Selby and Richard McRae Foundation A NIGHT IN VIENNA

7:30 PM, Saturday, January 11, 2020
Thalia Mara Hall


MASTERCLASS with Erin Wall!

FREE & Open to the public

Friday, Jan. 10th, 2-4pm
Williams Recital Hall (in the Aven Fine Arts Bldg.)
Mississippi College
200 Capitol St., Clinton, MS 39056

Leading soprano Erin Wall, acclaimed for her musicality and versatility, gives voice to this blockbuster evening of Vienna's best, from the beautiful and introspective appeal of Strauss' "Four Last Songs", to the deeply-moving lure of Mahler's 4th Symphony.

Cash bar in the lobby prior to the concert and during intermission.

Pre-concert lecture by Craig Young, Professor of Music at Mississippi College on the mezzanine level, 6:45-7:15pm.


Concert generously sponsored by:


Richard Strauss         Four Last Songs
   Erin Wall, soprano


Gustav Mahler           Symphony No. 4 in G Major
   Erin Wall, soprano

Richard Strauss: Four Last Songs

Tonight’s two composers, born four years apart, were both the last of the great Romantic Germanic symphony composers, and the bridge that led to expressionism and the modernism of the new century. In 1914, the poet Ezra Pound wrote:

This is the whole flaw of “emotional” music. It is like a drug: you must have more drug, and more noise each time, or this effect—this impression which works from the outside in, from the nerves and sensorium upon the self—is no use, its effect is constantly weaker and weaker.

Pound makes us aware that a compositional ‘crisis’ had arrived by the end of the nineteenth century. Could Romanticism continue? Or had the world changed too much? Attempting to find ways to express ever more powerful emotions, composers already were stretching tonality to its breaking point. Even Strauss, in his 1904 opera Salome, had written passages that verge on atonality. (What other kind of music could possibly accompany the scene of the young Salome kissing the severed head of John the Baptist!?) But the Four Last Songs are different, sumptuously rich songs that meditate on life and on death itself, as fine and as beautiful as anything he ever composed. The first three are set to texts by Herman Hesse, the last by Eichendorff. Near the end of the last song, “Im Abendrot” (At Sunset), the soprano asks, “Ist dies etwa der Tod?” (Is this perhaps death?). As the orchestra quietly closes out the song, Strauss reaches back to his famous tone poem Death and Transfiguration, composed almost sixty years earlier, to quote seven notes that make up what has come to be known as the “transfiguration” theme. These were in fact Richard Strauss’s final musical statements, at age 84. He died the following year after a series of heart attacks, and was never to hear them performed.

Gustav Mahler Symphony No. 4 in G Major

Leonard Bernstein proclaimed Mahler “one of the unhappiest people in history.” A driven workaholic, Mahler lived two full-time existences, one as a conductor, the other as a serious composer. He started to become known as a composer only after he was quite famous as a conductor, after a rise which had been meteoric. From a modest appointment as an operetta conductor at a summer resort at age 20, he moved to posts in opera houses across Europe, each more important than the last. After 1885, these were only in major cities and with important orchestras and opera houses (Prague, Budapest, Hamburg), until—at age thirty-six—he landed his dream job as head of the Hofoper, the Vienna court opera house (now called the Vienna State Opera, or Statsoper). Because he had so many administrative in addition to his artistic duties at the Hofoper, his composing was mostly confined to summers. But during the season he would force himself up early every day to put finishing touches on the orchestration of his own works, even in weeks that had him conducting five performances. He left after ten incredibly productive years – only because he had been offered something even more prestigious—the joint directorship of the Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic in the U.S.

It probably shouldn’t be a surprise that concertgoers are sometimes a bit overwhelmed by the symphonies of Mahler, for his aim was to make them “so great that the whole world is actually reflected therein—so that one is, so to speak, only an instrument upon which the universe plays.” They are also deeply personal and individualistic. “I have written into them, in my own blood, everything that I have experienced and endured,” he told a friend. Across the span of his nine symphonies is the autobiography of his inner life. “It really does tell a single story,” says conductor Jefferey Kahane, “and if you follow it chronologically, you can see and hear specific philosophical questions that Mahler grappled with not only recurring but evolving and being explored in an ever deeper fashion.”

The Fourth Symphony, often called his “sunniest,” centers around a single song “Life in Heaven” (Das himmlische Leben), from Mahler’s own setting of Des Knaben Wunderhorn, (“The Youth’s Magic Horn”), a collection of German folk poetry. We don’t hear the song until the final movement, and unlike his first three symphonies—which go out in a blaze of glory—this one ends quietly and happily. It begins happily, too, in one of the oddest openings in the symphonic literature: bouncing sleigh bells and flutes, as Mahler thrusts us immediately into childhood and its memories. The movement is full of unexpected juxtapositions, interruptions, and surprises. Michael Steinberg described it thus: “Mahler plays with this orchestra as though with a kaleidoscope. He can write a brilliantly sonorous tutti, but hardly ever does, preferring to have the thread of discourse passed rapidly, wittily from instrument to instrument, section to section.” The second movement is an off-kilter Scherzo, complete with “mistuned” violin (up a whole step, apparently to help it sound like it’s being played by a drunken fiddler) and the title Freund Hein spielt auf (“Death Strikes Up”). Mahler was obsessed the painter Arnold Böcklin’s self-portrait, featuring the Devil fiddling into his ear. The third movement Adagio Mahler felt was one of his finest. In the power of its effect, it is truly the emotional center of the symphony.

The poem of the final movement is from a Bavarian folk song, Der Himmel hängt voll Geigen (“Heaven Is Hung With Violins”). A child envisions Heaven, where a great feast is being prepared. The sleigh bells of the opening return. The child is momentarily disturbed by the sacrifice of the innocent lamb for the meal, but in the end “The angelic voices / Delight the senses, / For all things awake to joy.”

Concert Calendar

July 2020
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