Colossal sounds

The “Gurre songs” for Schönberg’s 150th birthday Birthday

A comprehensive concert series for the 2023/24 season with works by Arnold Schönberg to mark his 150th birthday. Birthday takes place on 13. and September 14, 2024, with the “Gurre-Lieder” premiered in the Großer Musikvereinssaal. These are also Petr Popelka’s first concerts as the new chief conductor of the Vienna Symphony Orchestra.

Arnold Schönberg Center, Vienna

Arnold Schönberg’s “Gurre-Lieder” were a colossal prelude to the musical 20th century. They are considered major works in Schönberg’s first creative period, characterised by (expanded) tonality. The composition was prompted by a competition organised by the Wiener Tonkünstler-Verein for a song cycle with piano. Inspired by his friend Alexander Zemlinsky, Schönberg began setting a series of poems by the Danish poet Jens Peter Jacobsen for soprano and tenor in March 1900. The decision was soon made to add preludes, interludes and other parts to the piano song cycle and massively expand the instrumentation. Instrumentation began in August 1901 and continued until 1903 but was soon interrupted for several years. The positive reception of the “Gurre-Lieder” prelude in Anton Webern’s transcription for four pianists at two pianos in January 1910 finally motivated Schönberg to complete the work, and the premiere on February 23, 1913, in the Großer Musikvereinssaal with the predecessor orchestra of the Vienna Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Franz Schreker was a triumphant success.

Arnold Schönberg Center

Schönberg’s music, rooted in late Romanticism, is touched by a tonal sound world in the wake of Richard Wagner. Wagner’s chromaticism and alteration harmony play a manifold role in the composition, which Julius Korngold described as a voyage of discovery “at the bottom of the Tristan chroma”. Schönberg uses a colossal sound apparatus for the poetically rich text. In addition to five vocal soloists and a narrator, the score prescribes three four-part male choirs, an eight-part mixed choir and a gigantic orchestra. Jacobsen’s epic lyrical text focuses on the love affair between the Danish king Waldemar and his lover Tove at Gurre hunting lodge. Tove’s death at the hands of the vengeful queen, Waldemar’s blasphemous accusation of God and his punishment by being condemned to hunt wildly all night with his men provide the opportunity for the inclusion of other voices. The “Mystery of Redemption”, a term coined by Constantin Floros, juxtaposes images of nature with sweetness, speaks of death and mourning, and brings delicate colours, bright splendour and hellish whirls in a multi-layered richness of colour.

The first part of the “Gurre-Lieder” comprises a prelude, nine songs by Waldemar and Tove, a longer orchestral interlude and the song of the wood pigeon: Waldemar and Tove take turns singing about their moods, their longings and the fulfillment of their love. The twilight mood of nature invites mystical immersion in the self; in a hybrid of elegy and ballad, the voice of the wood pigeon announces Tove’s death. The short second part is dominated by the grief and suffering of Waldemar, who accuses God of cruelty and that he has robbed him of his only happiness. The extended third part describes a wild nocturnal hunt as a choral ballad, in which two lyrical episodes (Waldemar’s longing for Tove and his renewed rebellion against God) are embedded. The voices of the peasant frightened by the nocturnal goings-on and the jester introduce “superstitious popular piety and cynical, self-satisfied religious pragmatism” (Hans-Joachim Hinrichsen). The melodrama “Des Sommerwindes wilde Jagd” (The Summer Wind’s Wild Hunt), performed in a spoken voice, makes the shadows disappear and dark visions give way to brighter imaginings. The work concludes with the hymnal vision of the sun rising from the floods of night, intoned by a mixed choir and large orchestra.

Therese Muxeneder

Concerts 24/25

September 6, 2023


Großer Saal

September 6, 2023


Großer Saal

    © Deutsche Grammophon - Andreas Hechenberger

    With charisma and temperament

    © Julia Wesely

    Strong relationships

    Archive, Library and Collections of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna

    Fine and fragrant

    Arnold Schönberg Center, Vienna

    Colossal sounds

    © Felix Broede

    Suction effect

    © Brand photography

    Conducting on the royal road

    © Julia Wesely

    Simply conduct

    © Wolf-Dieter Grabner

    Contemporary music

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