Mahler, Mahler everywhere: why?

39 posts / 0 new
Last post
Mahler, Mahler everywhere: why?

The most over rated, over hyped composer. Mahler symphony cycles in Manchester, Birmingham, London and an almost complete cycle at the Proms. I can hardly turn on Radio 3 without hearing a Mahler symphony or song cycle. How did this come about? How did this composer, hardly ever played or even heard of in my youth, become so popular? The Proms have not been slow in promoting new music and yet with the exception of the 4th no Mahler symphony had ever been played at the Proms until the 1960s when the Mahler explosion started and since then it seems almost every conductor has to have a Mahler symphony cycle under their belt.  I can't think of another composer who has had such exposure. One would hardly have known it was a Schumann anniversary last year. Mahler got more exposure than Chopin, whilst Barber's centenary was virtually ignored. I doubt if even the Beethoven symphonies have had such exposure in one season. 

The music is over inflated, sometimes banal and generally too long but I suppose my main problem is that it just fails to connect with me emotionally, apart from the fourth symphony which I have to admit I quite like in Reiner's and Klemperer's recordings although I don't find any connexion between the final movement and the rest of the work.  No doubt the problem is with me but despite listening to Solti, Klemperer and Mehta the much lauded second symphony now recorded again by Rattle just leaves me cold and unmoved.

RE: Mahler, Mahler everywhere: why?

Very interesting post 33lp, and although I can hear the worms literally bursting out of their cans, I basically empathise with a lot of what you say.

The first Mahler symphony I heard was Szell conducting the 4th, I loved it immediately, and I still do. The others have some great movements or moments, but they don´t really do anything for me, in the way that many other symphonies I love do. I used to think this was a failing on my part to understand the music, and maybe it is, but frankly I´m not bothered anymore. Everytime I hear a Mahler symphony now I am less inclined to repeat the experince. I more and more feel like he wrote the same symphony ten times. The same does notr hold for his songs or song cycles for me, but if I never heard the symphonies again I wouldn´t be too bothered.

So, you asked why. Well personally I think it has a lot to do with the fact that Mahler the man, and his music conforms to the image of what a lot of people think a composer and classical music should be. This notion is anathema to music for me, but it´s very pervasive nonetheless. Also Mahler is the most cinematic composer I can think of, and in the age we live in his music seems to have struck a chord with people who hear a lot of their orchestral music through movies. Lastly and most insidiously for me, is the fact that for a lot of conductors I think Mahler is the ultimate ego trip, and for the public who adore them, and still hold on to this nauseating idea that compsers are some kind of Gods, and conductors their messengers, there is nothing that brings more pleasure than their hero conducting a whole Mahler cycle.

 

RE: Mahler, Mahler everywhere: why?

Yes, I see your point 33lp. But then again, I've been saying that of Tchaikovsky & Shostakovich for years, when the music of Glazunov, Scriabin, Gliere, Myaskovsky could have easily enrich and entertain our experience for a given evening. Unfortunately, and this was something Klemperer warned against (see the YouTube interview/documentary of him), performing Mahler became a fashion. His music is overinflated and longwinded. But they speak of the world and to the world and I'm afraid that the continual excessive exposure of them will become too much of marketing tools at the expense of the universal message it carries from Mahler, the man of the world. And so the novelty withers. Commercialism at its worse.

A friend of mine reminded me that repeating listening is a complex ingredient of music appreciation and it is indeed rewarding to have opportunities to re-define our emotions and analyses of a work performed repeatedly. That said, with such a plethora of recordings and performances of the Mahler symphonies, how much more 'redefinition' will one need to get the message behind the great works?

Now I'll get back to Gliere's Third Symphony. Thanks 33lp for the posting.

 :-)

 

David A. Hollingsworth

RE: Mahler, Mahler everywhere: why?

..... and I thought it was just me. 

Generally I love symphonies and I quite like some of the music, I just wish that it didn't go on quite so long without really going anywhere. No doubt the Mahler fans will come along and make the case for him.

 

RE: Mahler, Mahler everywhere: why?

As with all kinds of music, I find it's my mood that dictates how much or little I enjoy Mahler. I've gone years without touching him then fallen in love with his symphonies all over again. Sometimes he strikes me as an overblown, self-pitying windbag, other times he has all the answers. Perhaps the exception is #6 which, in either Bernstein performance, would always be one of my 10 desert island discs. 3, 5, 9 and 10 aren't far behind but 8 bores me and 7 irritates.

