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Gurre-Lieder is a large cantata for five vocal soloists, narrator, chorus and large orchestra, composed

by Arnold Schnberg, on poems by the Danish novelist Jens Peter Jacobsen (translated from Danish to
German by Robert Franz Arnold). The title means "songs of Gurre", referring to Gurre Castle in
Denmark, scene of the medieval love-tragedy (related in Jacobsen's poems) revolving around the
Danish national legend of the love of the Danish king Valdemar Atterdag (Valdemar IV, 13201375,
spelt Waldemar by Schnberg) for his mistress Tove, and her subsequent murder by Valdemar's jealous
Queen Helvig (a legend which is historically more likely connected with his ancestor Valdemar I).

In 1900, Schnberg began composing the work as a song cycle for soprano, tenor and piano for a
competition run by the Wiener Tonknstler-Verein (Vienna Composers' Association). It was written in a
lush, late-romantic style heavily influenced by Richard Wagner. According to Schnberg, however, he
"finished them half a week too late for the contest, and this decided the fate of the work."Later that year,
he radically expanded his original conception, composing links between the first nine songs as well as
adding a prelude, the Wood Dove's Song, and the whole of Parts Two and Three. He worked on this
version sporadically until around 1903, when he abandoned the mammoth task of orchestrating the
work and moved on to other projects.
By the time he returned to the piece in 1910, he had already written his first acknowledged atonal
works, such as the Three Pieces for Piano, Op. 11, Five Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 16 and Erwartung, Op. 17.
He had also come under the spell of Gustav Mahler, whom he had met in 1903 and whose influence
may be discernible in the orchestration of the latter parts of the Gurre-Lieder. Whereas Parts One and
Two are clearly Wagnerian in conception and execution, Part Three features the pared-down orchestral
textures and kaleidoscopic shifts between small groups of instruments favoured by Mahler in his later
symphonies. In Des Sommerwindes wilde Jagd, Schnberg also introduced the first use
of Sprechgesang (or Sprechstimme), a technique he would explore more fully in Pierrot Lunaire of 1912.
[2] The orchestration was finally completed in November 1911.

Franz Schreker conducted the premiere of the work in Vienna on 23 February 1913. By this time,
Schnberg was disenchanted with the style and character of the piece and was even dismissive of its
positive reception, saying "I was rather indifferent, if not even a little angry. I foresaw that this success
would have no influence on the fate of my later works. I had, during these thirteen years, developed my
style in such a manner that to the ordinary concertgoer, it would seem to bear no relation to all
preceding music. I had to fight for every new work; I had been offended in the most outrageous
manner by criticism; I had lost friends and I had completely lost any belief in the judgement of friends.
And I stood alone against a world of enemies."At the premiere, Schnberg did not even face the
members of the audience, many of whom were fierce critics of his who were newly won over by the
work; instead, he bowed to the musicians, but kept his back turned to the cheering crowd. Violinist
Francis Aranyi called it "the strangest thing that a man in front of that kind of a hysterical, worshipping
mob has ever done."
It would be wrong to assume that Schoenberg considered Gurre-Lieder a composition of no merit,
however. A few months after the premiere he wrote to Wassily Kandinsky, "I certainly do not look
down on this work, as the journalists always suppose. For although I have certainly developed very
much since those days, I have not improved, but my style has simply got better ... I consider it important
that people give credence to the elements in this work which I retained later."
The Dutch first performance, directed by Schoenberg himself, was in March 1921. Schoenberg's
champion and former pupil, the BBC programme planner Edward Clark, invited the composer to
London to conduct the first British performance on 27 January 1928, in a translation by David Millar
Craig. Clark had tried to have the premiere the previous year, on 14 April 1927, but these plans fell
through. Leopold Stokowski conducted the American premiere on 8 April 1932, with the Philadelphia
Orchestra, soloists and chorus.