia
- Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, “Resurrection” on the Los Angeles Philharmonic official website
- Symphony No.2 (Mahler, Gustav) on the International Music Score Library Project website
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