Thursday, 12 March 2009

Schoenberg Zemlinsky Salonen London

On Thursday 12th at the South Bank, Esa Pekka Salonen and the Philharmonia Orchestra will be playing Schoenberg's Verklärte Nacht and Zemlinsky's Lyrische Symphonie. Before that Oliver Knussen will be conducting two of his own song cycles, the wonderful Songs for Sue and Ocean de terre. Claire Booth sings Knussen - this should be very good indeed as she's made the cycles her own, she sings them so well.

Everybody but everybody repeats the usual cliché connecting Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde and Zemlinsky's LS ((code to save typing the whole name). It's much wiser though, to listen to each piece on its own terms and appreciate how unique each one is. Both are symphonies with song. Zemlinsky sets lines from Tagore about two lovers in ancient India. There's a sort of narrative, though it's not clear, but the parts are a kind of dialogue. Mahler sets Chinese poetry, but his songs don't relate to each other causatively. They are expressions of internal psychological states. Mahler's destination is linear, oriented towards transcendence, even if he refers to the return of Spring. Zemlinsky's piece is more circular, like the wheel of karma. Lots more - just listen, for comparison clouds just how original each piece is.

What the Viennese secession did was break away from the hyperfervid neurosis of High Victorian taste, the claustrophobia that exists even in Wagner. That's why it ushered in more fluid lines in design, painting, literature. Zemlinsky is a lot more than an obtuse proto-Wagnerian. He's the missing link (if there is one) between Mahler and the Second Viennese School. He uses extreme exotic lushness but doesn't swoon. Instead the whole thrust is towards new frontiers, new ideas. Prince and girl know they have to go their separate ways. He sings "Ich halte meine Lampe in die Höhe, um dir uf deinen Weg zu leuchten". I hold my lamp up high to light you on your way. Light, again, but a different kind of light. In a good performance of this symphony you can hear pre-echoes of Berg quite distinctly. Zemlinsky knew what was happening around him.

Oddly enough there are lots of tickets left for the performance on Thursday. Below is a description of the most illuminating recording of the LS ever. Scroll down , enjoy

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