Iain Farrington

Pianist, organist, composer, arranger

Gustav Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde  

for Soloists and Chamber Ensemble

Arrangements of Gustav Mahler's music for small ensembles have existed since Arnold Schoenberg founded his Society for Private Musical Performances in Vienna in 1918. The Society had a strict environment (members only, no applause, no critics) and aimed to perform new compositions, as well as arrangements of unfamiliar contemporary music. Mahler’s music was relatively unknown at the time, and a number of his works were included in arrangements by Schoenberg and his colleagues. It was fitting that Mahler should have featured in this way, as his music often has a soloistic, contrapuntal orchestration, that points towards the pared-down sound world of Berg, Webern and Schoenberg himself. Schoenberg’s instrumentation for his Society was limited for financial reasons, and did not feature any brass instruments, bassoon, harp or timpani, as well as including the two most popular domestic instruments of the day, piano and harmonium to ‘fill in the gaps’. He planned an arrangement of Das Lied von der Erde and marked up a score with a instrumentation, although it was unperformed in his lifetime.

Now that Mahler’s music is widely performed and heard, a new chamber arrangement can appear unnecessary. However, by retaining the character of the original and treating every player as a soloist, Mahler’s exposed and chamber-like writing can be successfully realised. Hearing the clarity of individual lines can reveal hidden aspects of the score, adding an intimacy in the performing and listening experience, as well as enabling these monumental works to be performed in smaller venues without enormous financial constraints. It also allows the vocal soloists (and the text) to be heard clearly, without the problems of balance against a large orchestra. This arrangement consciously avoids recreating Schoenberg’s instrumentation, instead making a full orchestral picture from only sixteen players, using only the instruments in Mahler’s score. It attempts to capture the timbre and balance of the original, as much as the spirit and energy. The biggest difference with a chamber version is having five string players as opposed to the fifty or sixty in a full orchestra. This changes the character, strength and dominance of the string lines completely, especially when they are pitted against wind and brass. A certain amount of re-scoring was necessary so that the textures work in a natural way, each line clear and audible. It is hoped that an overall effect can be achieved that is engaging, moving and thrilling, as with Mahler’s astonishing original score.

Available to hire or purchase from Aria Editions here

Listen to a performance of the arrangement here:

1 - Das Trinklied vom Jammer der Erde

2 - Der Einsame im Herbst

3 - Von der Jugend

4 - Von der Schonheit

5 - Der Trunkene im Fruhling

6 - Der Abschied

Instrumentation: flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, trumpet, trombone, violin 1, violin 2, viola, cello, double bass, harp, celeste, 2 percussion (16 players)