MICHAEL TILSON-THOMAS HEARS KATHLEEN FERRIER SINGING MAHLER’S ABSCHIED
Hearing Kathleen Ferrier sing “Abschied”
Mahler’s Von der Erde’s final Lied,
brought Tilson Thomas, just thirteen, a gust of
fresh music that quite blew his mind, for Gustav
made him aware that music from the shtetls
from which his parents came boiled in the kettles
that Mahler placed on Viennese front burners.
When he heard Mahler many still were spurners
of music written by the genius Jew,
rejecting genial Jewish people too.
Thanks to Michael and to Lenny this
would change, when two musicians with a bris,
made goyim all aware what Kathleen Ferrier
taught Michael. Mahler doesn’t make life merrier,
declaring Cupid is a skillful archer,
because his music celebrates departure,
the Abschied that’s a part of life that’s vital,
making idiosyncratic every idyll.
Dennis Bartel broadcast Michael Tilson-Thomas’s recollection of his introduction to the music of Gustav Mahler. When he was thirteen years old a friend gave him a record of Das Lied Von der Erde, and told him to listen to the last song, Abschied, sung by Kathleen Ferrier. The music make him think about the shtetls from which his grandparents came, his father having changed his name from Theodore Tomashevsky to Ted Thomas.
Tom Huizenga wrote on the NPR website on 5/15/12:
Kathleen Ferrier: A Voice Not Forgotten
Perhaps the greatest of the Ferrier-Walter-Mahler projects was the 1952 recording in Vienna of Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth) . When Mahler wrote the work's final movement, 'Der Abschied' (The Farewell) , he showed it to Walter, who said, 'I was profoundly moved by that uniquely passionate, bitter, yet resigned and benedictory sound of farewell and departure, that last confession of one upon whom rested the finger of death.' Mahler, only in his 40s, had been recently diagnosed with a heart condition that would eventually lead to his early death.
What makes this particular recording special, beyond the riveting performance by Ferrier, is the fact that she was dying of breast cancer while singing Mahler's soaring, valedictory music. Ferrier died peacefully in her sleep Oct.8,1953 at just 41.
It was a huge loss for Britain. Ferrier had become almost as beloved as the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth II. It was an even bigger loss for music, as a voice like Ferrier's appears only very rarely. Her friends and colleagues remember her as a simple, warm person, radiant with life, obsessed with music and equipped with a bawdy sense of humor — all attributes that leap from these recordings.