Is Gustav Mahler really a profound composer??

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Is Gustav Mahler really a profound composer??

normally we tend to confuse complicated with "profound" or "trascendent", and I think Mahlers music is precisely a good example of this. I dont want to say that I dont like Mahlers music, not, I like it very much, specially 2nd, 4th, 5th and 6th symphonies, but I dont think that this be a music profound or trascendent (in a filosophical sense), I think that, more than profound, this is not a difficult, but an intrincated or complicated music. I say this because (I think you ll agree with me in this) his melodies are sometimes basic (like the "Frere Jacques" in Titan symphony) or 4th symphony 1st movt principal theme, or sometimes undefined, like the "adagietto" in 5th symphony, more simple a "theme without ends" that we could repeat inlimitedly, one and more times. I got the impression that Mahler projets and projects, but isnt capable to concrete, in this sense I think that Sibelius, for example, is a  more complete or elaborated musician in his discurse, than your "languid" and unespecified Mahler. Adolfo Salazar, an spanish musicologist, explained this saying  that like the other musicians after Beethovens era, logically Mahler wanted too reach Beethovens greatness, but like he was unable to do it through his themes, he treated to do it using a greatest orchestra and a more lengthy or extensive compositions, but that was insuficcient, and pitifully in place of "majesty" he only reach an external element...."monumentality"!!, and in my concept only an empty monumentality, but I also like Mahlers music very much! What do you think about this?? Best whishes. oscar.olavarria

RE: Is Gustav Mahler really a profound composer??

Interesting topic. I suppose I have never found concert music of any kind very deep at all either as feeling or thought - most of it looks and sounds like an exercise to me. Don't get me wrong - exercise is good for you. Re. Mahler, what I have noticed is that people tend to move away from an interest in Mahler, rather than moving towards him. Grow out of him rather than grow into him. Too splashy. And by now, I guess, just too familiar.

RE: Is Gustav Mahler really a profound composer??

A tough question... what does profound mean? While not wanting to open up the whole subjectivity/objectivity debate again I think the answer to this question will be resolutely personal.

We have to (each of us) define what we think is profound in music. For me it must surely be linked to our reaction to the music. Crudely put, where does it take us and does it offer a transcending reaction?

If this is my criteria then I would answer yes, I think Mahler profound. I do this because in the best Mahler performances I do 'hear' narratives that make the sum greater than the parts (movements) therein. A melody does not need (for me) to be complex - it is how it is as part of the whole that must being interesting, provoking, complex. Mahler can easily be played as some sort of concerto for orchestra. (I hear far too many perfromances that seem just show cases for virtuosity and even conductor's vanity - Gergiev step forward!).

The example of the opening of the third movement of the first symphony is a fascinating (and at the time of its creation, controversial, point). Yes, Mahler quotes a simple melody, first on double bass (an original and effective touch) and then slowly it morphs into something much more complex, with a hint of a 'klezmer' band (again through a conscious choice of orchestration) followed by the ironic juxtaposition of two moods - funerial and beer keller. It is an essential Mahler technique - one we hear in other symphonies such as the seventh. It is rich, complex music not because of the notes but their interplay. Perhaps it is because I tend to see much irony in life, but this appeals to me. Then again we also hear echoes of the adagietto from the fifth symphony, and on the return of 'Bruder Martin' somehow the wailing trumpets suddenly sound more profoundly sad, the klezmer band more energized. For me it is impressive stuff, profound because it speaks to the dark humour that life clasps very closely.

You see, I refuse to have to choose between Mahler and Sibelius - each of them is to me profound in their own unique way. What I would say is that I have always felt Mahler's view of nature had the energy of a Maurice Sendak illustration, spikely and rebellious. Sibelius's view of nature strikes me as being very different - the observer watching the slow unfolding of nature, that feeling one gets when caught by the beauty of nature. I'll happily take both views.


RE: Is Gustav Mahler really a profound composer??

Naupilus, what a superb post!


RE: Is Gustav Mahler really a profound composer??

Congratulations, Naupilus, from me too.

I think Naupilus said very eloquently almost anything about the profundity in Mahler's music. I should only add that a composer, who composed a work like Das Lied von der Erde, is as profound as he could possibly be. If we add the Kindertotenlieder and let's say the Second Symphony, do we need some more? To me, every work by Mahler has enough aspects to "dig in" and get as many aspects of truth, of Life, of Love, of Pain, of the Utmost Beauty. That's more than enough to be "profound".

I believe the Fourth is one of the subtlest forms of profundity in Symphonic music as for the outer movements and the enigmatic Scherzo, while it gets extremely obvious and almost to the extreme in the superb, even monumental, slow movement.

A great, albeit unconventional, composer.

RE: Is Gustav Mahler really a profound composer??

Yes, Mahler is as profound as one wants him to be.

Naupilus is possibly aware of an RCA recording of Mahler 3 by James Levine and the Chicago Symphony.  The record sleeve (and the CD booklet) feature a charming and evocative Maurice Sendak illustration especially commissioned for the recording.  It is just so apt for this symphony.

This recording was my first hearing of the work, and while I now have others and have heard it live from the great and not-so-great I still revere it as the best performance I've encountered.  I do wonder sometimes just how much the wonderful Sendak illustration has influenced this view.

RE: Is Gustav Mahler really a profound composer??

Mahler - a profound composer? Definitely, yes. I am touched by lots of composers' music but Mahler is at the top of the pile for me. I could go on here but Naulipus has said it all so eloquently (well done!) that I don't need to.


RE: Is Gustav Mahler really a profound composer??

Of course the music dont requires a plot, it das'nt needs to tell a history (except opera or symphonic poems), thats what because music is esentially a sensorial phenomenon. But  also is real that music produces emotions: in Mozart's case optimism, joie de vivre; in Beethoven's bravery, courage, self-confidence, an heroic sentiment; in Bach or Handel, devotion; conductor Hans Richter characterised the 3th Symphony of Brahms as "heroic", etc, etc, but which are the feelings in Mahler's music?? I hear him -something pasagges- with really great pleasure, but always I ask to me...what is he tryng to say?? or do you find profound the "Frere Jacques" passage, for example?, because of that I see Mahler's music principally like orchestral exercises, in Mahler more important than what he says (or tried to say) with his music, is like he sounds. But of course, there are opposite opinions about this: a friend like a joke called the Mahler's 8th symphony, renowned like we know "One thousand symphony", like the symphony of one thousand...mistakes!, but other, German Reyes ("calbuco"), an universitarien literature teacher and an active participant in different forums, finds him a real philosopher, for him Mahler is in music, something similar to Kafka was at literature. "Each to his own taste". But what is really effective for me is that Mahler causes a real adiction, like heroin does, and that is because of like I said before in Mahler's music more important than the content is like he sounds, and how every new recording sounds different, the listener suffers the compulsion to buy all of them, god or bad thats secondary, and thats the motiv of companies day after day records and records new integrals of this composer. At last, the more enthusiastic mahlerians of all are the records companies. As the saying goes: "Nowhere knows for hom works"ja,ja,ja!! oscar.olavarria 

RE: Is Gustav Mahler really a profound composer??

Oscar, try to get it. Stop elaborating on the surface (the mere use of folk songs) and see and indulge in the development of the Mahlerian music. There is plenty to discover.

Music that can bring true great emotional reaction to so many listeners cannot be but, at least to some extent, profound. In some cases, there is even fulfillment. Then, we may speak of monumental profundity.


RE: Is Gustav Mahler really a profound composer??

Logan wrote:

Naupilus is possibly aware of an RCA recording of Mahler 3 by James Levine and the Chicago Symphony.  The record sleeve (and the CD booklet) feature a charming and evocative Maurice Sendak illustration especially commissioned for the recording.  It is just so apt for this symphony.

I love that illustration!

Mahler composed intensely moving and emotional music. Profound is one of the adjectives I would use to describe his music. I now find that it is possible to overdose on profundity - my Mahler recordings do not come out as frequently as they used to.

Mahler is not the only composer where I have to ration myself - the impact of Mozart's piano concertos is also dulled  if they are heard too frequently.

Best wishes


RE: Is Gustav Mahler really a profound composer??

I think Mahler has written wonderful and also "profound" musical moments, deeply expressive music to which one responds inside. His orchestral colours are astonishing, unequalled almost. 

Of Mahler as a symphonist, though, I am less impressed. He has written mostly (in terms of length, not quantity) symphonies. His Lieder are (mostly) absolutely stunning and in my view deeply moving, profound. His symphonies are patch works of many wonderful moments, but I don't see them as organic symphonies in the way that I would regard a Bruckner symphony, where every moment grows out of the previous and everything forms a cathedral. A Bruckner symphonic climax is truly built up, but in Mahler I never feel that it is. The Adagietto is of course wonderful, as is the slow movement of the 4th (perhaps his most symphonic movement actually, with an organic build-up of the musical material), but he doesn't bring me profound musical experiences as do Bruckner, Sibelius, Beethoven and many others. 

Just a very personal view of course...



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