Mahler. The Wunderhorn World


  • Artist(s): Alessandro Maria Carnelli, Ensemble Progetto Pierrot, Federica Napoletani
  • Composer(s): Alban Berg, Franz Schubert, Gustav Mahler, Johann Strauss
  • EAN Code: 7.46160916422
  • Edition: Da Vinci Classics
  • Format: 1 Cd
  • Genre: Chamber, Vocal
  • Instrumentation: Bass Clarinet, Cello, Clarinet, Flute, Piano, Piccolo, Soprano, Viola, Violin
  • Period: Modern, Romantic
  • Publication year: 2023
SKU: C00795 Category:

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The initial inspiration for this project came to me while I was writing a monograph on Schönberg’s “Verklärte Nacht”, Il labirinto e l’intrico dei viottoli [The Labyrinth and the Tangle of Pathways]. Schönberg, like Mahler, was attuned to the relationship between music and venues for music, and in my research, I discovered that Mahler was particularly concerned with the chamber-music aspect of his own Lieder from the Wunderhorn collection. He had even conducted some of them in what was then known as the Small Hall of Vienna’s Musikverein (now Brahms Hall), a space only suitable for a chamber orchestra—too small for the ensemble required for some of these Lieder. I consequently wondered about the kind of adaptation Mahler had made for that performance, while I was already considering undertaking a similar operation myself.

In the meantime, my concert project on Schönberg’s “Pierrot lunaire” had taken shape. Working with the ensemble, I realized that, by transcribing Mahler’s Lieder for the “Pierrot” ensemble I would avoid the risk of producing a mere imitation of the original. The ensemble used there is an extremely reduced ensemble, even more than that usually employed for Mahler transcriptions—. I could thus accommodate the elements of modernity, but also evoke the echoes of that world of small orchestras with piano, which is the musical horizon of reference for the Habsburg myth. At some points, a play of refractions is even created between the orchestral version and that for piano, both originally by Mahler.

Meanwhile, the various pieces almost positioned themselves, interlocked according to tonal layers and even welding together, either directly or through brief transitions that I composed to make them flow into one another, in overlapping and cross-fading. In a similarly natural fashion, I decided to broaden my view toward what came before and after: that flow carried what research investigated, i.e., the continuity between the Austrian musical tradition and Mahler, making it verifiable to the listener through direct osmosis. Typical figurations of Schubert’s style and of the Strauss family recur in Mahler, becoming so profoundly and typically his own that they conceal their derivation. In Mahler’s time, it was common to find an ensemble performing orchestral and operatic pieces in the pavilion of a spa town or at the tables of an outdoor cafè: all this was part of the soundscape and a precious opportunity for listening in a world without radio, records, or the internet.

The program, therefore, opens with this soundscape, with Johann Strauss Sr. – almost like a prologue – and continues with the only Lied not excerpted from the Wunderhorn: Blicke mir nicht in die Lieder! Rückert, in his text, speaks of his solitary work as a poet, not wanting to show his works until they are complete: Mahler, in choosing these lyrics, speaks to us about himself – and here, at the opening of the program, he seems to invite us to enter his poetic world with a mix of curiosity and discretion.
Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Youth’s Magic Horn), published between 1805 and 1808 by Achim Von Arnim and Clemens Brentano, is a compendium of the German Romantic world. It had already been used by various composers, but it is now linked to the name of Mahler, who fell in love with the popular character of these texts, their short and paratactic phrases, full of exclamation marks, sometimes ungrammatical, and with dialectal or archaic spellings (often, even today, the punctuation is corrected, both in the original texts and in translations, and in these, the ungrammaticalities often disappear as well).

The continuity between Mahler and the musical tradition is thus also linked to the texts, to key words, and to the themes that he deeply adopts: Schubert’s Romance illustrates this effectively, with a text that parallels Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen. It is well known that there is a continuity from Mahler to Berg, but I believe that the spatiotemporal leap occurring here between a Mahler symphony and a Berg Lied, united by the same spirit of dance, makes it tangible (track 11-12), as does the similarity of the beginnings of Rheinlegendchen and Schilflied: both unfold from a single note, and the beginning of Schilflied seems like a slow-motion version of that of Rheinlegendchen, which in turn recalls the start of many sections of the Strauss family waltzes.

