Jeff Hamburg composed Songs along the Way for mezzo-soprano, string trio, clarinet and harp in 2017. He used Lao Tzu‘s texts from the Tao Te Ching, which date back to the 4th century BCE. These texts are full of contradictions, such as ‘what is perfectly full seems empty, but you cannot use it up’ or ‘the way is empty: in use, but not used up’. The music of Hamburg is spiritually related to this ancient Eastern mysticism and gives a continuous feeling of meditation.
In Gustav Mahler‘s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, the protagonist makes, as it were, a rapid journey to adulthood; from heartbreak, passion and agony to reflection and resignation in his fate. Mahler wrote these songs when he was about 23-24 years old, in the very beginning of his composer career. In English, the cycle is commonly known as Songs of a Wayfarer, but more correct would be Songs of a traveling Journeyman. A Journeyman is someone who has completed an apprenticeship with a master in a trade or craft, but is not yet a master himself. As a young, newly qualified conductor and aspiring composer, Mahler was now in a phase between ‘apprentice’ and recognized ‘master’ and had moved from city to city, developing his skills and learning from masters in his field.
We can well imagine that the protagonist in Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, who ends up under a blooming lime tree, might want to continue his journey on the path of Lao Tse.
A Prayer: Colomba Hamburg composed in 2013 for the 100th anniversary of the Peace Palace in The Hague. The work connects the musical world of five world religions: Russian Orthodox or Greek Chrurch; Sufi, Arabic chant representing the Muslim world; Hindu (processional march); Japanese Shintu and a Jewish Yiddish theme. Colomba here refers to the white dove of peace. The work’s single melody in its five forms symbolizes the way the world’s religions are connected in thought, regardless of cultural contexts. Hamburg also deliberately chooses to use the voice as an instrument and wrote syllabic texts in an imaginary language.
Sources: Emlyn Stam and Wikipedia
Tao Te Ching – by Lao Tsu
I The Way
The way you can go is not the real way. The name you can say is not the real name.
Heaven and earth begin in the unnamed: name is the mother of the ten thousand things.
The unwanting soul sees what is hidden, the ever wanting soul sees what it wants.
Two things, one origin, dif’rent in name, whose identity is mystery.
Mystery of all mysteries! The door to the hidden.
Return is how the Way moves. Weakness is how the Way works.
Heaven and Earth and the ten thousand things are born of being.
Being is born of nothing.
III Water and Stone
What is softest in the world rushes and runs over what is hardest in the world.
The immaterial enters the impenetrable.
So I know the good in not doing.
The wordless teaching, the profit in not doing – not many understand it.
IV Real power
What is perfectly whole seems flawed but you can use it forever.
What is perfectly full seems empty but you cannot use it up.
True straightness looks crooked. Great skill looks clumsy. Real eloquence seems to stammer.
In the cold, keep moving; In the heat, hold still; In the world, stay calm.
V Looking Far
Without going out the door, you may know the whole world.
Without looking through the window you may see the way of heaven.
The farther you go, the less you know.
The wise soul knows without going; sees without looking; does without doing.
The Way is empty: In use, but not used up.
Deep, the ancestor of all things.
It blunts its own sharpness, unties its own tangles, tempers its own brightness.
The Way is its own dust.
Deep but clear; existing, not existing.
From whence it came? There before all creation.