This next song is the equivalent of a slow movement in a symphony. It’s quiet, meditative and an exercise in stillness. This is partly a result of the words. Have a read of them before you listen:
You’ll notice that the two first verses are simply descriptive – the poet talks about the early morning, the frost like jade dust sprinkled on the blossoms, the cold wind, etc. The overall emphasis you get is autumn stillness.
Then in verse 3, he starts to describe himself, and we see that it is autumn in his heart. He’s lonely, he’s weary and he wants rest. (Which could, of course, be talking about death.) Finally, in the last couple of lines, he’s begging for the “sun of love” to come back again – but this is autumn, the weather is heading into winter, not back to summer.
Now listen to how this is reflected in the music:
(0:00) Before there is any singing, the music consists of a long passage of a solitary oboe singing over wandering strings. One of the things to notice here is how separately all the instruments are playing. Mahler has a huge orchestra at his disposal, but is only using small separate groups to create the sounds he wants. Different solo instruments accompany different phrases but we only once feel like it’s a full orchestral sound in this movement.
When the singer finally does enter, with his description of the stillness of the autumn, the music has already set us up for an atmosphere of non-motion.
(5:33) Things start to become even more flat as the singer starts to describe the weariness of his heart. Things pick up a little bit, but the real climax of the song is at (9:11) when he sings of the “Sonne der Liebe” (Sun of Love). The orchestra fires up and illuminates this line, so that for a brief second you feel like the sun is shining upon you. The music gives us a glimpse into the poet’s former joy. For me, this is the only real moment that feels like a full orchestra in this movement.
But then it all dies out, and we return to the lonely oboe and the wandering strings. The sun is gone, autumn is still here and the poet is alone.
A rather melancholy week, all in all. If you want something a bit more chirpy, see you next week.