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Mahler: Where Do I Start?

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  #21  
Old 01-05-08, 08:58 PM
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Originally Posted by Florestan View Post
Yay! I've done it. Two tickets for the Rite of Spring. I was only just in time.
I saw a piano duet version of this a few weeks ago.

It was amazing. The naked sonority of the piano means the harsh clashes redoubled in power, however, the piano can't compete with an orchestra when it comes to huge fortississississississimo power.
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Old 02-05-08, 09:30 AM
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Default Worst Db. solo ever!

Greetings to the great historian Herodotas! He who first stood before the pyramids in 450BC and remarked on how ancient these monuments were then!

I have a pathological aversion to №1 because of the bass solo in the final movement! It's always coming up in auditions and it's written so badly for the instrument! The solo in №7 is much better but no one asks for that! I spent a long time getting that solo right for auditions and I was never asked to play it anywhere. Still, objectively №1 is a great symphony but everybody has their favorite and mine is not this one!
FC

Last edited by Aiantas; 02-05-08 at 10:39 AM.
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Old 12-05-08, 10:51 PM
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Well, for Aiantas, et. al., I am here to report that I have gotten the Mahler 4th and only have been able to listen to it once. I always wait until several listenings before I make a decision.

But my other choices so far are Bruno Walters for the 1st and 2nd. For the 8th I got Riccardo Chailly. I just ordered those today.

I also bought Horenstein's Mahler. Keep in mind that these are all new to me so I may have made a big mistake.

Thots?
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  #24  
Old 20-05-08, 05:42 PM
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It is not without mortification that I post thi- blah blah blah blah...

By the late eighteenth century the symphony had become the most important genre of orchestral composition. It has its origin in the opera symphonia, which roughly followed the formal scheme of the Classical symphony, albeit without the final movement. The relationship between the introductory orchestral music for an opera and the symphony can be evinced by the fact that, for much of the eighteenth century, the terms ‘overture’, ‘sinfonia’ and ‘symphony’ were considered synonymous with each other. The importance that was placed on the symphony can be observed by the number written by the eighteenth century’s two greatest practitioners of the genre: Haydn and Mozart (106 and 41 respectively). Following on from these two models, the classical (and borderline Romantic) symphony finds its zenith and summation in Beethoven. From thereafter to essay a symphony meant to tackle the most revered form of music. Some composers avoided or circumvented the challenge: Liszt took recourse to inventing a new genre: the symphonic poem and writing what appear to be amalgamations of the symphony and symphonic poem (the Faust and Dante Symphonies). However, for a more conservative composer like Brahms (who completed his first symphony at the age of forty-three) the responsibility of producing a symphony was great: the shadow of Beethoven loomed large.

It is in this cultural and historical context that we can gauge to a certain extent what the symphony must have meant to Mahler, and his early approach to writing one. Mahler appeared to start writing his first symphony in 1884, but was only finished four years later. With this and his next symphony Mahler would begin to view his symphonies as essentially spiritual-biographies; the result with the second symphony being a highly unorthodox formal plan consisting of five movements, including a song, and utilising a gargantuan orchestra, large choir, and soloists. The final movement earnt the symphony the sobriquet the ‘Resurrection’, since the last movement was inspired by the book of revelations. This must be one of the first instances of sacred music penetrating was had hitherto been a secular genre. It seems to be a continuation of the Wagnerian (as seen in Parsifal) idea of using a secular medium to express explicitly sacred sentiments.

Mahler’s third symphony represents a logical progression from its predecessor, insofar as it now reaches and equilibrium with the addition of another movement, making a total number of movements of six. In contrast to his second and, indeed, first symphony, the third’s conception was that it should express extroversion and jouissance. Assuming a narrative connection between the second and third symphonies (which we are explicitly invited to do so by Mahler himself) the latter is an elaboration of the light and gaiety signalled by the resurrection at the end of the second symphony.

