Das Lied von der Erde

Last night I went to hear Das Lied von der Erde ( = "The Song of the Earth") by Gustav Mahler, a collection of poems from the Chinese in a German translation. The Playbill for the performance contained the original text with an English version, which I had never seen before. The conductor had the house lights raised a bit so that we could follow the text as it was sung. I'm ashamed to say that, while I have heard, Das Lied several times before, I was never struck by Mahler's use of pentatonic scales in imitation of the Chinese music system until last evening. It was if I were listening to it for the first time again.

To summarize, Mahler picked the following poems for his Lied:
  • Das Trinklied vom Jammer der Erde = Drinking song of Earth’s misery
  • Der Einsame im Herbst = Autumn loneliness
  • Von der Jugend = Of Youth
  • Von der Schönheit = Of Beauty
  • Der Trunkene im Frühling = The Drunkard in Spring
  • Der Abschied = Farewell
When I returned home I was fortunate enough to find on the web (1) copies of the original in Chinese; (2) the translation from the Chinese into French that was later used for (3) the German translation; and, finally, the (4) additions Mahler made for Das Lied1, 2. I was able to look up some of the Chinese characters, using an on-line dictionary.3. The German is relatively easy, relative at least to Chinese, but I had to consult an on-line German dictionary for some words.4

It is an interesting study to follow the syntactically free Chinese verse through the French to the German and finally English. In some regards, it is like working from the verbally austere Hebrew into English. In both so many words have to be added to make any sense in English.

My original intention was to include the German and English translations here, but already the WU is too long. Perhaps later? Meanwhile, I'll give just two verses from Der Einsame im Herbst ("The solitary one in autumn").

Herbstnebel wallen bläulich überm See;		Blue autumn mists undulate over the lake; 
 Vom Reif bezogen stehen alle Gräser; 		the grass is standing stiff with frost; 
 Man meint', ein Künstler habe Staub vom Jade 	One might think an artist had strewn jade dust 
Über die feinen Blüten ausgestreut.		Over all the fine blossoms. 
 Der süße Duft der Blumen is verflogen;	The sweet fragrance of flowers has flown away; 
 Ein kalter Wind beugt ihre Stengel nieder.	a cold wind forces them to bow their stems low. 
 Bald werden die verwelkten, goldnen Blätter	Soon the wilted golden leaves 
 Der Lotosblüten auf dem Wasser ziehn.		of lotus flowers will drift upon the water. 

1 = http://www.geocities.com/teng_leong/DLvDE/DLvDE.html
2 = http://www.recmusic.org/lieder/b/bethge/
3 = http://www.zhongwen.com/
4 = http://www.iee.et.tu-dresden.de/cgi-bin/cgiwrap/wernerr/search.sh


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