Friday, April 22, 2016

Earth Day

No. 220 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series series of audio montages can be found in our archives at


(Late posting - home netwirk problems this week and I fell behind!)

In 1969 at a UNESCO Conference in San Francisco, peace activist John McConnell proposed a day to honor the Earth and the concept of peace, to first be celebrated on March 21, 1970, the first day of spring in the northern hemisphere. A month later a separate Earth Day was founded by United States Senator Gaylord Nelson as an environmental teach-in first held on April 22, 1970. Although first celebrated infrequently, Earth Day is now an annual event, celebrated on April 22, when events worldwide are held to demonstrate support for environmental protection. It was first celebrated in 1970, and is celebrated in more than 193 countries each year.

There is no doubt that contemporary society recognizes the fragility of our planet: phenomena such as Global Warming and the ongoing focus on conservation of our natural resources and ecosystems have contributed to our awareness. Earth Day is bout one moment, once a year, where we takje pause and reflect on that reality that is too often relegated to lower priorities in our every day lives or in our socio-economical discourse.

There are many songs that are performed on Earth Day, that generally fall into two categories. Popular songs by contemporary artists – folk artists and others - or new lyrics adapted to children's songs. UNESCO has termed Indian poet-diplomat Abhay Kumar's idea of an official Earth Anthem as a creative and inspiring thought that would contribute to bringing the world together. The two works I have programmed may well be worthy contenders in the unfulfilled search for a consensus “Earth Anthem”.

The opening work of our Earth Day podcast is one of two works dedicated to the Earth by Jean Sibelius. His Op. 95 cantata Maan virsi (Hymn of the Earth), with words by Eino Leino was first performance in Helsinki in a performance by the choir Suomen Laulu, 4th April 1920. The critic Bis thought the work was a translation of Jordens Sång, (Sibelius’s Swedish Song of the Earth, op. 93) and since then many people have made the same mistake.

The larger work on the podcast is Gustav Mahler’s Song of the Earth (Das Lied von der Erde), a work that has symphonic proportions, and chronologically sits between his 9th and 9th symphonies. In fact, some have theorized that Das Lied was meant to be his ninth symphony – burt well aware of the so-called “curse of the Ninth”, Mahler was reluctant to call it a symphony… Maybe he was right, since Mahler did complete a ninth, and dies while still composing his tenth…

In a recent post, I discussed the Mahler annus horribilis of 1907 - "With one stroke," he wrote to his friend Bruno Walter, "I have lost everything I have gained in terms of who I thought I was, and have to learn my first steps again like a newborn".

The following year (1908) saw the publication of Hans Bethge's Die chinesische Flöte, a volume of ancient Chinese poetry rendered into German. Mahler was very taken by the vision of earthly beauty and transience expressed in these verses and chose seven of the poems to set to music as Das Lied, completing the work in 1909, less than 2 years before his untimely death.

Four of the songs -- Das Trinklied vom Jammer der Erde, Von der Jugend, Von der Schönheit and Der Trunkene im Frühling, were derived from poems written by Li Bai, the wandering poet of the Tang dynasty. Der Einsame im Herbst is based on a poem by Qian Qi, another poet of the Tang Dynasty. Der Abschied combines poems by Tang Dynasty poets Meng Haoran and Wang Wei, with several additional lines by Mahler himself.

The performance of Das Lied I retained also has special significance – it serves as tribute to the passing of the legendary composer, conductor and author Pierre Boulez, who left us in January. A contemporary music mover and shaker, Boulez was particularly known for his polished interpretations of twentieth-century classics: Alban Berg, Claude Debussy, Gustav Mahler, Arnold Schoenberg, Igor Stravinsky, Béla Bartók, Anton Webern and Edgard Varèse, as well as for numerous performances of contemporary music. In 1984 he collaborated with Frank Zappa, conducting the Ensemble Intercontemporain in three of Zappa's pieces. In 2010, he completed his 18-year, multi-orchestra Mahler cycle for Deutsche Grammophon with the release of Des Knaben Wunderhorn and the Adagio from Mahler's uncompleted Tenth Symphony performed by the Cleveland Orchestra. Our Das Lied, recorded with the Vienna Philharmonic, is part pof that large Mahler cycle.

Happy Earth Day!

I think you will ove this music too!

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