Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen

I have done a posting very similar to this one before, and I am repeating myself, but with different performers. This particular Lied merits repeating.

“Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen”, one of Mahler’s Rückert lieder, is one of Mahler’s finest Lieder. I have been told that the word “Weltschmerz” or “world pain” is used much more by non-Germans than by Germans. However, I think that the sense of having to withdraw from an ever too painful world is a feeling that all have shared at one time or another. The first of Mahler’s compositions based on a “world-weary” theme (Das Lied von der Erde being the largest example), this song is rich in lush, late-Romantic harmonies and beautiful melodic lines. The song is generally imbued with a mood of quiet acceptance and resignation. The scoring consists of double woodwinds without flutes and with English horn, two horns, harp, and full strings.

This is one of my favorite Lieder, if not my most favorite. Everyone sings it, but most of them should not. They cannot do it justice. Here I have posted Maureen Forrester and Ljuba Welitsch.

The German Romantic poet Friedrich Rückert (1788-1866), linguist and Orientalist, was one of Gustav Mahler’s favorite poets, and he set a number of his poems to music, including the Kindertotenlieder (Songs on the Death of Children). Mahler composed four of the five Rückert Lieder in 1901, initially with piano accompaniment, but immediately orchestrated them. He was in his fifth year as musical director of the Vienna Hofoper, a prestigious post he accepted even though it meant converting to Roman Catholicism to allay the anti-Semitism rife in Austria. In 1899 he took on the added position of conductor of the Philharmonic concerts but in 1901 had to relinquish this duty as a result of a serious illness and his inability to get along with the orchestra. These setbacks, however, did not prevent him from experiencing a burst of creativity during the summer, when – in addition to four of the Rückert Lieder – he also completed the Symphony No. 4, started on No. 5 and composed three of the Kindertotenlieder. Mahler composed a fifth Rückert Lied, “Liebst du um Schönheit?” (Do you love for beauty?) a short while later, but never orchestrated it.

Mahler’s Rückert Lieder do not form a cycle and there is no conventional order in which they are to be sung. Each song is distinct from the others in subject matter, structure and orchestration. Although the musical form is strongly conditioned by the poetic structure, Mahler uses different ways to vary the traditional strophic organization.

The poetic theme of “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen” (I have been lost to the world) is the peace achieved through the poet’s withdrawal from the turmoil of the world into his heaven, his life, and his song. The comparatively long introduction is used as both an interlude and a
counterpoint with the singer. It features that orchestral symbol of isolation, and often desolation, the English horn, with an arch-shaped melody that moves upward from a simple two notes, to three, and then more rapidly to the line’s melodic peak, followed by a descent that completes the arch. The voice then repeats the melody, in a dialogue with the English horn. Mahler sets the song’s three stanzas irregularly by repeating the interlude after the third line of the first stanza with only the shortest break between the last line and the first line of the second stanza. The second stanza presents a passionate contrast as the poet declares himself dead to the world. The final stanza begins with the song’s main theme but continues with new musical material leading to the climax, the poet’s song. The English horn concludes the song echoing the final line of the voice.

Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen,
Mit der ich sonst viele Zeit verdorben,
Sie hat so lange nichts von mir vernommen,
Sie mag wohl glauben, ich sei gestorben!

Es ist mir auch gar nichts daran gelegen,
Ob sie mich für gestorben hält,
Ich kann auch gar nichts sagen dagegen,
Denn wirklich bin ich gestorben der Welt.

Ich bin gestorben dem Weltgetümmel,
Und ruh’ in einem stillen Gebiet!
Ich leb’ allein in meinem Himmel,
In meinem Lieben, in meinem Lied!

I am lost to the world
with which I used to waste so much time,
It has heard nothing from me for so long
that it may very well believe that I am dead!

It is of no consequence to me
Whether it thinks me dead;
I cannot deny it,
for I really am dead to the world.

I am dead to the world’s tumult,
And I rest in a quiet realm!
I live alone in my heaven,
In my love and in my song!

