As I have continued my study of the piece, I have identified and held on to various musical themes which have helped bring familiarity and a unifying force to the work. We singers have had only the vocal parts of the double choir to learn from. We have had no production notes and very little instruction to help us figure everything out. (I confess that pulling notes out of the air after pages of rests is really hard for me!) Fortunately, we can work independently, if we choose, with the help of the internet: YouTube videos, hundreds of recordings, and many books and articles written about the work. And yes, even translations of the words, should we care to go to the trouble to access them on our own.
Working with texts in Latin and German are not my area of expertise. So, I learned pretty quick that I needed to get a translation in order to understand what we are singing about. So, the first half of the work is based on an early Latin hymn called "Veni, veni, Creator Spiritus" which means "come thou blessed Creator." It is basically a prayer invoking God's forgiveness and love. In fact, I learned that the characters featured and sung by the soloists represent people who are asking for divine guidance and forgiveness. The Part II of the symphony is actually based on the Second Act of Goethe's Faust poem and sung in German. More about divine forgiveness and love, only this time with a sampling of lyrical German folk melodies and hymn tunes.
What I have learned is that if I can remember and hold on to the little familiar themes that repeat over and over, the scale and scope of this enormous piece is rendered more manageable. Throughout the work, there really is a lot of interesting stuff. There is one "spooky" section where the basses and tenors of the two choirs trade phrases, in effect bouncing the sound all over the choir loft against the eerie orchestration. From within the loft, the surround-sound effect is really something amazing. I hope that effect can come off for the people in the audience. We will be singing in the old Tabernacle with its unusual acoustics. The effects of the double choirs, boys choir, and double orchestra parts trading phrases should work very well.
From a singer's perspective, singing the Mahler is fun. For much of it, we are allowed to open up and use our operatic training. Singing in this high Romantic style offers a wide range of singing opportunities -- gushing lyrical love themes, strong full-out expositions, soft intense passages, and many many many changes of keys even within measures. It can be mind blowing. So, the object is to practice until the hardest parts become so familiar they are the easiest! We have two weeks until the concert --- hope we make it!