In actuality, as in most of Mahler’s music, it is not that simple. Despite Mahler’s description of the symphony in relation to its predecessor, like the second symphony it starts with a saturnine march, preceded by a horn melody that quotes verbatim a song of protest that would have been recognised by Austrians of Mahler’s generation, class and education. Whilst it would be otiose to describe the radix of this melody itself, for listeners at the time, if they did not consciously know its source, the melody at least would have been loaded with reference and allusion for them. Following this is a series of chords that will form the basis of the fourth movement. The forgoing elements constitute the introduction or prelude to the exposition of what is a very large-scale sonata-form movement (though the horn melody recrudesces in different guises to the extent that it can be considered as having structural prominence). Contrary to classical or text-book sonata form, the exposition features a plenitude of motifs, with the usual contrast effected by the contrasting choice of key. It is in D minor that the menacing march begins, presenting a number of motifs, the main one of which is spun out to form the salient melody, given to the horns and later trombones. The division between the introduction and the march, and the march and what could be considered the secondary group of motifs, is a near-imperceptible timpani figure thought of –given the philosophical ideas behind the music and clues given by Mahler himself- as representing Pan sleeping. The secondary material provides relief from the ‘heavy and oppressive’ (schwer und dumpf) march with light and pellucidly-scored music in an auspicious major tonality. A solo oboe presents the melody which is thence taken up by the violin in the major key a semitone higher – D major. The tonality of the music then returns to D flat major, producing music of great ebullience. This oscillation between two distantly-related keys affords the music an other-worldly feeling.

Following this, both the primary and secondary groups of motifs are recapitulated in extended and developed form, especially the secondary group, wherein the exposition ends and the exuberant secondary material is used to launch into the development, at which point ‘summer marches in’. The movement ultimately concludes in the relative major of D minor: F major.

The second movement (‘What the flowers in the meadow tell me’) is a curious amalgamation of characteristics of a minuet and scherzo. Its form is A-B-A-B-A (though with subtle variations each time) wherein a subdivision can be made of A: a-b-a, and of B: a-b-c. Mahler’s innovative juxtaposition of musical character and form may be explained from a programmatically or poetically inspired point of view; the nature of a minuet befits what Mahler himself described as hitherto the most carefree music he had written, in its depiction of flowers, whilst the somewhat frantic and rumbustious nature of a scherzo befits in the depiction of the flowers struggling to deal with a storm.

The next movement (‘What the animals in the forest tell me’) though roughly structured the same (apropos the large-scale or macro-level structure) as the second movement, was in actuality regarded by Mahler as being in rondo form (though in an expanded form). This is evinced by the title as is the fact that this movement constitutes the scherzo proper, thus extending the manifold parallels with the second symphony. The material that forms the A section (i.e. up to cue 4) is essentially an orchestral arrangement of one of Mahler’s Wunderhorn settings, The subject of the poem – the cuckoo- is evoked amongst other animals in music that develops to become more puckish and nightmarish, the only repose being two long posthorn solos that each form the B sections.

The fourth movement is a setting of a passage from Nietzsche’s Also Sprach Zarathustra. Its mood and words evoke a mysterious atmosphere, as though pernoctating in contemplation. This ruminative feeling is achieved by dint of mainly static harmony upon which chords or melodies that have a distinctly modal (most prominently Mixolydian, but also Lydian) flavour or a parallel major-minor mixture (demonstrating in a microcosm the inverse of the overall tonal scheme of the symphony) are superimposed.

The empyrean penultimate movement is a Wunderhorn setting for boys’ and women’s choir. Its mood is one of joyful naivety; the religious topic alluding most immediately to the second symphony, although curious in some respects. Firstly, the symphony theretofore has been ‘about’ nature; pagan gods were depicted, and words borrowed from the explicitly Anti-Christian Nietzsche. Such, it is to be believed, was the extent of Mahler’s pantheism and intellectual breadth and his idea that the symphony should be ‘like the world… all embracing’. The last movement (‘What love tells me’) is reverent and beatific; in rondo form structural prominence is given to a melodic turn, with great affective import.
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  #25  
Old 20-05-08, 05:42 PM
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...


The unofficial subtitle of Mahler’s sixth symphony ‘The Tragic’ belies the circumstances in which it was written; he was enjoying the zenith of his conducting career and was described by Alma Mahler as being ‘serene’ and ‘conscious of the greatness of his work’. Nevertheless, the subtitle ‘The Tragic’ is appropriate for a number of reasons; it reflects accurately upon music whose key is most notably in the minor. Indeed, the key of A minor appeared to be imbued with an especially tragic quality for Mahler, appearing in movements in his oeuvre notable for their restless or elegiac qualities. Moreover, contrary to the key scheme of most of Mahler’s other symphonies, the sixth ends as well as starts in A minor; having been written on the back of symphonies whose tonality was ‘progressive’ Mahler must clearly have been conscious of his conformity to the classical key scheme, which in his hands is transformed to affording the piece a feeling of ineluctability.

