Der Trunkene im Frühling
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The fifth movement of Das Lied von der Erde – The drunken man in Spring – starts shifting the focus back on the speaker. We’ve seen in the previous episodes how Mahler addressed the different emotions of the speaker through different narratives. In this movement he moves the attention back to the inner self, preparing the audience for the last movement.
The original poem, Li Tai-Po‘s “Feelings upon Awakening from Drunkenness on a Spring Day“, is very pessimistic in nature, most likely reflecting the author’s personal experiences. It did show though the hope for the poet in a better world – an aspect that was cut out in the German version.
Throughout the poem’s 6 sections, the speaker goes through his disillusion with life and decides to drink and sleep all day. When he wakes up, he hears some bird chirping amidst the flowers – this is the connection with nature. He actually talks to the bird, asking if spring has come already. At the bird’s answer – “Spring came overnight” – he sighs, and goes back to drinking. In the final section, the speaker sings to the moon and tries to forget everything.
This movement opens with the horns again, just like the first one. The opening line clearly symbolizes the birds, anticipating the middle portion of the text.
Even though we start in A major, the atmosphere is not quite jolly as it may seem. The constant key change, along with the partial usage of the pentatonic scale give it a flavor of instability.
“If Life is but a dream,
Why then toil and fret?
I drink until I can no longer drink,
The whole lifelong day.”
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This was quite a journey. As it is Das Lied von der Erde: a journey in our inner and outer selves, looking for some answers to our tormented lives. Answers we won’t ever be able to find. We can only surrender, and hope to find some rest before our 100 years are over.