Maureen Forrester

July 25, 1930 – June 6, 2010

The Canadian contralto, teacher and administrator, Maureen (Katherine Stewart) Forrester, was the youngest of a family of four children raised in Montreal. She she studied piano as a child. Encouraged by her mother she joined Montreal church choirs, where two organists, Warner Norman at St James United and Doris Killam at Stanley Presbyterian, provided a background in music theory and literature. After she left high school at 13 her studies were financed by her earnings as a secretary, supplemented by assistance from the Montreal Social Club. She sang as a soprano until she was 17. She had begun voice studies at 16 in Montreal with Sally Martin, who soon recognized the potential of her lower voice, and she continued at 19 with Frank Rowe, a retired English oratorio and opera tenor. Forrester’s studies with Bernard Diamant, whom she has acknowledged as her most important teacher, began formally in 1950 and later continued on a casual basis into the 1960s. She also studied with Michael Raucheisen in Berlin (1955). She was first runner-up in ‘Opportunity Knocks’ of spring 1951 and also competed in ‘Singing Stars of Tomorrow’ and ‘Nos Futures Étoiles.’

Forrester made her professional debut with the Montreal Elgar Choir in Edward Elgar’s The Music Makers on December 8, 1951 at the Salvation Army Citadel.

After Forrester’s Montreal Symphony Orchestra debut on December 8-9, 1953 in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 under Otto Klemperer she appeared on CBC radio and TV, toured Quebec and Ontario 1953-1954 for the JMC (YMC), and made her Toronto Symphony Orchestra debut on December 29, 1954 in George Frideric Handel’s Messiah. Forrester made her European debut on February 14, 1955 in Paris at the Salle Gaveau with Newmark.

Forrester made her New York debut on November 12, 1956 at Town Hall and shortly afterwards, at the request of Bruno Walter, she sang in Gustav Mahler’s Second Symphony (the ‘Resurrection’) in Bruno Walter’s farewell performances (February 17-19, 1957) with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra at Carnegie Hall.

Forrester gave as many as 120 performances a year on five continents (at one time averaging above 30 each year in Canada alone) and performed with virtually every major orchestra and choir in the world under John Barbirolli, Thomas Beecham, Leonard Bernstein, Pablo Casals, Herbert von Karajan, Otto Klemperer, Krips, James Levine, Ernest MacMillan, Seiji Ozawa, Fritz Reiner, Malcolm Sargent, Leopold Stokowski, Szell, Bruno Walter, and many other conductors. She appeared frequently and toured as soloist with both the Montreal Symphony Orchestra (USA, 1981-1982 performing Berlioz’ Les Nuits d’Été) and Toronto Symphony Orchestra (Japan and China, 1978). She returned to China in 1982 with Claude Corbeil and pianist Claude Savard.
Forrester’s voice, originally a dark mezzo of trumpet clarity and power and at maturity a duskily sumptuous, extraordinarily responsive contralto at ease in the mezzo range, commanded virtually the entire repertoire within that range, although most effective, perhaps, in lieder, (especially J. Brahms, Robert Schumann, G. Mahler, and Strauss), in oratorio, and in orchestral works with voice such as G. Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde. From the outset of her career, Forrester’s singing was marked by a reliable and sophisticated musicianship of which impeccable pitch is only one facet.

Ljuba Welitsch

July 10, 1913 – September 2, 1996

Ljuba Welitsch has been described as a meteor which flashed across the firmament of opera. Her major career was short, but when she was in her prime, just after WWII, there was nothing like her in the German repertory. She was most famous for her interpretation of Strauss’s Salome. Her interpretation of the final scene of Salome is unique in music history.

Welitsch was also known for on-stage and off-stage antics of a somewhat ribald nature.

What made Welitsch special? In the production of tone, there was no drag anywhere on the voice. What do I mean by that? The voice was entirely free with no grab in the throat or tightening of the tongue anywhere. The breath and the tone passed through the throat to the resonating cavities of the head. There is no over darkening of sound, which is an unfortunate phenomenon that we get today. The pitch is always on the high side of the note, as if it is sliding up to the next tone, but is always in tune. When she was in her prime, Welitsch was a miracle of signing.