Works of Beethoven, Mahler will converge at Heinz Hall
Tradition can bring diverse pieces of music together.
Manfred Honeck, music director of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, says Ludwig van Beethoven's delightful sixth symphony shares some of the same Austrian roots as Gustav Mahler's sometime morbid “Des Knaben Wunderhorn.”
Because of those shared roots, the two pieces have been paired in concerts June 23 to 25 at Heinz Hall, Pittsburgh.
“Tradition is the cornerstone of music, whether it is Mahler or Beethoven,” Honeck says. “Mahler brings new things to his music and to harmonics, but there is a connection to Beethoven.”
Besides musical tradition, both works share Austrian tradition, he adds. In the Beethoven work, the music depicts a visit to the countryside around Vienna; a day walking in the woods and fields, even dealing with a thunderstorm.
The Mahler work is a musical presentation of 12 folk poems that were published between 1805 and 1808. Mahler used bits from the poems, translated as “A Youth's Magic Horn,” in a song cycle in 1884 and in his second, third and fourth symphonies.
But in 1889, he created the collection of the 12 “Wunderhorn” poems from which the music in this concert is taken.
Although the poems examine nature and fairy tales, they also look at war and nationalism.
They will be sung by Matthias Goerne, 50, a German baritone whom Honeck calls “one of the best singers in the Mahler idiom in the world.”
Goerne, who has done 60 performances from January to June of 2017, agrees tradition connects all music.
“You cannot just start with Mahler,” he says. “You have to know Beethoven, Haydn and Schubert first.”
He echoes Honeck's thoughts at how Mahler's use of folk elements in “Wunderhorn” share those of folk rhythms from Beethoven's sixth symphony.
Goerne has been busy with Mahler recently. He sang “Kindertotenlieder” (“Songs on the Death of Children”) in Los Angeles in May before returning to Europe were he did that work in Germany, Belgium, Holland and Poland.
Immediately before coming to Pittsburgh, he sang a collection of Mahler songs in Austria.
But he is active in many directions, performing earlier in 2017 in Richard Wagner's “Siegfried,” touring with concerts of Franz Schubert's famous songs as well as with J.S. Bach's cantatas. In August, he will be doing seven performances of Alban Berg's “Wozzeck” in Salzburg.
His recordings have received four Grammy award nominations and he has won an International Classical Music Award and a Diapason d'or Arte, an award from a French magazine.
Next up is a recording of Wagner's Ring cycle in October, he says.
But, for now, it is the work of Mahler.
“Mahler is very challenging,” he says. “You have to be really grown-up for Mahler.”
Bob Karlovits is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.