With this perspective, I was compelled to include certain episodes from the first four symphonies that are known to dialogue with the world of the Lieder, and that here almost appear in cross-fading, utilizing points that, like pivots, allowed me to enter and exit from one piece to another. The osmosis between Lied and symphony begins already with Symphony No. 1 and continues with the reuse of Lieder from the Wunderhorn in Symphonies No. 2, 3, and 4: a practice here represented by movement No. 3 of Symphony No. 3, the instrumental version of Ablösung im Sommer, and by the Sermon of Saint Anthony and Urlicht, which have migrated into Symphony No. 2 (the Sermon becomes an instrumental Scherzo in translation). The symphony not only draws from the musical world of the Lieder but even incorporates them, demonstrating a yearning for that fullness of meaning and for that dialogue with the listener that had already prompted Beethoven to include singing in Symphony No. 9.

This project was gradually enriched with new discoveries of thematic references between the pieces, many of which have not yet been identified in Mahler studies: some are here highlighted by direct juxtaposition, as in Blicke mir and Das irdische Leben (track 2-3) – but a fragment of Blicke mir will reappear to show a further affinity with Symphony No. 3 (track 13, 1’49) – or between Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen and Wer hat dies Liedel erdacht? (track 9-10). These two Lieder demonstrate that the references also involve the texts: here, indeed, the ‘green heath’ (grüne Haide) is a symbol of joyful freedom in one, a foreboding of death in the other.

Immediately after, we find another thematic reference between Wer hat dies Liedel erdacht? and Symphony No. 4 (track 10-11). Here, I have also connected and brought closer two parallel points of Symphony No. 4, and I have inserted a hint at a point in Symphony No. 1 (0’20) that is extremely similar and that then returns fully at the beginning of track 15. Symphony No. 3 and the Ballet music from Rosamunde intertwine particularly (track 13-14), in fading, from Mahler to Schubert and then back again (but forward in time!) to Mahler. The last thematic circuit is that between movement No. 2 of Symphony No. 1 and the Sermon of Saint Anthony (track 15-16), which I have linked, in the abrupt transition from the major key of the symphony to the minor of the Sermon, with a tribute to the famous motto of Symphony No. 6, in which the major chord unexpectedly becomes minor.

This osmosis led me to create a specific version of Schubert’s Romance: from the extreme suspension of the fragment from Symphony No. 1 (track 5), the unaccompanied voice alone emerges, intoning the beginning of the Romance, almost a song that from afar, from silence – according to fundamental modes in Mahlerian poetics – attempts to answer the questions of the symphonic fragment that precedes it.

All of this leads to a special coexistence of tradition and future, and to a dizzying internal dialogue, which are two of the most fascinating traits of Mahler’s music, and that strongly link him to the poetic world and the compositional modes of Schumann.

Alessandro Maria Carnelli


Alessandro Maria Carnelli appeared at the Vienna Musikverein and in the main concert halls in Milan. He conducted Histoire du soldat with the Ensemble of the Teatro Regio (Turin), Dido and Aeneas at Festival Incanti (Turin). From the Seventeenth Century to World Premieres, his activity is focusing on projects in which, like in the present recording, the musicological research finds its way into the concert life. He devoted to Verklärte Nacht by Schönberg a book and a cd recorded with the Orchestra da Camera di Mantova, both welcomed with enthusiastic reviews. His projects with the Orchestra da Camera di Mantova included several concerts and the recording of this second cd. With Cristina Corrieri he founded the Ensemble Imaginaire, with which he conducted the premiere of the critical edition of L'ammalato immaginario by Vinci, and the Ensemble Progetto Pierrot with which he conducted Pierrot lunaire by Schönberg in Italy and Germany: as a stage production, as a shadow theater production and as a multimedia project (with IED Istituto Europeo di Design - Milan). With this ensemble he is also conducting a project devoted to the world of Mahler.

