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East-Tyrolean outfit Franui make Mahler sound like never before. With their unusual, brass-dominated instrumentation this ‘Musicabanda’ from the village of Innervillgraten developed their unique sound by combining folk with classical music and jazz. Mahler’s late romantic songs undergo a fascinating metamorphosis, taking them back to their folk roots. The songs are interspersed with readings from Robert Walsers Kleine Dichtungen. The result is stunning: songs which through their sparse instrumentation sound heart-wrenchingly poignant, close harmonies of a touching honesty and gentle winds and brass through which the magnificent musical genius of the master resounds. A must for anyone who loves Mahler, and for those who weren’t aware of it yet.
- Markus Kraler
- Andreas Schett
- Gustav Mahler
- Robert Walser
- Stefan Kurt
- Festspiele Sudtirol/Alto Adige Festival
- Wiener Konzerthaus
- commissioned by
- Ludwigsburger Schlossfestspiele
- with additional support by
- The Brook Foundation
Gustav Mahler’s song cycles represent a highlight in late romantic song culture. On the occasion of Mahlers one hundred fiftieths birthday in 2010, the exceptional Austrian ensemble Franui have created new versions of a number of these songs – with amazing results.
Franui formed in 1993 and have played ever since in an almost unchanged line-up. The ensemble consists of an unusual combination of woodwinds and brass, violin, double bass, accordion, zither, harp and hammered dulcimer, producing a unique sound which combines classical, folk and jazz music. ‘Franui’ is named after an Alpine field high up in the mountains of the small village of Innervilgraten in East-Tyrol, where most of its members grew up. The clear mountain air apparently does something for musicality, judging from the talent on offer; what’s more, nearby, near Toblach, one can find Mahler’s last composing hut.
In recent years Franui have given their unique twist to Brahms’ Deutsche Volkslieder, the songs of Schubert and Händel’s operatic legacy. For this programme, the company have assembled and arranged songs from Mahler’s complete song oeuvre, and in every single instant the resulting metamorphosis is fascinating. Franui themselves call it a ‘change of perspective’: for the first time we hear a Mahler influenced by folk music, which is also part of his background. This can sound like a late evening in an East-Tyrolean pub, but with magnificent musical ingenuity. Now and again the band members will burst out in song, as in Ich ging mit Lust durch einen grünen Wald: close harmony which reminds one of the vocal ensembles from the 1920’s and 1930’s, delivered with touching honesty. The ensemble can get quite wild and now and again Mahler seems to disappear out of sight, but only seemingly so – for these song arrangements combine light-heartedness with respect, earnestness with joy, and they delight the audience with wonderful musical storytelling.
The kinship between Mahler and folk music is closer than one might think. For the larger part of his song lyrics the composer made use of Des Knaben Wunderhorn , an extensive collection of folk songs collected and published by Clemens Brentano and Achim von Arnim in the early 1800’s. Mahler used these lyrics not only for his orchestral song cycle Des Knaben Wunderhorn (1892-1898), but also for Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (1883-1885) and most of the songs in his Lieder und Gesänge collections published in 1892.
Mahler had originally intended to use the text of ‘Urlicht’ from Des Knaben Wunderhorn for his orchestral song cycle of the same title, but then changed his mind. He turned it into a song with piano accompaniment (in Lieder und Gesänge) and eventually used the orchestral music for the fourth part of his Second Symphony (1888-1894), the writing of which had been fraught with problems until then. Hence, with their sometimes almost unrecognisable folk version, Franui have come full circle, taking the song back to its origins. As well as arrangements of existing songs, Franui have also made a Wunderhorntanz: a mini suite with material from the orchestral song cycle. Other selected materials include ‘Wenn dein Mütterlein’, one of the five Kindertotenlieder for orchestra (1901-1904), set to lyrics by Friedrich Rückert. The tragic irony was that not long after finishing these in 1907, Mahler himself lost his daughter Maria Anna. In Franui’s sparse instrumental version with hammered dulcimer, violin and brass band, the heartbreaking “Wenn dein Mütterlein” won’t fail to touch the audience.
In May 2011, Franui published a cd with their Mahler programme, which can be enjoyed in full on their website. In their cd booklet, the leader of the ensemble Andreas Schett writes: “Our research has led us to have strong suspicions that Mahler walked over the Toblacher Pfannhorn (a 2663 metres high mountain) to the village of Innervillgraten, borrowed the key of our rehearsal hut from the equipment manager of our show band, whom he was acquainted with, and stole some notes. Now, we are stealing them back.”