Monday, June 23, 2014

Zemlinsky's "The Mermaid"


 "The Mermaid" by Alexander von Zemlinsky, a 1905 romantic orchestral work inspired by Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Mermaid."

Choosing to compose this fairy tale actually came out of a failed romance-Zemlinksy had fallen in love with Alma Schindler, but she rejected him and ended up marrying the famous composer, Gustav Mahler. Zemlinsky identified with the Mermaid, seeing Alma as the Prince who fell in love with someone else. Click on the video to go to youtube and listen to the rest, and read the "about" section which goes into more detail about the history, but here we have a great example of fairy tales being therapeutic, as Zemlinsky used this music to express his pain. 

Also note we have an example of a male identifying with the female protagonist (even in 1905, before feminism!). Although we tend to get very concerned about how gender is portrayed through fairy tales, this is proof that, at least sometimes, we can indeed identify with any protagonist, regardless of our gender. And that, I think, is what the goal of feminism should be, not counting the number of male or female protagonists in the media and analyzing every action according to stereotypes (which is helpful to a point but can become overdone).
Maxwell Armfield 

Some information on the music itself, from allmusic.com:
"Zemlinsky does not provide a clear programme for the three movements, but musical analogues can generally be inferred by the listener. The first movement's tempo is "Sehr mässig bewegt" (Very moderate in movement) and opens with a depiction of the depths of the sea bed alternating with the playfulness of the mermaid and other sea creatures. The initially playful theme is turned into a furious sea storm, depicting the shipwreck (briefly interrupted by a lyrical theme of concern) and eventual rescue of the Prince.
The second movement, "Sehr bewegt, rauschend" (Much movement, thunderous), opens with a marvelous effect: a roll on a suspended cymbal grows into a tremendous crescendo with the gradual accumulation of trilling winds and tremulous strings. The longing of the Mermaid for the Prince is depicted in lyrical and playful lines. The Prince receives some hunting call-type grandeur, but the main attention is paid to the Mermaid's feelings.
The third movement is "Sehr gedehnt, mit schmerzvollem Ausdruck" (Very flexible, with sorrowful expression). The visit to the Sea Witch seems to be depicted in the opening of this movement as one hears oddly chromatic passages in the high winds, which alternate with the love theme given to a solo violin in the first movement. This is followed by the Prince's wedding, surrounded by great bursts of passionate, unresolved emotion (the overwhelming feelings of the Mermaid as she watches this spectacle, rather than music for the wedding itself). This is some of the composer's finest and most original writing from his early period. The beginning music describing the depths of the sea is heard again, and gentle music describes the Mermaid's transformation into an eternal spirit of the air."

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