The collection of folk poetry Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Youth’s Magic Horn) published in 1806 by Achim von Arnim and Clemens Brentano is as closely associated with Heidelberg, where it first appeared, as it is with Gustav Mahler. 200 years later, KlangForum Heidelberg devised a successful concert format around Mahler’s Fourth Symphony in the chamber version by Erwin Stein (1921) entitled Des Knaben Wunderhorn im 20. und 21. Jahrhundert. It was a reflection on the characteristic folk tone in Mahler’s piano songs in new instrumentation and in the light of a world profoundly influenced by the new media.
In this new instrumentation, composers Cornelius Schwehr, Erik Oña and Caspar Johannes Walter extend and attune the characteristic Mahler sound to bring it closer to their contemporary positions and reflect their personal musical attitudes.
Mahler’s idiom took shape around 1900, on the threshold to the modern age. The Wunderhorn texts published by Brentano und von Arnim are just under a century older. This gap in time is rarely given much thought.
The first performance of Des Knaben Wunderhorn at the Baden-Württemberg Summer of Literature festival in 2006 was rapturously acclaimed, locally and nationally. It featured the renowned Mahler soprano Ruth Ziesak and the ensemble aisthesis conducted by Walter Nußbaum. Reaching out to a media-oriented audience, video and computer animations played an integral part. Video artists Christoph Zeidler and Joscha Steffens established associative and contrastive links between text and music and between the images and symbols of Romanticism and the present day.
The concert was flanked by a composers’ workshop, a public final rehearsal and a talk by musicologist Dr. Jan Reichow on “Wunderhorn, Childhood and the Heavenly City”.
Due to its immense success with the public, Des Knaben Wunderhorn was revived for a tour in December 2007. With soprano Ruth Ziesak and baritone Sebastian Noack, the ensemble aisthesis performed the work at the Liederhalle in Stuttgart, the Konzerthaus in Berlin, and the Stadtcasino in Basel.