Gateway to Paradise

Mahler’s »Urlicht« at the Schlossfestspiele

The varied programme of this year’s Festival features a remarkable overlap: Gustav Mahler’s »Urlicht« – performed in the song recital »Anna Lucia Richter« as well as in the concert »Liebes Traum Gestalten«. Full of anticipation for the pre-recorded choral project with Yuval Weinberg and the SWR Vokalensemble, we would like to take a closer look at the Lied.

[This text has been translated electronically]

Among all the beautiful music that Gustav Mahler composed, the »Urlicht« certainly has a special place. Prominently used in his 2nd symphony, Mahler not only breaks with the traditional four-movement structure, but at the same time conceives a calm and simple counterbalance to the powerful apotheosis in the final movement. In »Urlicht« we try to escape from the gloomy life on earth and dream of paradise in the hereafter. At the gate of heaven appears an angel who refuses entry. But despite all human faults, even the little angel has to realize that humans remain creatures of God: »I am of God and I want to go back to God!«

As in many other texts from »Des Knaben Wunderhorn« in »Urlicht«, too, there is a deep seriousness in an innocent, childlike vision. In the 2nd symphony this song is formally a paradox in the work, and yet a necessary calm before the storm, in order to bring out the idea of resurrection and redemption – »I will die in order to live!« – of the triumphant final chorus.

Nevertheless, considered as a solo piece, the »Urlicht« is much more than a singular symphonic movement. In just under five minutes, Mahler manages a musical balancing act between a longing for death, aimlessness, angelic voices and paradisiacal utopias. Musically, under the sounds of a beautiful brass chorale, the gates of heaven truly open: a floating oboe melody resounds and reaches its climax in a simple and yet immensely effective turn.

In the varied programme of this year’s Festival Mahler’s »Urlicht« forms a surprising overlap between two concerts. Curiously, however, the piece is not performed in its most famous form, as an orchestral song. Instead, we heard it in Mahler’s much less frequently performed piano version, impressively interpreted by Anna Lucia Richter and Ammiel Bushakevitz and will now hear it in a choral arrangement by Clytus Gottwald. Under the direction of Yuval Weinberg, the SWR Vokalensemble reveals to us just how impressive this music really is: no brass chorale, no oboe melody, no soft carpet of strings – only the human voice carries the profound message of the text a cappella. Due to Corona the project »Liebes Traum Gestalten« had to be pre-produced in the Forum am Schlosspark without an audience. The Ludwigsburger Schlossfestspiele cordially invite you to experience these two uplifting musical experiences – the »Urlicht« in two much too rarely heard versions – to be enjoyed all the more on our Digital Stage.