A Critical Study of Arnold Schoenberg's Chamber Transcription of Gustav Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde

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Toward the end of his life, from 1908 to 1909, Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) composed Das Lied von der Erde (The song of the earth). This piece is a cycle of six song movements based on seven poems selected from Die chinesische Flötem - Nachdichtungen chinesischer Lyrik (The Chinese flute - free adaptation of Chinese lyric poetry) by Hans Bethge. The Chinese verse was written by Li-Po (numbers 1, 3, 4 and 5), Tchang-Tsi (number 2), and Mong-Kao-Jen and Wang-Wei (combined in number 6). Subsequently, in 1921, Arnold Schoenberg reduced the work to a simple chamber version transcription from Mahler's original ... continued below

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Sun, Ai-Kuang August 2006.

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  • Sun, Ai-Kuang

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Toward the end of his life, from 1908 to 1909, Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) composed Das Lied von der Erde (The song of the earth). This piece is a cycle of six song movements based on seven poems selected from Die chinesische Flötem - Nachdichtungen chinesischer Lyrik (The Chinese flute - free adaptation of Chinese lyric poetry) by Hans Bethge. The Chinese verse was written by Li-Po (numbers 1, 3, 4 and 5), Tchang-Tsi (number 2), and Mong-Kao-Jen and Wang-Wei (combined in number 6). Subsequently, in 1921, Arnold Schoenberg reduced the work to a simple chamber version transcription from Mahler's original massive score for full orchestra, a version completed in 1983 by Rainer Riehn. While the main melodic material in the vocal parts was maintained, the orchestral parts underwent substantial changes. This dissertation explores Mahler's reconfiguration of textual material and the setting of these texts in the orchestral medium. After consulting the various textual editions, I establish misreading and translational differences from the original Chinese through its various Western European incarnations; how and why Mahler chose the Bethge edition; what influenced his specific selection of poetry; and how these poems inform one another and the work as a whole. I also explore the crucial role of instrumentation and orchestration in text setting, and how his instrumentation of these translated "exotic" texts stands in dialogue with the nineteenth-century tradition and emergent frames of nationality. This dissertation also focuses on Schoenberg's instrumentation, arrangement, and orchestration as re-conceptualized and restructured from Mahler's original six movements. While the dissertation synthesizes the views of various scholars, many original observations will be offered, as few articles substantively consider this transcription of one of the most revered and reviled composers of the late-nineteenth century by one of the most revered and reviled composers of the twentieth-century. The transcript version from Schoenberg and Riehn succeeds in that it not only maintains the original vocal melody and Chinese text, but also presents the key musical concepts and visions from Mahler's original fully orchestrated version with limited chamber instrumentation, economical re-composition, and a minimum of means.

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  • August 2006

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  • May 14, 2008, 9:16 p.m.

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Sun, Ai-Kuang. A Critical Study of Arnold Schoenberg's Chamber Transcription of Gustav Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde, dissertation, August 2006; Denton, Texas. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc5597/: accessed November 23, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; .