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Thanks for some fascinating and interesting comments. I was prompted to write by three more symphony recordings in the current Gramophone and then when I looked at the concert reviews in last Friday's Times, guess what? Two Mahler symphonies! No9 with the LSO and No 7 with the Bournemouth SO (although the reviewer did say there were empty rows of seats for the latter which I find the most intractable work of the lot).
I like the comments in dubrob's last paragraph which sums things nicely for me and like dstrickland I recall the days when Bruckner and Mahler were lumped together and feel too that I have travelled somewhere with Bruckner's last three in particular.
In my younger days I thought Shostakovitch's cycle the 20th century's greatest when I expended what I then thought was a vast sum on the HMV/Melodiya boxed set but now I would opt for Vaughan Williams's nine as a cycle, although for individual 20th century symphonic greats I would take Elgar's two as head and shoulders above anything else.
In his book The Great Composers written in the 1970s I seem to recall Harold Shoenberg commenting that VW may well turn out to be the 20th century's greatest symphonist, I must dig it out to see what he said about Mahler in the 1970s.
I can´t remember what Mr. Schonberg said about Mahler I probably never got that far, as all I remember about reading the same book was that he called Sibelius a minor composer, a statement which enraged me so much that I couldn´t continue reading. Although if his opinions about Mahler are anything like those about Lenny, it won´t be exactly waxing lyrical.
Harold Schoenberg wrote the "Letter from America" in the Gramophone during the fifties and sixties.
He could be extremely annoying because there seemed to be no logic to some of his views other than an inexplicable deaf spot(we all have them), personal taste or blind (deaf?) prejudice, not that he would(could?) admit to this.
He could be quite entertaining having the knack of covering a wide area very briefly.
It is interesting that Richard Strauss has raised his head as the champion of tonal music. I am not so sure I can agree fully with that idea - the Strauss who wrote Salome and Elektra not only provoked the consternation of his contemporaries but also laid the groundwork for Wozzeck. And while only one movement of Mahler's tenth remains extant (the rest is wonderful conjecture) it too steps beyond the bounds of 'romanticism' (although I have a problem with that term). And as ever most roads lead back to Liszt, who composed a Bagatelle 'without tonality'. Strauss himself seems to have leaned over the abyss and then retreated - it would seem this was partially a reaction to the world around him and partly because he just did not want to go much further.
It is true that Mahler died before Schoenberg fully developed the twelve tone. Mahler's role was simply to encourage Webern, Schoenberg, Berg and others - he helped out the struggling Schoenberg with a loan if I am not mistaken. He recognised that Schoenberg was going in a direction he might not be able to follow, but he encouraged him.
Perhaps I am very lucky - I like my Bruckner, Mahler, Strauss and Wagner in equal measure. It all depends on the day in question.
Fully agree as regards Salome, and most especially Elektra, one of the most radical and terrifying pieces of music drama ever written, and written while Mahler was alive.
I wouldn´t agree that this radical music was dominant in the first decade of the 20th centurt, but Schoenberg wrote Erwartung, the Three Piano Pieces; and 5 Orchestral Pieces in 1909, for my money the most radical stuff he ever wrote. The same year that Webern wrote his 5 pieces for String Quartet, and a year after Berg´s Piano Sonata-
This thread has enticed me back into Mahler's world for another go. I've been listening to the Boulez recording of the ninth, and I would certainly agree that the first movement is achingly beautiful. Regarding Strauss, I, too would rate Salome and Elektra as the most terrifying music I've ever heard, but it doesn't seem to me too big of a leap from Wagner. At the time, I'm sure, very radical. But looking back, not too far removed from, say, Tristan. I had always assumed that Mahler had stretched the German-Austrian symphonic model as far as it could go, and then we get the snap that brought about Schoenberg, Berg, Webern. At the risk of straying off-topic, wasn't Strauss considered something of an old fuddy-duddy by the intelligentsia by the 30's or so? (A moniker he may have embraced with Rosenkavalier.) The Reich venerated him; curious as to how Elektra was viewed by Hitler and his gang. Descriptions of Strauss often disparage him as 'second-rate Wagner', but I've certainly learned to appreciate him more and more. Anyway, our local St. Louis Symphony has programmed Mahler's Resurrection in a couple of weeks. I have every intention of attending.
