Has there ever been a performance of Mahler’s Song of the Earth in which both solo parts were sung by the same vocalist? Probably not, or at least not involving any of the great singers of the last 100 years. And certainly not on any of the 120 or so available recordings. The work, which was posthumously premiered in Munich in 1911, was described by Mahler as a “symphony for tenor, alto (or baritone) and orchestra”. It follows that two soloists have featured in every recording to date: either tenor and baritone or tenor and alto/mezzo soprano.
The three tenor songs alone pose quite a challenge, particularly the opening “Trinklied vom Jammer der Erde” (Drinking Song of Earth’s Misery). What inspired Jonas Kaufmann to take on the three lower-pitched songs too?
“During performances I’ve often wondered why one needs two singers for these six songs. Of course, there are powerful contrasts between the songs and also clear differences in terms of their vocal tessitura. In spite of this, I was attracted by the idea of framing these six songs – despite all their differences – within a single overarching structure extending from the first song to the last. Also, I’m so fond of the songs for lower voice that during performances I get very jealous when listening to my baritone or mezzo colleagues, especially with regard to the final song, ‘Der Abschied’. So I’ve always toyed with the idea of one day singing all six songs.”