The Kennedy Center

Lyric Symphony

About the Work

 Zemlinsky Composer: Zemlinsky
© Peter Laki

Lyric Symphony, Op. 18 (in seven songs after poems of Rabindranath Tagore)
Alexander Zemlinksy

Alexander Zemlinsky—who had a romance with Alma Schindler before Gustav Mahler did and an artistic collaboration with Hugo von Hofmannsthal before Richard Strauss did—was an important figure in Viennese musical circles around the turn of the last century. In 1911 he moved to Prague to take over the direction of the German Opera there. After years spent in Berlin, he fled to the United States and died there, yet he remained a Viennese through and through—a crucial link between Mahler, with whom he was friendly in later years, and Schoenberg, whom he taught and who became his brother-in-law (Schoenberg married Zemlinsky's sister Mathilde in 1901). His impassioned post-Romantic style, with its free treatment of dissonances, is audibly indebted to Mahler's late music, without quite crossing the thresholds of atonality and serialism that became his brother-in-law's life work. Zemlinsky's music, especially his operas, have been enjoying a spectacular revival in the last 20 years or so.

The Lyric Symphony is externally modelled on Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde: both are cycles of orchestral songs in which a male and a female soloist take turns singing colos (there are no duets). A further similarity is the Asian provenance of the texts which in each case underwent multiple translations: Mahler used Chinese poems which had been reworked in German after a version in French, while Zemlinsky worked with the Bengali poetry of Rabindranath Tagore, as translated into German from Tagore's own English version. Yet whereas Mahler's work proceeds from life to death in a linear scheme encompassing extreme contrasts, Zemlinsky adopts a circular form where the intense emotional pain expressed in the opening movement returns at the end. Also, the movements follow one another without any breaks, in a structure Antony Beaumont describes in his book on Zemlinsky as "operatic." Beaumont further explains: "The poems…outline a love drama, from the first stirrings of desire to the agony of farewell—a via crucis ["Way of the Cross"] in seven stations."

Tagore's The Gardener, from which the texts were taken, contains a total of 85 prose poems, from which Zemlinsky selected Nos. 5, 7, 30, 29, 48, 51, and 61. The symphony is motivically united by a motto theme, stated passionately in the introduction to the first song and repeated at important moments throughout the work. The man's restlessness and his unfulfilled longing for the unknown, expressed in the first song, set the tone for the entire symphony. His solitude is mirrored by that of the girl in the second song, whose love for the young prince goes unreturned. Commentator Andrew Huth has drawn attention to the clear motivic links between the two movements, showing the complementary nature of the two parallel desires. The stormy postlude of the second song rounds out the first unit of the symphony.

The baritone re-enters in the third song in a completely different mood: the outpouring of amorous feelings reveals that the two lonely souls have finally met. "You are my own, my own," he sings ecstatically. The soprano responds in what Huth describes as a "ravishingly beautiful evocation of nocturnal stillness." A solo violin and a solo cello sing an instrumental love duet that transcends the bounds of traditional keys just as the emotions expressed go beyond all limits. This is the central movement of the work, the peak of the lovers' short-lived happiness. The idyll is interrupted in movements 5 and 6—much shorter than the others—where the baritone wants to break free from a bond that he suddenly perceives to be stifling. A motif from the opening movement returns to signal that the hero is, once again, "restless." In the sixth song, the soprano resigns herself to the inevitable parting of the ways. The orchestra repeats the motto theme and then plays a postlude that sounds like a wordless epitaph for a defunct love. The baritone's final words ("let it not be a death but completeness") attempt to bring an element of consolation into the work's tragic ending, but it is impossible to escape the conclusion that Zemlinsky, through his choice and placement of the Tagore poems, was expressing a very pessimistic view about the possibility of lasting love between man and woman.


Langsam (Slowly) — Baritone

Ich bin friedlos.
Ich bin durstig nach fernen Dingen.
Meine Seele schweift in Sehnsucht,
den Saum der dunklen Weite
zu berühren.

O grosses Jenseits,
o ungestümes Rufen deiner Flöte
ich vergesse, ich vergesse immer,
dass ich keine Schwingen
zum Fliegen habe,
dass ich an dieses Stück Erde
gefesselt bin für alle Zeit.

Ich bin voll Verlangen und wachsam;
ich bin ein Fremder im fremden Land;
dein Odem kommt zu mir und raunt mir
unmögliche Hoffnungen zu.
Deine Sprache klingt in meinem Herzen
vertraut wie seine eigne.

O Ziel in Fernen,
o ungestümes Rufen deiner Flöte.
Ich vergesse immer, ich vergesse,
dass ich nicht den Weg weiss,
dass ich das beschwingte Ross
nicht habe.

