Gurrelieder is a gigantic, post-Wagnerian cantata that, in retrospect, seems like the terminus ante quem for Romanticism in music, beyond which further elaboration or intensity was surely impossible, and led surely if not inevitably to the Expressionism which the prodigious Schoenberg felt compelled to explore in works such as Erwartung, and thence, infamously, to the 12-tone system of musical composition from which, at least superficially, the work appears so distant in form and idiom.
The composer was just 26 when he began work on a song-cycle, which in its fully orchestrated form became the first part of Gurrelieder, based on a poem within a novel by the Danish novelist, naturalist and atheist Jens Peter Jacobsen, which the author in turn had based on folk-legends of the medieval King Waldemar – who, having taken a mistress, Tove, is driven to bitter madness by Tove's murder at the behest of his wife, condemns God and is in turn condemned to terrorise the land in ghostly form with his band of vassals until the passing of the seasons and the rising of the sun bestows the kind of redemption offered to the Flying Dutchman.
The orchestration, including parts for iron chains and sundry kinds of drum, could hardly be more lavish, and it is faithfully conveyed both by the German radio recording and Herbert Kegel's patient approach to this massive score. Singers of aptly Wagnerian scale include (in the part of Waldemar) Manfred Jung, who was a favoured Siegfried at Bayreuth during the 70s and 80s.
- Written in a lush, late-romantic style heavily influenced by Wagner and Mahler, Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder tells the story of Waldemar, King of Denmark, his love for his mistress Tove, and the murder of his wife, Queen Helvig.
- The Gurrelieder is a Cantata of immense proportions, for vocal soloists, narrator, chorus and orchestra, a unique work never failing to impress, by the composer who later turned radically to atonality and dodecophany.
Excellent performance by conductor Herbert Kegel, a specialist in 20th century music, and his Rundfunkchor Berlin, the Dresdner Philharmonie extended with members of the Radio Orchestra Leipzig, the sheer size of this orchestra doing justice to the monumentality of the music.
- “[There is] a satisfying sense that the vast forces Schoenberg calls for are all there…and the expanded brass section makes a magnificently rich sound… In the role of Tove, Bundschuh is splendid: she has the Wagnerian amplitude the music needs but unlike many such voices hers retains its beauty in quiet singing.” (Gramophone, December 1997).
- Booklet contains explanatory notes.
- Sung texts available for download by clicking on ‘Download booklet’, below the cover.