The Ensemble Progetto Pierrot, founded by Cristina Corrieri and Alessandro Maria Carnelli, was created on the occasion of a project on Schönberg's "Pierrot Lunaire." It has been performed in various venues in Italy and Germany, in different forms such as a multimedia project in collaboration with IED - European Institute of Design (Triennale di Milano), in a scenic form, and as a shadow theater performance. The ensemble's subsequent projects have involved composers such as Mahler, Schönberg, and Šostakovič.

Marco Rainelli, flute / piccolo
Simone Margaroli, clarinet /bass clarinet
Stefano Raccagni, violin
Nicola Sangaletti, viola
Anna Freschi, cello
Gaston Polle Ansaldi, Piano

Federica Napoletani earned her degrees in both piano and operatic singing from the Conservatory of Parma, Federica Napoletani subsequently achieved with distinction a Master of Arts in Music Performance and a Master of Advanced Studies in Contemporary Music, studying voice under Luisa Castellani at the Conservatorio della Svizzera Italiana in Lugano. She primarily focuses on the repertoire of early and contemporary music, performing throughout Europe both as a soloist and in collaboration with various ensembles. These include Studium Ensemble, Vox Altera, Ensemble Imaginaire, Ensemble Progetto Pierrot, Compagnia del Madrigale, La Divina Armonia, Mala Punica, La Risonanza, Ghislieri Choir and Orchestra, La Verdi Barocca, Markus Zohner Arts Company, Geneva's Ensemble Matka, and Bern's Ensemble Paul Klee.


Alban Berg: ( b Vienna, 9 Feb 1885; d Vienna, 24 Dec 1935). Austrian composer. Along with his teacher Arnold Schoenberg and fellow pupil Anton Webern in the years before and immediately after World War I, he moved away from tonality to write free atonal and then 12-note music. At once a modernist and a Romantic, a formalist and a sensualist, he produced one of the richest bodies of music in the 20th century, and in opera, especially, he had few equals.

Franz Schubert: (b Vienna, 31 Jan 1797; d Vienna, 19 Nov 1828). Austrian composer. The only canonic Viennese composer native to Vienna, he made seminal contributions in the areas of orchestral music, chamber music, piano music and, most especially, the German lied. The richness and subtlety of his melodic and harmonic language, the originality of his accompaniments, his elevation of marginal genres and the enigmatic nature of his uneventful life have invited a wide range of readings of both man and music that remain among the most hotly debated in musical circles.

Gustav Mahler
(b Kalischt, nr Iglau [now Kaliště, Jihlava], Bohemia, 7 May 1860; d Vienna, 18 May 1911). Austrian composer and conductor. He wrote large-scale symphonic works and songs (many with orchestra) and established a career as a powerful and innovatory conductor; while director of the Vienna Hofoper between 1897 and 1907 he provided a model of post-Wagnerian idealism for the German musical theatre. His compositions were initially regarded by some as eccentric, by others as novel expressions of the ‘New German’ modernism widely associated with Richard Strauss. Only during his last decade did they begin to enjoy the critical support and popular success that helped to ensure the posthumous survival of his reputation as a composer beyond the years of National Socialism in Germany and Austria. Mahler suffered the fate of innumerable banned composers of Jewish origin at a time when his music was still imperfectly known and understood outside the German-speaking countries of Europe. The centenary of his birth in 1960 inspired the popular rediscovery of his symphonies, particularly in England and the USA, where they rapidly gained a young and enthusiastic audience. The tension, passionate engagement and often cathartic power of his music acquired heightened resonance in a period marked by protest movements and critical experimentation with unconventional ideas and life styles. In the 1970s Mahler became one of the most frequently performed and recorded of symphonists, and his emerging historical role as a mediator between the Austro-German musical tradition and early 20th-century modernism, linked with the broad emotional range and energetically powerful effect of his music in performance, led to his symphonies acquiring canonic status. Historical and theoretical musicologists have found in them a persistently rich and provocative field of study; his continuing popularity and influence on other composers further justifies his description as one of the most important figures of European art music in the 20th century.

Johann Strauss (b Vienna, 14 March 1804; d Vienna,25 Sept 1849). Composer, conductor and violinist.