Although it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact starting point of modern music, I’d definitely argue that modernism was developing long before 1910. Its roots can be traced all the way back to Richard Wagner, the giant of the nineteenth century. His Tristan Und Isolde is the most revolutionary opera in history, it pushed tonal harmony to its very limits. His other operas such as Parsifal and Der Ring des Nibelungen were equally significant. His music was so ground-breaking that composers in his wake felt there was little left to accomplish. Franz Liszt may have been the first to realize the minor and major key tonal system would ultimately collapse. He began to see the suggestive possibilities of the piano in ways that no one before him had seen. His Bagatelle Without Tonality and Nuage Gris, along with some of his other 1870’s piano works, were all precursors of modernism. If Liszt was to set the stage for modernism, then it was Claude Debussy who finally initiated it. Debussy, who was growing impatient with the rigid tonal-system tradition, composed Prélude À L'Après-Midi D'Un Faune and totally revolutionized music in terms of harmony and color. This, along with La Mer and his opera Pelléas et Mélisande, were revolutionary works that marked the turning point of music into modernism. Conceptually his music was very radical for his time. But his music was sensational, warm and inviting, he did not intend on scaring the hell out of his audience as composers later on would. Just as Beethoven brought classical into romanticism, Debussy brought romanticism into modernism. Stravinsky, Messiaen, Boulez, as well as countless other great composers all have openly admitted a debt to him. Stravinsky once said “Debussy is in all senses the century’s first musician.” Eric Satie, a friend of Debussy, was another important figure during the first decade of the twentieth century, even though his most significant works wouldn’t be created until later on in his life. You guys think I’m crazy for mentioning all of this, but in fact there are musicologists that regard the period of musical modernism as extending from about 1890 to only 1930; they refer to the period after 1930 as postmodernism.
Also I don’t have a problem with anyone disliking Mahler, I just didn’t agree with some of the disparaging remarks being said about him here. I consider Mahler as one of the great symphonists of all times and he deserves our respect.
Dtstrickland: “I've been listening to the Boulez recording of the ninth, and I would certainly agree that the first movement is achingly beautiful.”
I’m glad you liked it. Its always important to give an artist a second chance. I originally didn’t care for Mahler either until I got to listen to that recording. Now I’m a Mahler fan for life!
I think perhaps we outside the 'Mahler-Circle' have grown particularly sensitive to some of the often outlandish and unsupportable praise afforded him. Witness Norman Lebrecht's recent WHY MAHLER? where he apparently loses his critical faculties fawning over his favorite composer. The Sixth warns of 'ecological disaster' and the first world war? Uh, what? When I read your post, Frostwalrus, I didn't equate 'radical' with modern. Mahler, an acccomplished Wagnerian, would have already absorbed much of the language you cite. I would imagine he would be very familiar with Debussy, also, although my knowledge of French music is sorely lacking. I assumed (there's that word!) you were speaking of the serialists, and falling into the aforementioned trap of attributing heroic traits of your own invention. Clearly wasn't the case.
And going back to Mahler's ninth, I picked up the first Karajan recording with the BPO last night for a fiver (US). I'll be spending my spare time with it over the weekend.
All that Norman Lebrecht does is make good copy, which is what he's there for. No other reason. The poor mans David Hurwitz but without the humour.
Hopefully, Karajan's performance will gravitate you to others.
Personally, it does nothing for me and that is why it has value because it reminds you to turn to others for a more emotional experience.
Part of the Mahler overweighting on concert calendars is because the music provides major orchestras and conductors opportunities to "show-off" because the music of Mahler has far more texture and many more tricky-to-play, showy orchestral bits than by contrast the Beethoven Eroica which is more about architecture and less about orchestral color. The Mahler symphonies provide a measuring stick for orchestral sound that other composers do not.
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