Saturday, June 10, 2006

Symphony of a Thousand

Alles Vergängliche
Ist nur ein Gleichnis;
Das Unzulängliche,
Hier wird's Ereignis;
Das Unbeschreibliche,
Hier ist's getan;
Das Ewig-Weibliche
Zieht uns hinan.

Everything transient
Is but a parable;
What lay beyond us,
Here is made visible;
The indescribable
Here becomes actual;
The eternally feminine
Draws us on high.

"Here" represents paradise.

Goethe is one of my personal idols. The title of my dissertation is "A comparison of various settings of poems from Goethe's Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjarhe". A poster of the famous painting "Goethe in Italien" hangs on the wall in my bedroom. I've owned it since I traveled to Germany to audition, many houses and years ago, and it's starting to get a little ragged.

It's the way the words feel when you speak them. German is suddenly beautiful. Alles Vergängliche ist nur ein Gleichnis. One feels inclined to worship someone who could perform this magical transformation. There is an almost erotic beauty to his poetry that is simply missing in the language generally.

I searched on the internet for a better translation than the one in the program last night at the Kennedy Center performance of Mahler's Symphony of a Thousand by the National Symphony Orchestra and show the result above. The words are from Faust, Part II, not Act II as stated in the program. Part I (1808) is damnation; part II, published many years later in 1832, is salvation. Faust and Gretchen are reunited in paradise where she is his guide.

I went for rather more mundane reasons: Christine Brewer and Jane Eaglen appeared together on the same program. Who could resist this? The soloists stood in the back of the orchestra surrounded by chorus, which was a bit of a disappointment. One would wish to see the dueling sopranos up closer. In this context Christine Brewer must be declared the winner, since her Gretchen part is far more interesting than Jane's part as the woman who washed Jesus' feet.

The mezzo Stacey Rishoi as the Samaritan woman and tenor Donald Litaker as Doctor Marianus also impressed. Those in charge of casting went in the direction of heavy voices, a wise decision.

This is perhaps the greatest of the giant symphonies, a list that includes some pieces by Berlioz and Schoenberg's Gurrelieder. The performance, conducted by Leonard Slatkin, was very satisfying.



If you don't know this piece, here is the best part. Ignore the guy singing along.

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