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.

Naupilus

RE: Is Gustav Mahler really a profound composer??

Naupilus, what a superb post!

JKH

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.

Graham

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,

I just want to clear up one possible point of confusion before addressing some of the points in your post (7). When I talked about a narrative running through a piece of music I do not mean necessarily a 'story', such as you might find in the Pastoral or Alpine Symphony. Narratives (for me as a listener) come in many varieties - they can be emotional, architectural, temporal etc. The key thing is that I suspect when I feel a profound connection and/or understanding of a piece of music I have acheived, on one level at least, a personal understanding of the music. I think it is probably this that I look for when I approach music new to me - to develop a familairity with it so that I am both 'outside and within' the music. (I shall stop here, as I suspect I am in danger of deeply purple prose and even perhaps pretension!)

To you other points? Yes, I think I have made clear that I find the 'Brudder Martin' passage profound, for the reasons I have given before. Others have mentioned additional examples from works by Mahler. If I was to add one more it would be the work I think is Mahler's greatest - his ninth symphony. While the sounds themselves may be indeed a feast for our senses this work is about as profound a piece of orchestral music as any I know. If I may return to my small concept of narrative, it seems to me this work gives multiple opportunities for narrative. The chemistry between the music, the structure of the piece and time itself is extarordinary. Just within the first movement (which I am listening to now - thank you for the prompt) the constant shifts of texture, focus and the genius Mahler demonstrates in mastering his themes is constantly challenging me to listen more intently. Personally I think a great performance of this music bends time to its will - you become lost in the ebb and flow, and if that is not a profound interaction between composer, musicians and audience then I don't know what is.

Is Mahler a drug? Is that why musicians make and people buy so many recordings? I don't know. What I can say for myself is that after 25 years of listening to Mahler I am certain now I listen less frequently to his music, but each hearing is a richer experience. Maybe it is age but I do feel that just as musicians often develop their view on the works they perform we listeners too develop our understanding. I have only one rule with the works I am most familiar with - that I must listen to the whole work and not just a few movements, as I would feel cheated.

I think it was Thomas Beecham who said, "It is quite untrue that British people don't appreciate music. They may not understand it but they absolutely love the noise it makes." I have to admit that sometimes, when I am lazy in my listening, I hear Beecham's quote like a devil on the shoulder. And then at other times I just love the noise - for example the end of Dvorak's seventh symphony. And if it is the love of the noise people take from Mahler then that's fine by me - but I do think that they are missing the true point of his music.

Naupilus

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.

Parla

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

P

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...

 

RE: Is Gustav Mahler really a profound composer??

As I have stated on different occasions, Bruckner's "cathedral" Symphonies might be very majestic, impressive, structurally almost always perfect, but his obsession with the good God deprived him from dealing with all the possible human emotions, joys and pains, even Life itself. So, while his Symphonic work looks and sounds so full, it is actually empty of diversity and the multifold human expressions of the various aspects of love, death, pain, and life itself.

On the contrary, Mahler, behaving as a sort of maverick perhaps, he moved exactly to that direction, sacrificing even the coherence of his Symphonic works, but he gave us this emotional wealth and incredible diversity of his opus. A movement as the slow one from the Fourth, or the opening of the Second, or the Finale of the Ninth are enough to justify his end, let alone his wonderfully and emotionally rich Songs.

In any case, we need all the aspects of greatness. So, let's thank our lucky stars we have such a colourful world of great Classical composers.

Parla

Is Gustav Mahler really a profound composer??

parla wrote:

As I have stated on different occasions, Bruckner's "cathedral" Symphonies might be very majestic, impressive, structurally almost always perfect, but his obsession with the good God deprived him from dealing with all the possible human emotions, joys and pains, even Life itself. So, while his Symphonic work looks and sounds so full, it is actually empty of diversity and the multifold human expressions of the various aspects of love, death, pain, and life itself.

I suppose it depends on how you define "music" in the end. Is it the sound itself or what happens with it, the development, the relationship between musical phrases that make the sum greater than the parts? 

I do praise Mahler and like him a lot, but what he wrote often isn't really what I would call music, beyond the soundscape, beyond the moment. He delivers immediate and emotional response, but not the overarching experience that any other composer gives and which you find in Schubert, Mozart and all the other great (and highly human) composers. It's not just Bruckner I meant to compare to. A Schubert quartet is better structured and has more of what I would call "true" music than have most Mahler works.

RE: Is Gustav Mahler really a profound composer??

ganymede wrote:

parla wrote:

As I have stated on different occasions, Bruckner's "cathedral" Symphonies might be very majestic, impressive, structurally almost always perfect, but his obsession with the good God deprived him from dealing with all the possible human emotions, joys and pains, even Life itself. So, while his Symphonic work looks and sounds so full, it is actually empty of diversity and the multifold human expressions of the various aspects of love, death, pain, and life itself.

I suppose it depends on how you define "music" in the end. Is it the sound itself or what happens with it, the development, the relationship between musical phrases that make the sum greater than the parts? 

I do praise Mahler and like him a lot, but what he wrote often isn't really what I would call music, beyond the soundscape, beyond the moment. He delivers immediate and emotional response, but not the overarching experience that any other composer gives and which you find in Schubert, Mozart and all the other great (and highly human) composers. It's not just Bruckner I meant to compare to. A Schubert quartet is better structured and has more of what I would call "true" music than have most Mahler works.

ganymede

Whilst I understand your feelings about Mahler's strengths and weaknesses I personally feel it difficult to agree with your observation regarding overarching experience. I won't repeat my thoughts that I posted earlier regarding 'narrative', which I would say seem close to your use of 'overarching' but I would another couple of examples, where I feel Mahler acheives symphonic greatness in the more classical sense of Schubert.

If you to one side the musical content of the sixth symphony (very hard to do, as it is so direct and absorbing) the symphony itself is almost classical in structure, with four movements including the usual slow movement and a scherzo. The outer movements latch on to sonata form (although I am relaibly informed by a friend more musically trained than me that the last movement is most certainly not sonata form!). Thematic material are very clearly laid out and while each movement is satisfying as a whole (for me at least) there is an inexorable journey towards the finale. I would actually argue that the sixth is the most classical of all Mahler's works as it shows the DNA of its forefathers. The first movement has the same driven and grim determination as Beethoven's fifth (where in one fates knocks on the door, in the second fate tramples a world underfoot). The scherzo continues the uncompromising nature of the first movement - if it is light-hearted then it is the humour of the fatalistic. The adagio is truely in the classical mode in that it serves the purpose that many adagios have, of reminding us of the sunlight in the middle of the storm. The finale - well possibly this is one of the most unforgiving of the whole symphonic repetoire. It leaves only devastation in its wake and, for me at least, is the natural end to the first movements opening gambit.

The fifth seems to me another richly symphonic work. It makes an inexorable rise from the darkness of the first movement to perhaps one of my favourite movements in all Mahler, the resoundingly uplifting fifth movement rondo. For me at least, you should never listen to just a movement here or a movement there - to do so is to negate the narrative. The moment int he first movement when we here, just for a moment, the brilliant light of the rondo's main theme before descending back into the darkness of the funeral march seems to me one of those wonderful 'steals' Mahler makes from other composers - in this case stealing a trick from Wagner.

It is interesting to note that Karajan once expressed a view that the three bleakest symphonies in the repetoire were Brahms 4, Sibelius 4 and Mahler 6. I suspect this is because what he felt was that each ended in some sort of metaphorical devastation, with the symphony being consumed in its own darkness. I would happen to agree. I have in the past wondered why the Tchaikovsky 6 is not included in this (or Mahler 9) - I cannot get to the bottom of that question but I suspec it might be because in the case of Tchaikovsky there is a attempt to engage the sympathy of the listener as an observer, rather than a participant. As for Mahler 9, well I just feel that inhabits a whole world of its own and has no immediate cousins in all the symphonic works I know.

Naupilus

RE: Is Gustav Mahler really a profound composer??

 

Dear Naupilus,

at last Mahlers 9th symphonie is the only example in favour of your position, modestly I think that is a weak argument, I believe that your interest in Mahlers 9th symphonie is simply a problem of personal affinity with the work (or an obssesion, may be), but I understand and respect your position, because something similar happens to me with certains works, like for example Berlioz s  "Symphonie Fantastique" or Smetana s "Ma Vlast", or some conductors like Sir Malcolm Sargent, Fritz Reiner or Pierre Monteux, for example, but that no means that theyll be the best of alls, is only a personal preference.

about phlogiston opinion "the impact of Mozart's piano concertos is also dulled  if they are heard too frequently", against that I hear Mozarts concertos diary, and my interest about them grows permanently. Excuse my english. oscar.olavarria

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