One major change over a lifetime of listening to him is that he's now fair game for every rag, tag or bobtail of a conductor who thinks he has something to say. He used to be considered a composer that only a few conductors could bring off, and I tend to hold to that view. Bernstein, Walter, Horenstein (sometimes), Chailly and Haitink make him work for me but it's downhill from there. Rattle, and Barbirolli before him, underline and distort as if trying to out-Bernstein Bernstein. Except that what somehow works for Lenny doesn't for them. One of my all-time favourite conductors, Kempe, leaves me cold in Mahler as does Karajan. Each to his own, I guess.

RE: Mahler, Mahler everywhere: why?

I think that Barbirolli was conducting Mahler symphonies if not before then certainly at the same time as Bernstein and Mitropoulous was conducting them before either.

Incidentally, try his 6th. I find it unbearable as a symphonic experience.

I blame some of the conductors. Karajan came to them late, Solti overblows them, MTT bores us with them and Sinopoli...well, Sinopoli will always be Sinopoli. Why did this man take up a profession he couldn't do?

I bought his Elgar 2nd very cheaply but struggle to get through the first movement. "Like Bruckner" Gramophone said at the time. If only, it might have been interesting.

Where were we? Oh yes, why the overblown, overplayed symphonies of Mahler leave some people cold.

Personally, I love them, some more than others. How can you live without the 9th?

Sooner them than another unRussian 'Pathetique' or a German 'New World.'

RE: Mahler, Mahler everywhere: why?

Interesting, almost entirely level-headed discussion of the Mahler phenomenon. Funnily enough I've recently written a piece about the post-1960s Mahler craze as a sort of review-essay of Norman Lebrecht's Why Mahler? Three things which I thought Lebrecht didn't mention to explain the 'timing' were:

1) the full establishment of stereo LPs in the 1960s and then the willingness in the 1990s/2000s for record companies to release 80-minute CDs (all Mahler symphonies can be fitted onto an 80-minute CD, with the exception of the 3rd);

2) many listeners' lack of response to the post-war avant-garde - Mahler, by contrast, writes tunes (but is ironic and 'postmodern' enough to feel 'relevant');

3) the end of biographical constraint in the 1960s and 1970s (biographies by Mitchell, de la Grange, etc): we're all psychologists now, and Mahler is a gift here (something people pick up on above).

http://hwj.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2011/02/21/hwj.dbq060.extract

John

RE: Mahler, Mahler everywhere: why?

Other than the Titan, Mahler's music doesn't connect with me at all.  In "The Devil's Music Master", Furtwangler remarks that Mahler is 'old man's music'.  i don't know if i can wait that long.  Bruckner and Mahler are often lumped together, due, I suppose, mainly for the length (and width) of their symphonies.  For me, they could hardly be more different.  At the end of a Bruckner symphony, I feel like I've actually traveled somewhere.  With Mahler, I struggle a movement at a time to follow the argument.  Just when I start to feel it, here comes some of that damn 'irony'.  Wouldn't if be nice if Schmidt or Pfitzner got a little love from conductors/record companies?

I blame Bernstein.

RE: Mahler, Mahler everywhere: why?

It seems there are two points here; firstly is Mahler any good? And secondly, why has he taken over our concert halls?

Personally I rate Mahler extremely highly, although I would never go as far into hyperbole as Norman Lebrecht. People hear have written of the synmphonies not speking to them or lengthy journeys that don't go anywhere. For me all Mahler's symphonies do go somewhere and they are never without purpose. If they are big and grandiose this is because this was the composer's intention - 'to encompass the world'. To some the comment of a egocentric but to others the honest comment of an artist - you can take it or leave it. What is undeniable is that Mahler's symphonies have taken on a life of their own and now survive on their own merits. Posterity usually gets it right and the simple fact is that Mahler is no longer just fashionable - welisten to other composers through the lense of his compositions. Place Mahler next of Berg's 3 Orchestral Pieces, Britten's Sinfonia da Requiem or Shostakovich's Eight Symphony and each is cast in a different light. All that said I would argue that Mahler's Ninth Symphony is undoubtedly one of the single greatest symphonies ever written - to paraphrase John Cage (no fan of Mahler, but I won't hold that against the old iconoclast) - If you hear it one and don't like it, keep listening until you do.

