Summer loving with Mahler

I have been distracted over the last few weeks, which accounts for radio silence. It’s this small matter of sport, which seems to have a habit of occurring in bucket-loads around this time of year.

Queens, Wimbledon, The Lions tour, the Open. And cricket, of course, with a Women’s World Cup thriller thrown in for good measure. All of it absolutely absorbing, conveniently programmed with minimum clashes, the sadness at the completion of one event soon forgotten, and quickly compensated for, by the start of the next.

And on the subject of distractions, the Swedish mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter (born 1955) has long been another pleasurable one of mine. I have been looking for an excuse to post on her for a while, but have always felt that what I put out must, in my humble opinion, be the best that can be found. In the world of singing, there is much competition, and previous pieces have fallen to better interpreters.

Until now.

I have written about Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) in an earlier post. There is little dispute that he was one of the most respected, and feared, conductors of all time; but his relations with orchestras and musicians were strained and volatile, leading to frequent separations. It was a characteristic which spilled into his personal life: he had numerous affairs, often with married women. He was nearly twice the age of the beautiful flirty Alma Schindler when they met. It was not a happy marriage. The celebrated architect, Walter Gropius, four years her junior, demanded she leave Mahler for him and put his feelings in a letter – but addressed the envelope to her husband in error. #justabitawkward. (The Mahlers persevered, and Gropius married Alma after her husband died. It did not last.)

In the midst of all that symphonic noise, real and metaphorical,  Mahler’s marriage to Alma yielded the only love song that he ever wrote. ‘Liebst du um Liebe‘ is one of ten songs he set to texts by Friedrich Rückert and stands alone for being the only one in strophic form – a setting to a few, here four, verses with the tune repeated. The simple message in the song is that if you love for beauty (v1), youth (v2), money (v3), do not love me, look to the sun, springtime or the mermaid.

But if you love for love (v4), then yes, love me. Love me forever, and I will do the same.

Apparently Mahler hid the song in the front of his copy of the ‘Valkyrie‘, expecting his wife to stumble on it by way of a surprise. Quite why he expected her to do that is beyond me, and clearly her, too. After a few days, he gave up waiting and announced that he’d take a quick look at the ‘Valkyrie‘, whereupon, lo and behold, the song fell to the floor. Joy unbounded, Alma records they sung it at least twenty times that day. (In between distractions of their own, no doubt.)

You probably won’t have the time or appetite for that, but at only just over two minutes, more than once would not be a surprise. As love songs go, they really don’t come much better than this.

And why van Otter? For the sheer sweetness of it, and her attention to the meaning of the words, especially the palpable tenderness in the last verse, ‘Liebst du um Liebe‘. Listen out for that sigh of love: little wonder Alma went ecstatic.




20 thoughts on “Summer loving with Mahler”

  1. Absolutely beautiful Nick. Once again I am in awe of your knowledge and just delight in the way you write. Thank you so much for introducing me to this pearl.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I have to say Mahler’s 7th Symphony is a favourite of mine, along with his Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen. A true gem, great post! x

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve just this morning discovered your post, Nick, and read through the lot of them. When I have a bit more time (and am working from a computer that has decent sound, unlike my laptop here), I will listen to selected offerings. Thanks for the many interesting and delightful tidbits of information.
    I must confess that I was hoping to read about one of my very favourite composers, Bruckner. Perhaps you will write about him here one day? Actually, I’d be interested to hear your response to a recommendation I made about Bruckner recently (I’m a brand new blogger, so please don’t be too tough on me!). If you want to see it, it is here:
    Again, I’m enjoying your posts, and hope you keep them up!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Bernard, for your very kind comments. Bruckner is on my list, just a question of finding something short enough! May go for Locus iste for starters. Will definitely read your blog and I’m sure I will learn lots from it, thank you.


  4. You are right! Great site you have btw! I love von Otter and indeed the last verse as delivered by her is pure beauty. One of my favourite songs. I wonder if you have heard Dame Janet Baker’s account, another great Mahlerian singer.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: