The art of German song | Andriana Yordanova

DENISE AZZOPARDI interviews Malta-based Bulgarian soprano Andriana Yordanova prior to her performance of Mahler's captivating song cycle Rückert-Lieder in the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra’s second orchestral concert. She learns of Andriana’s great passion for German song and the profound love she has for this composer's music

Soprano Andriana Yordanova
Soprano Andriana Yordanova

What is your connection with Mahler and his music, particularly the song cycle known as Rückert-Lieder that you will be performing during the concert?

My adventure with Mahler started only last year when I was invited to sing his Rückert-Lieder and 4th Sympony accompanied by the Malta Philharmoci Orchestra. Prior to that, at the Sofia Conservatory, I was concentrating on his symphonies, his life, and art as part of our history of music lessons. Mahler’s Lieder comes as a very speacial treat to a singer! One has to grow mentaly emotionaly, vocally, and spiritually, and ideally must have gone through a lot in life to be able to perform these songs. I cannot imagine a young singer tackling this music and its lyrics. I am very content to have been recognised for the part.

The Rückert-Lieder song cycle consists of five songs. What are they about, which is your favourite and why?  

The first four songs were composed in 1901, with the fifth - the Liebst du um schoenheit - having been added the following year, and which was not orchestrated by Mahler. However, all songs were premiered together. This songs cycle is known as Rückert-Lieder by tradition since Mahler used Rückert’s poems in other songs, and he is not the only composer who used this German poet’s texts. Schumann’s Widmung - another of favourite of mine - is one example.

The fifth song in the cycle wasn’t included in the programme for this upcoming concert originally, so I asked the maestro and the management to incorporate it as I feel that the text is so superb. The songs are about human beings, their love and purpose in life, death, fragility and weaknesses, and their relationship with God. Mahler had a very strange relationship with God and very intrusive thoughts about Him. It was often said that he had telephone conversations with God.

All songs in the cycle have an impact on me in some way or another. I can’t say that I have a favourite, as I listen to one and I think it is the best piece ever. Then the next one comes along and I feel even more inspired - each one permits me to dicsover more about myself and humanity .

Does this song cycle present any challenges for the singer?

As I mentioned previously, these songs require a certain maturity and understanding. The lyrics are a challenge in themselves - Rückert’s poems are very simple, yet very deep and philosophical. The marriage between words and music is a match made in heaven, and the songs present five different tones of voice, five different moods, and five different emotions.

The music has an interesting texture, long phrases, and unusual and unexpected turns. It serves as a great adventure for the singer. Even though the pieces present a number of challenges, there are many familiar melodies and sounds. Let us not forget that Mahler was of Jewish origin, influenced by the sounds of Austrian, German, Moravian, Slovak, Hungarian, and gypsy folklore tunes. I am happy to be worthy of singing this great composer’s songs.

What do you focus on when preparing for a performance such as this?

The words and their meaning are of great importance to me. They are the backbone of the Rückert-Lieder. When preparing, I first read the words and understand them. I then look for translations of the text in the different languages that I speak to gain a deeper understanding. My next step is to learn the music and appreciate how beautifully it fits with the text and phrases.

I first encountered these songs in Sofia while collaborating with a pianist who had worked with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and who gave me a good base for developing the songs. I hope that this will not be the only time that I get to perform this song cycle.

How do you feel about singing Lieder [songs in German]?

My love for German song started long ago, even before my studies at Sofia National Academy. I sang my first song in German when I was 15 - it was by Brahms - then I picked a song by Mendelsohn for my first-round entrance exam for Sofia Academy. I started to develop an interest in the German language when I was 15, and it grew into being one of my favourites. There is a lot to learn as a singer, and I am happy to discover more as I further my musical knowledge.

What can anyone in the audience who cannot understand German or is unfamiliar with Lieder do to better appreciate this kind of music?

Anyone having a particular interest in vocal music can do their research. However, if this is not the case, the audience can still appreciate the music and sound of the language, the beautiful never-ending lines and phrases, and the surprising turns and unexpected accents, which are strong and expressive. I wish the audience will gather a great interest in Mahler’s music after having attended this concert. I don’t want this to be just another concert in someone’s life.

Mahler’s music is very deep, and it grows on you every time you listen to it. Therefore, one evening is not enough to experience the grandeur of this composer. I still consider this to be the beginning of my journey with regard to Mahler’s music, and I hope it will be the same for the audience.

The MPO Orchestral Concert, featuring music by Debussy and Maher, will take place at Teatru Manoel on February 5 at 20:00. For bookings, log on to, [email protected] or phone on 2124 6389. For further information, visit