Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen

OMagnumMysteriumChorale’s major new project this fall has been learning the Clytus Gottwald a cappella choral arrangement of Gustav Mahler’s famous song, Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen. Number three in Mahler’s Rückert –Lieder cycle, completed in 1901, the song is often heard with piano accompaniment, but was originally was intended for orchestra, and has a dense, almost symphonic texture.   Gottwald (b. 1925) a German choral conductor, composer and musicologist, is noted for his rich, creative choral arrangements of symphonic repertoire, often for a cappella choral groups with up to sixteen different voices.   Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen (1985), his most famous work in this genre, first came to the attention of the choral world through performances by the Swedish Radio Choir, conducted by Eric Ericson. It has since been performed and recorded by many of the world’s leading choral ensembles. The poet, Friedrich Rückert (1788-1866), was a favorite of German Romantic composers from Schubert forward. He wrote in a wide variety of genres, but is best known today for his mystical, shrouded, Asian-influenced poems, which inspired many of the best songs of such composers as Robert Schumann, Josef Rheinberger, Gustav Mahler, Richard Strauss, Hugo Wolf, and Alban Berg. The poem in question is typical of his output and subject matter:

Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen I have become lost to the world, where I used to waste so much time; It has been so long since it heard from me, that it may well think that I have died! I don't care if it thinks me dead, for I really have died to the world. I have died to all the world's turmoil, and I rest in a silent realm. I live in solitude in my heaven, In my love, in my song.

Mahler’s song setting is one of his very best—long, unhurried melodic lines, slow-moving harmonies, and sustained petal tones, reinforce the restful, exalted theme of the poem, but never become static; melodic fragments escape the body of the accompaniment ecstatically at times, enlivening the forward movement of the solo vocal line but never interfering with it. Gottwald’s arrangement passes the solo melodic material from voice to voice, emphasizing particular phrases by adding two or three voices to the principle material and using fragments of this principle material as accompaniment. The resulting work is difficult to sing, but rewarding both because of the beauty of Mahler’s music, and because of Gottwald’s admirable craft in putting it all together.

The song become a popular favorite when it was used as the underlying theme in the 1989 film, le Maître de Musique, starring Belgian opera singer José Van Dam.  We hear Van Dam's heart-stoppingly beautiful rendition of the song during the course of the film, and Rückert's poetry comments on the theme and mood of the story, and of the maître's retirement from his career and former active life.