am lost to the world – an appreciation of Mahler’s song
Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen
I am lost to the world with which
I have wasted so much time. It may well believe that I am
I don’t care if the world thinks
me dead for I really am dead to it.
Away from the rat race I am at peace, alone in my heaven,
my love and my song.
(My personal paraphrased understanding
- see below for German text)
To accompany these
presumably aspirational sentiments, in the summer of 1901,
shortly before he first met Alma, Mahler wrote sixty-five
bars of simple but heartrendingly beautiful music - a work
which transfixes me like no other. This article provides a
brief appreciation, discusses some of the available recordings
and links to useful resources I have come across.
Ich bin der
Welt abhanden gekommen was the third of five Mahler settings
of poems by Friedrich Rückert (1788-1866). They are not a
cycle and nor were they published during Mahler’s lifetime.
Initially it was published as number five of seven songs -
two Des Knaben Wunderhorn settings were included -
before a separate edition of the five appeared.
You may therefore see it numbered as 3 or 5 but performers
have varied the order or picked only a selection. Quite often
on record Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen has been
placed last amongst the group and rightly so – who
would want to listen to Um Mitternacht straight afterwards?
A piano score is available to download from the internet.
Mahler orchestrated the song and conducted the first performance
in 1905, accompanying baritone Friedrich Weidemann. The music
is set for low voice and firmly in mezzo/baritone territory.
Mahler’s magical orchestration is notable for the prominence
of cor anglais and harp, creating a mood similar to the Adagietto
of the roughly contemporaneous Fifth symphony and looking
forward to the Der Abschied of Das Lied von
Jeanette Greenfield’s The Return of Cultural Treasures alludes to the fate of the autograph score which Mahler gave
to his friend Guido Adler. In 1941 Adler’s daughter tried
to exchange it for a safe passage from Austria but
perished at the hands of the Nazis, and the score
was then thought to be lost until 2000.
There is a choral
arrangement by Clytus Gottwald which is not at all to my taste.
This has been recorded several times and there are other recorded
transcriptions for cello and orchestra, oboe and strings,
and for the piano alone. I have only heard the latter, as
arranged and played by Frédéric Meinders (see review)
but the loss is considerable – much more than in some of Liszt’s
transcriptions of Schubert songs.
In performing this
work the challenges surely rest entirely in representing its
sentiments rather than in matters of technique.
The primary emotion is not sadness, rather an ecstatic quality
is required. The singer must sound as though he or she really
is lost to the world and not going to return in time for a
cup of tea. The right atmosphere needs to pervade the whole
song - the world is already lost at the beginning, not during
the course of it. Molto lento e ritenuto is
the marking and I believe the tempo should
be set as slow as possible. Anything under about six
and half minutes seems too fast to convey the necessary feeling
of timelessness. I do not see how this song can be effectively
programmed except at the end of a concert or as a final encore.
When listening to a recording of this work I never put
anything else on afterwards, nor do I just pop out and mow
the lawns - it is usually about midnight.
A discography of the Rückert
Lieder shows that there have been at least 120 recordings
of this song issued. At the time of writing, twenty-six of
these are available for streaming in the Naxos
Music Library. These can all be downloaded from Classicsonline, generally at a cost
of £1.19 or £1.59 depending on whether or not the original
disc is still at full price. Some of these recordings are
available to download more cheaply - 79 pence seems the norm
- from AmazonUK
a site that has over 50 versions available at the time of
To deal with some
freebies first, Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen
can be heard - and sometimes seen - performed by several
artists on YouTube. Margaret
Price is certainly well worth hearing although there is
no information about the orchestra and conductor. Also impressive
is Jessye Norman performing
with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra under Zubin Mehta
in about 1989. Katarina
Karnéus is the other singer who can be seen
performing the work although she is unremarkable. Sound and
stills are available for several other artists notably Magdalena
Kožená, Waltraud Meier and Kathleen Ferrier - presumably
the 1952 recording with Bruno Walter.
The very first
recording, made by Sarah Charles-Cahier in 1930 is available
for streaming in the Naxos Music Library
as is the next, Kerstin Thorborg accompanied by Bruno
Walter in 1936. Charles-Cahier makes a decent fist of it but
the latter is much more interesting at a tempo that doesn’t
seem to have been constrained by the length of a 78 side.
One of the first males to record the work, Alfred Poell in
1951 has far too deep a voice for my taste. Siegfried Lorenz
from the early 1980s on Berlin Classics is far preferable
and one of few males to rival Fischer-Dieskau (see below).
Some recent recordings that can also be heard in the Naxos
library are by Mitsuko Shirai for Capriccio, Christianne
Stotijn for Onyx and Ann Murray for Avie. The first two left
me completely cold and Murray’s version is much the best of
I have ten recorded
versions of the work in my collection but most of them don’t
really cut the emotional mustard and bear repeated listening.
I wouldn't be without the Ferrier Decca disc for Das Lied
von der Erde but her rendition of this song is rather
earthbound. Irmgard Seefried has a high reputation although
her live performance from 1967 available on an EMI DVD seems
routine. Christa Ludwig recorded the work several times but
her recording for DG with Karajan suffers an unnatural balance
which favours the orchestra. Katarina Karnéus and Alice Coote
both recorded the song on their debut discs for EMI and should
have waited. Coote’s performance of the Brahms Alto Rhapsody
at the first night of the Proms 2009 suggests to me that she
might now be ready to return to it.
I can live with piano versions when the pianist is as good
as Daniel Barenboim but generally I would opt for an orchestral
version. Barenboim accompanied Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau in
1978 and he is certainly my preferred male singer. In this
recording he captured the magic even more strongly than in
1963 when he was accompanied by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
under Karl Böhm.
For reasons not
easy to explain I generally prefer a female voice. Lorraine
Hunt-Lieberson’s Wigmore Hall 1998 recording accompanied by
Roger Vignoles comes near the top of my pile but Janet Baker
really was in a league of her own in this work. My top recommendation
is her 1969 recording with the New Philharmonia Orchestra
under Barbirolli which is downloadable from AmazonUK
for only 69 pence! On disc, this is available singly in the
Great Recordings of the Century series (see review)
or as part of an EMI Icon set devoted to Janet Baker (see
Both also contain her similar but slightly less well-recorded
1967 performance with the Hallé Orchestra. Baker and Barbirolli
create and sustain an atmospheric intensity that, in my experience,
is completely unrivalled. For all the options discussed above,
this could be the only recording you’ll ever need.
Excuse me but
I feel a need to get lost from the world coming on …
Full German Text:
Patrick C Waller
Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen,
Mit der ich sonst viele Zeit verdorben,
Sie hat so lange nichts von mir vernommen,
Sie mag wohl glauben, ich sei gestorben!
Es ist mir auch gar nichts daran gelegen,
Ob sie mich für gestorben hält,
Ich kann auch gar nichts sagen dagegen,
Denn wirklich bin ich gestorben der Welt.
Ich bin gestorben dem Weltgetümmel,
Links to reviews on MusicWeb
Und ruh' in einem stillen Gebiet!
Ich leb' allein in meinem Himmel,
In meinem Lieben, in meinem Lied!
(Friedrich Rückert, 1788-1866)
Kathleen Ferrier (1952): Decca
(1967 & 1969) GROC
(1967 & 1969) Icon Set
(arr. Gottwald, 2001)
(arr. Gottwald, 2003)
(arr. Gottwald, 2005)
(piano transcription, 2008)
Tony Duggan on Mahler’s Song Cycles