The second question is more valid. I believe the issue is audiences and bums on seats. Mahler is incredibly popular and sells out auditoriums. He is also a 'live' composer - the music is better live than it can ever be on record. Undoubtedly some go to hear Mahler for the 'experience' (just like some when to see Jimi Hendrix live or trip out to Ginsberg's 'Howl'). In truth there are times I have found Mahler live overwhelming - Tennstedt/LPO in the eighth, Chailly/RCO in the ninth and Sinopoli/Philharmonia in the second. Sure there are alternatives - I wish somebody would get Rawsthorne, Rubbra, Searle, Berwald or even Nielsen's sixth on the bill more often.

 

Is there too much Mahler in concert halls? Yes. But there is also too much Beethoven, Brahms and Tchaikovsky. The orchestral repetoire is far smaller than we imagine - venture beyond the staples and see the audiences fall. Is it Mahler's fault that he is so popular? Or is it the fault of orchestras and audiences who crave a very basis diet?

One more point I must raise - the comment about Sinopoli. Indeed he always was controversial. I was lucky enough to live close enough to London at a time when Sinopoli, Tennstedt, Abbado, Guilini, Salonen and the rest were very busy in the capital. Mark Elder was at ENO and Hatink at Covent Graden. I can only say that I never doubted Sinopoli's place in that group. His concerts were thought provoking and never dull - sometimes wrong headed perhaps but they were the product of an enquiring mind.

Naupilus

RE: Mahler, Mahler everywhere: why?

“All that said I would argue that Mahler's Ninth Symphony is undoubtedly one of the single greatest symphonies ever written”

 

I perfectly agree.

 

I can’t believe some of the things being said about Mahler on this thread. I think some of you are guilty of listening to Mahler with a lazy ear. During a time when radical music was beginning to dominate, it was Mahler who upheld the long established tradition of romanticism and did a wonderful job of it. It is true, as Dubrob pointed out, that his symphonies have a cinematic effect to them, which is no doubt the reason they are such audience-pullers nowadays. He strongly emphasizes emotional effect. He once mentioned “A symphony must be like the world, it must embrace everything” and indeed his vision was fully realized with his 9th symphony. An ultimate summarization of everything Mahler believed in. It was what the 9th symphony was Beethoven, or what the 15th symphony was for Shostakovich. It was the grand finale. Its as if Mahler went on journey to the most beautiful places on Earth and came back with this symphony to tell the story. You can see everything in here; from visions of paradise to total desolation. Its incredible. Definitely not the work of a “self-pitying windbag”. Out of all the versions I’ve listened to, I’d have to say  Boulez’s version has been the most rewarding for me. And please, whatever you do, give it a very careful and considerate listen, it’s the most beautiful symphony ever written.

frostwalrus

RE: Mahler, Mahler everywhere: why?

331p-If I could only bring one composer's music to a deserted island, it would be Gustav Mahler's.  As another individual responded, Mahler's music was intended to encompass the whole world.  His music can be quite dense and long, but the more you listen, the more you recognize his genius.

I would recommend picking up the versions by Benjamin Zander on Telarc.  He includes a discussion CD with each symphony which delves into the man and what is going on behind the music.  Even though I am very familiar with all the symphonies and own multiple versions of each, Zander brought my listening to a much deeper level of understanding and appreciation.  By listening first to the lecture and then to the music, I believe you may change your mind about Mahler being the most overrated and over hyped composer and may even learn to love his music as I do.

Pages

Log in or register to post comments

Gramophone Subscriptions

From£67/year

Gramophone Print

Gramophone Print

no Digital Edition
no Digital Archive
no Reviews Database
no Events & Offers
From£67/year
Subscribe
From£67/year

Gramophone Reviews

Gramophone Reviews

no Print Edition
no Digital Edition
no Digital Archive
no Events & Offers
From£67/year
Subscribe
From£67/year

Gramophone Digital Edition

Gramophone Digital Edition

no Print Edition
no Reviews Database
no Events & Offers
From£67/year
Subscribe

If you are a library, university or other organisation that would be interested in an institutional subscription to Gramophone please click here for further information.

© MA Business and Leisure Ltd. 2019