Tuesday, 7 October 2008

The Song of the Earth

Mahler 1908. The triumph of the individual becoming one with the Earth. Death is merely part of the cycle of Life. One’s Life. Any particular one’s life, and the lives of all of us, individual ones. The highest point reached by human civilisation. The world was becoming interconnected and global, savouring the fruits of rapid economic growth after decades of innovation. New technologies created exciting new ways of life, while art and music thrived on the waves of ideas and thought coming from the other side of the Globe. The “World drunk with eternal love and life” was in sight.

Mahler did not turn out to be an accurate oracle: the highest point happened to be a peak. The Short Century was to be about something other than the love affair between the individual and the Earth. And in it “the earth breathing full of peace and sleep” was a mere dream amidst the terror.

The Century passed. The history of listening to The Song of the Earth through the era of upheaval, the social oppression of the individual, and World’s unhappiness create a backdrop in which the height can now be envisaged as a peak, and we know that the future is not necessarily a straight path from the past.

The horrors of the wars and dictators of the 20th century could, perhaps, have been avoided with foresight. Probably not. Wisdom and leadership need a history of failures. They had no Globe to look back on, the History of the World had been merely a collection of national narratives. For us, it is very different.

Unlike our peers 100 years ago, we can conceive the precipice. And we have the association base that the abstract ‘hope’ needs to manifest in action.

We have the Earth now. Our dreams are still the same. The Song of the Earth may turn out to be prophetic. This time.

“Everywhere and forever the distance shines in bright and blue.”

(Notes from 1 October, Budapest Festival Orchestra playing Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde, SBC, London, with the super-human voice of Christianne Stotijn, conducted by the genius, Ivan Fischer. )


  1. The musical side: The way the FT hear it. A somewhat challenged, but still enthusiastic version from the Times. Plus a technician without a heart. And I have no idea which concert hall this guy was in.

    (I must say, it feels quite satisfying to be rude about classical music critics.)

  2. That's lavish. Under the pressure of a kidney stone, I missed the concert, for my deep regret.
    It's difficult to add any word to it, maybe a tinge of "Einsamkeit" in the large Chinese paysage: the drunken man knows that his state is a consequence of a wicked life. A typical Mahlerian structure.