Raymond MONELLE: "Musical uniqueness as a function of the text" (14/17)

This leads Mahler to set the poem in a bundle of styles, some strongly-focussed, some more oblique. Naturally, the pietistic opening suggests to him the music of a chorale, with a distant chorus of brass instruments. There is immediately a contrast of subjectivities, the soloist beckoning and appealing like a tragic orator, the brass choir motionless and hieratic (Figure 2). The start of the narrative ("Da kam ich...") is sung to a passage of rustic pastoral in which the horns play a droning open fifth regardless of the harmony suggested by the tune, and the clarinets revolve lazily like the wheel of a hurdy-gurdy. The bagpipe and hurdy-gurdy are signs of the rustic pastoral, connected with the charming simplicity of the contemporary peasant, rather than the heavenly pastoral, associated with the flute and the metre of the siciliana (Figure 3, bars 37-40). 
Figure 3
The being encountered on the road -- an "Engelein", says the text -- is of a dubious character, introduced by a rather unimpressive solo violin. One of the topical evocations of the solo violin is devilishness, typifed by the diabolic leer of L'histoire du soldat. The violin's cheap little tune, its second phrase nauseously dissonant with the horns and soured with a wrong note, suggests that the "Engelein" is not all he seems (Figure 3, bars 41-44). The dip into A major, a non-key in this context, and the excruciating prettiness of the next passage with its jingling string figures, place a question mark on the childlike stress of this movement (Figure 3, bars 45-49). If the "soul in heaven" is "beginning again as a child", then its efforts seem trivial and absurd alongside the gamy whiff of the previous measures.

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AS/SA Nº4, Article 4 : Page 14 / 17
© 1997 by AS/SA

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