The sixth symphony represents Mahler the clairvoyant, since its finale features three hammer-blows, with an adjectival subordinate clause now usually following : ‘… of fate’, since they were though by Mahler at the time to presage tragedy; the entire symphony had a negative effect upon him. Whilst it transgresses rational discourse to suggest that Mahler actually predicted tragic events later in his life, and moves beyond the scope of this essay to examine the psychological condition whence such prognostications should have come, it nevertheless can be stated that, in a climacteric turn of fate, three tragedies did later befall Mahler, and regardless of whether they had happened or not it can be observed that Mahler held a superstition of a portentous nature.

The first movement of the symphony adheres to the precepts of classical sonata form. The exposition constitutes the first 112 bars of the movement wherein, as in the exposition of the first movement of the third symphony, (though to a lesser extent in the second subject of this movement) there are a collection of motifs, rather than simply one theme. The primary group of motifs appears as an imperious and rather strident march. Following a chorale-like transitory section for divided woodwind (with reiterations of one of the primary motifs played by pizzicato strings) the music bursts into the secondary theme, which in this case could quite rightly be called a ‘feminine’ theme, since it was intended by Mahler to depict his wife, Alma. The exposition, in accordance with classical practice, then repeats itself and is the first time since the first symphony to do so and is the last time Mahler would ever follow the practice.

The next movement should be considered the scherzo; in the same way that Mahler deleted the third hammer-stroke from the finale, this change could be seen as an effort to tame a more intense facet of the symphony. Furthermore, the idyllic Andante is rendered all the more efficacious and reposeful following two rather intense movements and moreover makes sense to precede the finale, since the Andante is in E flat major which is the relative major to the C minor in which the finale begins. Following from the Scherzo which for the most part distorts from the first movement and the Andante which again adheres exactly to classical rondo form, there is the monumental finale whose largely joyful music is seriously undermined by two hammer-strokes, before the devastating peripateia of the third and ultimate hammer-blow, which signals a peroration of severe bleakness.

1907 was the climacteric year in which Mahler’s superstitious fears shown in the sixth symphony were actualised. Seven months after completing the eighth symphony it was decided that he should leave his conducting post at the Vienna Court Opera, to which he acceded. Later that year, in June, as they had done for the past six years, the Mahler family holidayed at their summer retreat in Maiernigg on the Woerthersee. After only a few days, Mahler’s elder daughter –his favourite child- fell ill and a fortnight later died. Not long after, Mahler himself was diagnosed with an ultimately fatal heart condition. Despite the crises, Mahler took resolve to immerse himself in work after the summer sabbatical of 1907, when he had started a new conducting post in New York, and two years later (the year in which he started and completed the ninth symphony stated that he found ‘the “habits of existence” sweeter than ever’ and was ‘thirstier for life than ever’. This appears to be coupled with –unsurprisingly- a real sense of his own mortality.

The first compositional progeny of this experience was the song cycle Das Lied von der Erde, whose valedictory atmosphere and appropriation of oriental musical techniques had direct bearing upon the ninth, which was begun the summer of the following year and finished by September. This is immediately apparent in the opening of the first movement, in which the harp plays a figure based around a pentatonic scale used frequently in Das Lied von der Erde. One of the salient features of this movement is how it eludes formal categorisation, with vestigial aspects of sonata form commingled with procedures likened to double-variation form and facets of ‘character’ forms, such as the minuet. This appears to have been the logical conclusion taken by Mahler of his use of a collection of motifs in contrasting keys (in this case D major and its parallel minor) whose very nature define how the music progresses.

The second movement, like the second movement of the third symphony, is an amalgamation of two different genres; in this case, Laendler and Walz. In its alternation between these two genres in slightly modified forms, the overall form could be considered a rondo. This movement is rustic and rumbustious, with naïve vernacular genres transformed by dint of wild chromatic sequences quite foreign to the style and abrupt key changes of an arbitrary nature.

The third movement ‘Rondo-Burlesque’ contains some of Mahler’s most mordacious and astringent music he had yet composed. A contrapuntal tour de force, it intermingles fugato passages and polyrhythmic gestures in what is, needless to say, a rondo form movement. As in the preceding movement the key scheme is rather arbitrary, reaching such obscure regions as A flat minor (from bar 180) and a near relentless momentum is built up until bar 346, where there is a release of tension and the main motif of the fourth movement is adumbrated. The monumental fourth movement, which is also in rondo form, is the most predominantly valedictory in nature and unlike its counterpart in Das Lied von der Erde, presents a rather bleaker vision of death.

In conclusion, the forgoing elements represent Mahler’s approach to the symphony, and what it meant to him.


Check out that nice, five-second conclusion.

PS We were told to focus on three of his symphonies.
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  #26  
Old 20-05-08, 11:08 PM
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Herzeleide, that's brilliant and there's my early morning reading for tomorrow. Thank you sir!
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Old 21-05-08, 11:49 AM
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I read it - it's really interesting.

