AAAC 25th April: Zemlinksy - Lyric Symphony (Eschenbach, Goerne, Schafer)

So it is time to introduce a little culture into the AAAC. And what better place to start off the journey into the wide world of classical music than…


Always last in the CD racks now, he was also in the shadows during his life and more famous for the people he was connected to than for himself. He went after Alma Schindler (who later married Mahler), then wrote Ein Florentische Tragedie as a barely disguised portrayal of the time she slapped it up with the architect Walter Gropius, and he was the brother in law of Arnold Schoenberg (who upstaged the premiere of Die Seejungfrau as his tone poem on Pelleas et Melisande, an absolute landmark piece in music history and a complete work of genius, was also premiered in the same concert leading to Zemlinsky withdrawing his piece and it being forgotten until it was rediscovered in the 1980s).

To give the background to the Lyric Symphony, in the early 1920s Rabindranath Tagore, a Bengali poet, was doing a reading tour around Europe including his set of poems The Gardener. Zemlinksy took seven of these poems in their German translation and formed them into a continuous narrative for the Lyric Symphony, with alternate movements for male and female voice with orchestra. Call it a concept album if you want to belittle it with prog stylings, but it does need to be listened to as a whole.

Musically, we are in fin de siecle Vienna so deep in expressionism and it shows. The range of emotions and tonal colours in the work is huge. Don’t expect moderately pleasant pretty background music for a fat nobleman’s post meal entertainment, this digs a whole lot deeper to the point of being downright unsettling at times. There isn’t any real reference to the nationality of Tagore in the musical style (unlike Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde re the Chinese sources of the poetry he used) but then there doesn’t need to be.

This particular recording is as good as any, winning accolades all over the place when it came out. Eschenbach really gets the sense of it being a piece as a whole, and both singers are spot on. Christine Schafer in particular can properly let fly when required. In terms of sound quality, apart from being a little “wall of sound” in the big bits it is spot on all the way up and down the dynamic range (another reason to wind it up in the big bits so the quieter sections like the ending still keep their intensity).

Unfortunately, while it is still available as a standard rate download the SACD (which I have) is now out of print and apparently being sold used for silly amounts on Amataxdodgers. Hopefully the following link should work for spotify

or apparently not, but it does seem to be on there. Hopefully someone can also pull up a link on Tidal or whatever and make the Spotty work properly.

Oh yes, it contains flutes because it is a symphony so of course it does. Enjoy.


Words like ‘tonal colours’ and ‘unsettling’ just don’t compute reference classical music for me but then I am a bona fide heathen who hasn’t met a classical piece he likes.

Happy to slum it and give it a go though. Culture and elitism here we come :smiley:

Stay away from Heitor Villa-Lobos then :sunglasses:

Flutes are perfectly acceptable in classical and avantgarde pieces. They are to be discouraged in Jazz and avoided at all costs in rock/pop/psych/whatever else.

This looks really interesting.

There is a very good reason why Classical music doesn’t get aired on album clubs. Unless it is predictable and/or popular, it can’t be absorbed in one listening.
This is the case with this piece.
I like some of it instantly but some is a bit too intense.
I will need several listens to contextualize the intensity with the dreamy quality of the orchestrations.
Time will tell whether I like it or not. But I can’t hate it because I don’t understand it.

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Interim report: I have listened to it twice so far. I’m afraid that it is hard to find the time to listen to it at one sitting. I like some of the instrumental passages which have a very peaceful, almost dreamlike quality. I’m unconvinced by it thus far, but that doesn’t surprise me as I really don’t have much of a frame of reference to judge it against.

It is fairly hard work to be honest…

I had it on at work the other morning and enjoyed it. I find some music very irritating to work to but this is good. I shall give it another crack. :+1:

I listened to it (again) in the garden while carting sand yesterday. It appears to be a piece which needs to be listened to as a whole. In snippets (whilst moving between the front and rear gardens), it makes absolutely no sense. It seems like a collection of repetitive vignettes.

If listening as a complete work, the subtleties become apparent.

Needs more time.

Playing now and I liked the start, but… My main complaint would be when Christine Schafer pipes up. I mean, they used to sing like that because they didn’t have microphones and amplification, right? :confused:

Will sit through it all, though. The music seems good. Big and dramatic, would remind me of Mahler.

If only I had mentioned that in the OP. Ah well…

You mean when they had actual technique?

The mind boggles as to what that jacket is going to look like…


I made it a fair bit of the way through, but Schafer’s big notes got the better of me. I’m having a (very) long intermission. Will try again later when I can give it my full attention.

I can understand why some people like this form of music but sadly I’m not one of them. I like the music but just can’t get on with the singing.

Quite liked this, it was a bit Mahlerish with a touch of pastoral Beethoven in places. The 3rd movement especially was quite dramatic.

However, surprised to read it was written in the 1920s. I expect it was considered quite old-fashioned at the time. Not exactly top tier like Shostakovich, but decent enough.