Ich bin ruhelos,
ich bin ein Wanderer
in meinem Herzen.

Im sonnigen Nebel
der zögernden Stunden
welch gewaltiges Gesicht
von dir wird Gestalt
in der Bläue des Himmels.

O fernstes Ende,
o ungestümes Rufen deiner Flöte.
Ich vergesse, ich vergesse immer,
dass die Türen überall verschlossen sind
in dem Hause, wo ich einsam wohne.

O fernstes Ende,
o ungestümes Rufen deiner Flöte.

I am restless.
I am athirst for far-away things.
My soul goes out in a longing
to touch the skirt
of the dim distance.

O Great Beyond,
O the keen call of thy flute!
I forget, I ever forget
that I have no wings to fly,
that I am bound
in this spot evermore.

I am eager and wakeful,
I am a stranger in a strange land.
Thy breath comes to me
whispering an impossible hope.
Thy tongue is known to my heart
as its very own.

O Far-to-seek,
O the keen call of your flute!
I forget, I ever forget,
that I know not the way,
That I have not
the winged horse.

I am listless,
I am a wanderer
in my heart.
In the sunny haze
of the languid hours,
what vast vision of yours
takes shape
in the blue of sky!

O Farthest End,
O the keen call of your flute!
I forget, I ever forget,
that the gates are shut everywhere
in the house where I dwell alone!

O Farthest End,
O the keen call of thy flute!

Lebhaft (Lively) — Soprano

Mutter, der junge Prinz muss an unserer
Türe virveukommen --

wie kann ich diesen Morgen auf meine
Arbeit achtgeben?

Zeig mir, wie soll mein Haar
ich flechten;
zeig mir, was soll ich
für Kleider anziehen.

Warum schaust du mich
so verwundert an, Mutter?
Ich weiss wohl,
er wird nicht ein einziges Mal
zu meinem Fenster aufblicken;
ich weiss, im Nu wird er mir
aus den Augen sein;
nur das verhallende Flötenspiel
wird seufzend zu mir dringen
von weitem.

Aber der junge Prinz
wird bei uns vorüberkommen,
und ich werde mein Bestes anziehen
für diesen Augenblick.

Mutter, der junge Prinz
ist an unserer Türe vorbeigekommen,
und die Morgensonne
blitzte an seinem Wagen.
Ich strich den Schleier
aus meinem Gesicht,
riss die Rubinkette
von meinem Hals
und warf sie ihm in den Weg.
Warum schaust du mich
so verwundert an, Mutter?
Ich weiss wohl,
dass er meine Kette nicht aufhob;
ich weiss, sie ward
unter den Rädern zermalmt
und liess eine rote Spur
im Staube zurück,
und niemand weiss,
was mein Geschenk war,
und wer es gab.

Aber der junge Prinz
kam an unserer Tür vorüber
und ich habe den Schmuck
von meiner Brust
ihm in den Weg geworfen

O mother, the young Prince
is to pass by our door,
how can I attend to my work this morning?

Show me
how to braid up my hair;
tell me
what garment to put on.

Why do you look at me amazed,
I know well
he will not glance up once
at my window;
I know he will pass out of my sight
in the twinkling of an eye;
only the vanishing strain of the
flute will come sighing to me
from afar.

But the young Prince
will pass by our door,
and I will put on my best
for the moment.

O mother, the young Prince
did pass by our door,
and the morning sun
flashed from his chariot.
I swept aside the veil
from my face,
I tore the ruby chain
from my neck
and flung it in his path.
Why do you look at me
amazed, mother?
I know well
he did not pick up my chain;
I know it was crushed
under his wheels
leaving a red stain
upon the dust,
and no one knows
what my gift was
nor who gave it.

But the young Prince
did pass by our door,
and I flung the jewel
from my breast
before his path.

Sehr ruhig (Very quietly)- Baritone

Du bist die Abendwolke,
die am Himmel meiner Träume hinzieht.
Ich schmücke dich
und kleide dich immer
mit den Wünschen meiner Seele.
Du bist mein Eigen, mein Eigen,
du, die in meinen endlosen Träumen

Deine Füsse sind rosig rot

von der Glut
meines sehnsüchtigen Herzens,
du, die meine Abendlieder erntet.
Deine Lippen sind bittersüss
von Geschmack
des Weins aus meinen Leiden.
Du bist mein Eigen, mein Eigen,
du, die in meinen einsamen
Träumen wohnt.