Thank you!

Whether he was clairvoyant or not (unlikely), I am sure the flighty Alma would have likely evoked feelings of foreboding.

I want to listen to the symphonies you describe now. Great stuff.
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Old 21-05-08, 03:08 PM
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I read you essay very carefully and was impressed with most of it, especially your obvious love and knowledge of the works in question. If I may, I’d like to add a few comments, which you can think about. If I don’t question something here it’s probably because I agree with your assessment.

You cannot say that Mahler conceived of the symphony in a cultural and historical atmosphere left by Brahms and Beethoven. Even if you do touch on Lizst’s Tone Poem/symphonies you must then go on to say something of the Wagnerian and Brucknerian domination of the German musical world within which Mahler had grown up. Gargantuan orchestras etc. were already part and parcel of the current musical language.

You say nothing of the Paganistic or Dionysian ‘hymn to nature’ which is at the heart of No.3. Nor of the transition throughout the work from earthly to metaphysical states.
His plan here was to bring the listener into a ‘heavenly’ realm, a kind of spiritual transcendence.

You give a rather pragmatic description of the tonal and orchestration processes ascribing to this the ‘other worldly’ feeling. The tense and relentless harmonic language within these keys, solo violin evoking the playful satyr awaking from the (slumber state) oboe, and the evading of any final resolution through a ‘pan-melodic’ approach to linear composition until the final few chords of the whole symphony are possibly more responsible.

When dealing with the Ninth
Say more about Mahler’s superstition about the number 9.
Perhaps there is more spiritual transfiguration in the ninth related to the knowledge of his own death...

Your conclusion should also contain a little more (to use your expression) peroration.
for example
‘This, this and this, then(synopsise your essay), form the essence of Mahler’s approach to the symphony.

Also do a spell check for fancy vocab. such as peripeteia.
You do like 'em!

Also I hope you use footnotes in the easy you hand in.
It’s very nice to know from where you get information.

e.g.
In 1909 Mahler wrote in a letter to Bruno Walter, “I am more avid for life than ever, and find ‘the habit of being alive’ sweeter than ever.”

Source:
Stuart Feder - Gustav Mahler–A Life in Crisis (Yale University Press, 2004)
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Old 21-05-08, 03:11 PM
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Thanks.


In retrospect it's not too bad to read, mainly because I seem to have the habit of writing (even if I do say so myself) good prose ingrained in me.
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Old 21-05-08, 03:15 PM
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Originally Posted by *** View Post
I read you essay very carefully and was impressed with most of it, especially your obvious love and knowledge of the works in question. If I may, I’d like to add a few comments, which you can think about. If I don’t question something here it’s probably because I agree with your assessment.

You cannot say that Mahler conceived of the symphony in a cultural and historical atmosphere left by Brahms and Beethoven. Even if you do touch on Lizst’s Tone Poem/symphonies you must then go on to say something of the Wagnerian and Brucknerian domination of the German musical world within which Mahler had grown up. Gargantuan orchestras etc. were already part and parcel of the current musical language.

You say nothing of the Paganistic or Dionysian ‘hymn to nature’ which is at the heart of No.3. Nor of the transition throughout the work from earthly to metaphysical states.
His plan here was to bring the listener into a ‘heavenly’ realm, a kind of spiritual transcendence.

You give a rather pragmatic description of the tonal and orchestration processes ascribing to this the ‘other worldly’ feeling. The tense and relentless harmonic language within these keys, solo violin evoking the playful satyr awaking from the (slumber state) oboe, and the evading of any final resolution through a ‘pan-melodic’ approach to linear composition until the final few chords of the whole symphony are possibly more responsible.

When dealing with the Ninth
Say more about Mahler’s superstition about the number 9.
Perhaps there is more spiritual transfiguration in the ninth related to the knowledge of his own death...

Your conclusion should also contain a little more (to use your expression) peroration.
for example
‘This, this and this, then(synopsise your essay), form the essence of Mahler’s approach to the symphony.

Also do a spell check for fancy vocab. such as peripeteia.
You do like 'em!

Also I hope you use footnotes in the easy you hand in.
It’s very nice to know from where you get information.

e.g.
In 1909 Mahler wrote in a letter to Bruno Walter, “I am more avid for life than ever, and find ‘the habit of being alive’ sweeter than ever.”

Source:
Stuart Feder - Gustav Mahler–A Life in Crisis (Yale University Press, 2004)
Thanks, but it's too late.
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