In Pope's choice of words, hearing Mahler's music


We don't often find ourselves writing about the Pope here at ArtsWatch, but we were rather struck by the wording in his recent vow that he will soon be “hidden to the world.”

The language chosen by the Bavarian-born Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger sounded like something from Mahler - his "I am Lost to the World," one of the Rückert-Lieder. Ratzinger, a pianist who is said to keep a grand piano in his quarters, is well-connected to classical music. Mozart, he once said, "deeply penetrated his soul." A friend of Wolfgang Sawallisch's, he performed the memorial mass in 1999 for Mechthild Sawallisch, wife of the conductor, at the Catholic Church of the Holy Ghost in Munich.

In announcing his retirement, was the Pope thinking about the Mahler song? The text by Friedrich Rückert would seem to express the larger sentiments behind the Pope's withdrawal: 

I am lost to the world

with which I used to waste so much time,

It has heard nothing from me for so long

that it may very well believe that I am dead!

It is of no consequence to me

Whether it thinks me dead;

I cannot deny it,

for I really am dead to the world.

I am dead to the world's tumult,

And I rest in a quiet realm!

I live alone in my heaven,

In my love and in my song!

Mahler of course sharpened the meaning of Rückert's text with the spare, sunlit serenity of his score, something you can plainly hear in this recording of the work by another Sawallisch friend, the late Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.