Mit den Schatten meiner Leidenschaft
hab' ich deine Augen geschwärzt,
gewohnter Gast
in meines Blickes Tiefe.
Ich hab dich gefangen
und dich eingesponnen, Geliebte,
in das Netz meiner Musik.
Du bist mein Eigen, mein Eigen,
du, die in meinen unsterblichen Träumen

You are the evening cloud
floating in the sky of my dreams.
I paint you
and fashion you ever
with my love longings.
You are my own, my own,
in my endless dreams!

Your feet are rosy-red
with the glow
of my heart's desire,
Gleaner of my sunset songs!
Your lips are bitter-sweet
with the taste of my wine of pain.
You are my own, my own,
in my lonesome dreams!

With the shadow of my passion
have I darkened your eyes,
of the depth of my gaze!
I have caught you
and wrapped you, my love,
in the net of my music.
You are my own, my own.
in my deathless dreams!

Langsam (Slowly) — Soprano

Sprich zu mir, Geliebter,
sag mir mit Worten, was du sangest.
Die Nacht ist dunkel,
die Sterne sind in Wolken verloren,
der Wind seufzt durch die Blätter.
Ich will mein Haar lösen,
mein blauer Mantel wird dich umschmiegen
wie Nacht.
Ich will deinen Kopf
an meine Brust schliessen,
und hier, in der süssen Einsamkeit
lass dein Herz reden.
Ich will meine Augen zumachen und lauschen.
Ich will nicht in dein Antlitz schauen.
Wenn deine Worte zu Ende sind,
wollen wir still und schweigend sitzen;
nur die Bäume werden
im Dunkeln flüstern.
Die Nacht wird bleichen.
Der Tag wird dämmern.
Wir werden einander in die Augen schauen
und jeder seines Weges ziehn.
Sprich zu mir, Geliebter.

Speak to me, my love!
Tell me in words what you sang.
The night is dark.
The stars are lost in clouds.
The wind is sighing through the leaves.
I will let loose my hair.
My blue cloak will cling
round you like night.
I will clasp your head
to my bosom;
and there in the sweet loneliness
murmur on your heart.
I will shut my eyes and listen.
I will not look in your face.
When your words are ended,
we will sit still and silent.
Only the trees
will whisper in the dark.
The night will pale.
The day will dawn.
We shall look at each other's eyes
and go on our different paths.
Speak to me, my love!

Feurig und kraftvoll
(Fiery and forceful) — Baritone

Befrei' Mich von den banden
deiner Süsse, Lieb!
Nichts mehr von diesem Wein der Küsse,
dieser Nebel von schwerem Weihrauch
erstickt mein Herz.
öffne die Türe,
mach Platz für das Morgenlicht.
Ich bin in dich verloren,
eingefangen in die Umarmungen
deiner Zärtlichkeit.
Befrei' mich von deinem Zauber
und gib mir den Mut zurück,
dir mein befreites Herz darzubieten.

Free me from the bonds of your
sweetness, my love!
No more of this wine of kisses.
This mist of heavy incense
stifles my heart.
Open the doors,
make room for the morning light.
I am lost in you,
wrapped in the folds
of your caresses.
Free me from your spells,
and give me back the manhood
to offer you my freed heart.

Sehr mässig Viertel (Andante) — Soprano

Vollende denn das letzte lied
und lass uns auseinandergehen.
Vergiss diese Nacht,
wenn die Nacht um ist.
Wen müh' ich mich
mit meinen Armen zu umfassen?
Träume lassen sich nicht einfangen.
Meine gierigen Hände
drücken Leere an mein Herz
und es zermürbt meine Brust.

Then finish the last song
and let us part.
Forget this night
when the night is no more.
Whom do I try
to clasp in my arms?
Dreams can never be made captive.
My eager hands
press emptiness to my heart
and it bruises my breast.

Molto adagio (Very Slowly) — Baritone

Friede, mein Herz,
lass die Zeit für das Scheiden süss sein.
Lass es nicht einen Tod sein,
sondern Vollendung.
Lass Liebe in Erinn'rung schmelzen
und Schmerz in Lieder.
Lass die letzte Berührung deiner Hände sanft
sein, wie die Blumen der Nacht.
Steh still, o wundervolles Ende,
für einen Augenblick, und sage
deine letzten Worte in Schweigen.
Ich neige micht vor dir,
ich halte meine Lampe in die Hhe,
um dir auf deinen Weg zu leuchten.

Peace, my heart,
let the time for the parting be sweet.
Let it not be a death
but completeness.
Let love melt into memory
and pain into songs.
Let the last touch of your hands
be gentle like the flower of the night.
Stand still, O Beautiful End,
for a moment, and say
your last words in silence.
I bow to you,
and hold up my lamp
to light you on your way.