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GM 2078 <- Previous Next ->
Arnold Schoenberg
New release!

“With its enormous instrumental and vocal forces and its extraordinarily rich chromatic harmonic language and loftily soaring melodies, Arnold Schönberg’s masterful Gurrelieder represents the creative pinnacle of the turn-of-the-century post-Wagnerian era. Nothing can quite compare with it, in size, in scope, and magnitude of conception. Even works like Mahler’s Eighth Symphony and Ravel’s three-act ballet Daphnis et Chloe pale by comparison. One has to turn to the field of opera, to works like Wagner’s Götterdämmerung and Parsifal, and, in an earlier period, Bach’s St. Matthew Passion (with its double orchestra, double chorus, four solo voices and ten secondary vocal parts) for an analogous grandiosity of conception. (Continued below)

Qty: 2 CD Price: $20.00

Also available for downloads on iTunes as well as Amazon, Rhapsody, eMusic and other digital sites.


New England Conservatory Orchestra
Gunther Schuller, Conductor



Disc One / Part One

1. Orchestral Prelude
2. Nun dämpft die Dämm'rung
3. O, wenn des mondes Strahlen
4. Ross! Mein Ross!
5. Sterne jubeln
6. So tanzen die Engel vor Gottes Thron nicht
7. Nun sag ich dir zum ersten Mal
8. Es ist Mitternachtszeit
9. Du sendest mir einen Liebesblick
10. Du wunderliche Tove!
11. Orchestral Interlude
12. Tauben von Gurre! (Wood Dove's Song)

Part Two

13. Herrgott, weisst du, was du tatest

Disc Two / Part Three

1. Erwacht, König Waldemars Mannen wert!
2. Deckel des Sarges klappert
3. Gegrüsst, o König
4. Mit Toves Stimme flüstert der Wald
5. Ein seltsamer Vogel ist so'n Aal
6. Du strenger Richter droben
7. Der Hahn erhebt den Kopf zur Kraht

Des Sommerwindes wilde Jagd

8. Prelude
9. Herr Gänsefuss, Frau Gänsekraut
10. Seht die Sonne!

(Continued from above)
… Just from the point of view of Gurrelieder’s mammoth orchestra and its huge choral forces such an undertaking would simply be impossible nowadays. No orchestra would or could commission a work of such length (nearly two hours in duration), combined with such an immense orchestration: eight flutes (four flutes, four piccolos, as compared to the usual three flutes), five oboes (including two English horns), seven clarinets (including two E flat clarinets and two bass clarinets), five bassoons (including two contra bassoons), ten horns (four of them doubling on Wagner tuben), six trumpets, seven trombones, tuba, celesta, four harps, innumerable percussion, and —to balance such an enormous wind band — seventy-five strings. Musicians, of course, were not paid very much in Schönberg’s time.

A sardonic mind might suppose that Schönberg was just haughtily defying all conventional performance norms, all practicality. What actually motivated Schönberg to employ such expanded forces, particularly in the woodwinds and brass, was his strong desire to cast his beloved five-, six-, and seven-part chromatic harmonies (chords) in each and every possible timbral grouping or section.

Schönberg composed Gurrelieder in a white heat of inspiration in a little over two months, between the sextet Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night), 1899, and the symphonic poem Pelleas und Mélisande, Op. 5, 1901. Beginning work in Vienna in early March 1900, Schönberg had Part I and II and much of Part III completed in short score by late spring, along with much of the orchestration. At that point pressing financial needs forced him to abandon work on Gurrelieder, and to take on bread and butter work orchestrating operettas of other composers — some six thousand manuscript pages in all, we are told. In March 1901 he was finally able to finish composing Part III, but then, again, more operetta arranging intervened, and it was not until much later, in August of that year, that Schönberg could finish the instrumentation of Gurrelieder and the writing out of the final full score.

In the meantime, while Schönberg had also been composing Pelleas and Mélisande (between mid-1902 and mid-1903), he was offered the position of Kapellmeister at an artists’ cabaret in Berlin named Überbrettl, where he would be in charge of arranging all dance and staged numbers. In the end he was unable to get back to the full instrumentation of Gurrelieder until seven years later, in 1910 (back in Vienna), not putting the final touches on the entire work until early 1912.

It is a wonder, in view of the multiple interruptions, stretched out over so many years, plaguing the creation of this work, that Gurrelieder is so perfect in its form and continuity — essentially Lied forms linked together by orchestral interludes — and in its remarkable inner logic, its deep and broad Mississippi-like flow. One might readily assume the opposite: that the scoring, perhaps even some of the actual musical substance, and the work’s consistency of form and style, had been adversely affected by the delays — especially in relation to the last three-quarters of Part III.

Writing years later about the creation of Gurrelieder, Schönberg made reference to this matter: `It can easily be seen that the 1910 and 1911 manner of scoring in Part III was very different than that of the first and second Parts, done ten years earlier. I never had the intention to conceal this. On the contrary, it is self-evident that I would orchestrate differently ten years later. In the production of the final score I reworked the instrumentation in very few places. Everything else (even some things that I would love to have changed) was left as it was originally set. I would not have been able to recapture that original style…. The few corrections [I made] gave me more trouble than the whole initial composing.'

The text for Gurrelieder was by Jens Peter Jacobsen (1847-1885), after Hans Christian Andersen and Soren Kierkegaard the most renowned mid-nineteenth century Danish author, and very popular in Germany. Jacobsen’s poem is a recounting of a medieval legend about the love of a Danish king, Waldemar, for the young Tovelille (Little Dove) — Tove in Schönberg’s work — and the murder of Tove by the jealous Queen Helwig.

Schönberg had read the German translation of Jacobsen’s tale in 1899, while he was working on Verklärte Nacht, and was fascinated by it. But it is likely that a further impetus to do something with Jacobsen’s extended narrative poem came from an early Mahler work, the cantata Das Klagende Lied, composed in 1880. It may have served as an inspiration and a potential model for Schönberg in undertaking a musical setting of the Gurre legend. Das Klagende Lied was also an orchestral song cycle, with interpolated instrumental interludes, and was, as originally conceived, likewise structured in three big Parts, the entire work lasting over an hour. In several revisions and reworkings over a period of twenty years Mahler trimmed the score down to two Parts, reducing the number of singers from eleven to four and the number of harps from six to two, as well as making many other smaller abridgments. While Das Klagende Lied did not receive its first performance until February 17, 1901 in Vienna — by which time Schönberg had composed more than three quarters of Gurrelieder — it would seem almost inevitable that Schönberg was aware of the work, of its nature and scope and size, especially since Mahler’s far-reaching revisions of the work in the 1890s were extensively reported on by the Viennese musical press.”

— Gunther Schuller