Tuesday, 14 April 2015

X rated Mahler Wunderhorn Barbican

X rated Mahler on Wednesday  15/4  at the Barbican, London! Because there are scenes of nudity, it comes with an 18 plus advisory. And why not ?  Clemens Brentano and Achim von Arnim's Des Knaben Wumderhorn wasn't written for kids. This new Wunderhorn (not Des Knaben Wunderhorn) is creative re-imagining, in which live performance is blended into a film by Clara Pons who "visualizes Mahler’s melancholy and humanism, relating a story of love in times of war, and of a paradise forever lost",   Dietrich Henschel will be singing 15 of Mahler's originals, plus nine  orchestrated by Detlev Glanert which are well worth hearing. Nearly 20 years ago, Glanert wrote Mahler-Skizze, a skit, on Mahler's style, based on cartoons of Mahler conducting. It's a short piece but full of joy and energy. Glanert has a taste for the macabre, but also for satire and fun, which is very much Mahler. Alexander Vedernikov conducts the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

Below,  the trailer, which suggests that this might be an acted film rather than just a series of projections behind the stage. Thankfully, it's not literal  Soldiers exchange meaningful glances while we hear Des Antonius von Padua Fischpredight, which ostensibly depicts an inebriated saint preaching to fish, who start fighting each other the moment St Anthony is done. Rather pointed when you consider how the sermon might apply in a militaristic society. Hopefully, the film will capture the charm and wit behind the poems.  Wunderhorn is fifth generation down from the folk tales collected in the field, transcribed by aristocratic intellectuals, influencing a late 19th century composer, who would go on to create a whole body of work inspired by the ideas generated from the collection. The river of creative invention flows, even for listeners who engage with sounds and meaning.

Brentano and von Arnim's Des Knaben Wunderhorn was a huge success in 1819 because it captured the spirit of the times. German-speaking countries had been ravaged during the Napoleonic wars. Germany then was a disconnected mass of over around 300 states, pitted against one another by which side their leaders took. It represented a way of finding an identity based on an idealized, but very lively version of a simpler past. The original is quite hefty, with long ballads and pieces of prose. Mahler set a lot more poems than are in the DKW set, but even then he didn't cover the entire collection. A good friend used to get us to instantly translate pages, unseen, with hilarious results, especially after a few glasses of wine.
Mahler discovered Des Knaben Wunderhorn some sixty years later, when the book had gone out of fashion.  Having been brought up in a small garrison town, he would have understood the tales of soldiers far from home, the spectacle of marching uniforms and the macabre reality of death. Um schlimme Kinder artig zu machen - to teach bad children to be good, in the sense that all who dream and wonder are children at heart. .

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