“Der Abschied” (The Farewell) by Gustav Mahler, from “Das Lied von der Erde” (Song of the Earth)

This is the final movement of Gustav Mahler’s “Das Lied von der Erde” (The Song of the Earth), entitled “Der Abschied” (The Farewell).  It is conducted by Otto Klemperer with the New Philharmonia Orchestra; the soloist is Christa Ludwig (1966).

A previous post on this site communicated some of Theodor W. Adorno’s comments on the work as a whole:  that the Lied recalls a “melancholy hope for other stars, inhabited by happier beings than humans,” given that “the earth that has grown remote to itself is without the hope the stars once promised.”

I feel differently than Adorno about the work: the Chinese motifs (unique for Mahler), taken together with the instrumental and vocal beauty and juxtaposed with the content of the accompanying text (itself based on poems written by Meng Haoran and Wang Wei, who lived during the Tang dynasty [7th to 10th centuries CE]), are to me suggestive of a celebration of life and the world’s beauty: against Adorno, and whatever Mahler may himself have said in self-deprecation[1], the magnificence of the work reflects present and future hopes rather than mere past ones.

Doubtless, the movement deals centrally with questions of loneliness and death (“Birds sit motionless on their branches. The world is slumbering! It grows cool in the shade of my fir-trees. I stand and await my friend, I wait for him for our last farewell”), but this emphasis should not be taken in any sort of Heideggerian fashion.  Instead, consider the final words of the movement’s text, themselves apparently added by Mahler himself to the original two poems which served as the basis of the song:

“The beloved Earth blooms forth everywhere in Spring, and becomes green anew! Everywhere and endlessly blue shines the horizon! Endless… endless!”

Gustav-Mahler


[1] From the Wikipedia entry on the Lied: ‘Mahler also hesitated to put the piece before the public because of its relentless negativity, unusual even for him. “Won’t people go home and shoot themselves?” he asked.’

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