Mahler, Mahler everywhere: why?

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RE: Mahler, Mahler everywhere: why?

Norman Lebrecht - the 'E! entertainment channel' of classical music. It really does Mahler a huge disservice when people start talking about his music being some sort of fin de siècle Nostradamus - Bernstein (who I have to admit I give far greater latitude with prognostications because he did it with such boyish enthusiasm) started the problem by talking about jackboots across Europe and the opening theme of the sixth. A work like the sixth, possibly the most classical of all Mahler's symphonies in form and content, needs to program beyond the one Mahler hinted at to his colleagues. Perhaps one of Mahler's greatest gifts was his ability through symphonic music to unravel his neurosises (the ego writ large?) but even then it is just to easy a connection.

dtstrickland - I hope you enjoy Mahler 9/Karajan. It is a performance that has all the qualities and flaws of great Karajan; the playing is so pure in conception, beauty and shape that it is very easy to dismiss it as lacking emotions. I disagree - Karajan at his best was apollonian and it is this that he brings to the music. The recording demonstrates proof of Mahler's place because the greatest music (like the ninth) can accept differing interpretations.

Personally I have a huge soft spot for Abbado's early performance with the VPO recording around the same time he led a stunning (desert island disc) 'Wozzeck' it presents the music in the context of Berg/Webern. If you can also listen to Bruno Walter, Bruno Maderna and Michael Gielen - all great in their own way. As for Bernstein, well the DG/Concertgebouw live performance is just from an alternate universe -provocative, wrong headed in places and yet strangely thrilling and ultimately very moving. It is not often that you hear a top orchestra struggling but in the Rondo-Burleske Bernstein's breathless tempo really does dance wildly to the abyss.

 

Naupilus

RE: Mahler, Mahler everywhere: why?

naupilus wrote:

 It really does Mahler a huge disservice when people start talking about his music being some sort of fin de siècle Nostradamus - Bernstein (who I have to admit I give far greater latitude with prognostications because he did it with such boyish enthusiasm) started the problem by talking about jackboots across Europe and the opening theme of the sixth. A work like the sixth, possibly the most classical of all Mahler's symphonies in form and content, needs to program beyond the one Mahler hinted at to his colleagues. Perhaps one of Mahler's greatest gifts was his ability through symphonic music to unravel his neurosises (the ego writ large?) but even then it is just to easy a connection.

Right, in all respects. If people wish to extrapolate a piece of music into extra-musical visions that's entirely up to them. But claiming those visions for the composer is nothing more than fanciful conjecture unless you can find some supporting evidence in correspondence or other writings. The exposition of the 6th is perhaps Mahler's most classical creation and the full repeat surely is designed to tell us something. Whether that produces a feeling of unwelcome or welcome routine depends to an extent on the tempo. Bernstein trots along, most others take a steadier, more exorable approach. Surely there is little doubt that what it sets up is a feeling of change from a norm, gradual collapse leading eventually to the apotheosis of the finale. There is support for the view that this mirrors the transition of Mahler's life into poor health, the heart problems that for many are described by the last movement's hammer blows. But to take that one step further into jackboots and world war is nonsense.

The process of working through angst is common to much of Mahler's music and reaction to it can depend on one's own frame of mind - as I said in an earlier post which seems to have been misinterpreted by some. If you're feeling introspective, listening to the voiced introspections of others can be interesting and even cathartic. At other times it's irritating. Mahler's musis is very subjective, even egotistical at times and perhaps that accounts for the widely varying reactions on this thread. That it's startling, often very beautiful and thought-provoking is surely undeniable and its impact on composers like Shostakovich and Arnold is demonstrable. As one who started listening to classical music at a time when Mahler was considered almost as quirky as Langgaard is today, his acceptance into the mainstream is welcome. If that means he's overplayed and over-hyped, so be it. The fashionistas will move on, as they always do, and the balance will right itself.

RE: Mahler, Mahler everywhere: why?

Mahler was the second classical composer who grabbed me (Sibelius was the first) in 1974. Two factors (amongst others mentioned above) strike me as making him approachable to a young 18 year old at that time:

a) The oft mentioned Hollywood connection - via Korngold and the other European film composers. Mahler probably sounded vaguely familiar as we were (subconsciously) used to some of the language used in a more direct form in the movies.

b) 1974 was the era of lengthy prog-rock albums. Anyone, like myself, who was absorbed in side long Soft Machine pieces or concept albums from the likes of Yes found a 90 minute Mahler symphony exactly what we wanted.

I still love and listen to Mahler today (and those much maligned prog-rock albums!). Whilst agreeing that he is probably over-represented in the catalogue and concert hall today I'd suggest that is just a matter of market forces.

I can understand why many don't warm to him. Find it harder to understand why they should assume that this is because there is something inferior about Mahler.   

RE: Mahler, Mahler everywhere: why?

A Lark Ascending wrote:

 ... 1974 was the era of lengthy prog-rock albums. Anyone, like myself, who was absorbed in side long Soft Machine pieces or concept albums from the likes of Yes found a 90 minute Mahler symphony exactly what we wanted.

I still love and listen to Mahler today (and those much maligned prog-rock albums!). 

I can understand why many don't warm to him. Find it harder to understand why they should assume that this is because there is something inferior about Mahler.   

I would certainly not use the term inferior, but for my taste just sometimes a bit overlong.

Your reference to "much maligned prog-rock" is interesting. It seems to me that most of those who do the maligning do not do so on the basis of the quality of musicianship but on the basis of self indulgence?

RE: Mahler, Mahler everywhere: why?

The Authorised Version of rock history would have it so.

I think the key about 'overlong' is 'for my taste'. The fact that the short story exists does not render the epic novel 'overlong'. They are just different things and not everyone will care for both.

The issue is how well the composer can sustain the interest of the listener in a long piece. To my ears Mahler succeeds in all the mature works in that respect (I've never warmed to 'Das Klagende Lied').

But I can see that others might not find the music engaging; or might bring to Mahler a model of what music ought to be and find he doesn't fit that preconception.  

RE: Mahler, Mahler everywhere: why?

Very interesting Record Review comparison of the various reconstructions/recordings of Mahler 10 this morning.

RE: Mahler, Mahler everywhere: why?

Perhaps I am very lucky - I like my Bruckner, Mahler, Strauss and Wagner in equal measure. It all depends on the day in question.

Well said. 

 

I cut my serious music teeth in the early part of the 1960s and at that time Mahler had come into fashion and I like a lot of other young people were drawn to it. I had chance to experience Barbarolli performances at the Halle and numerous others in London including a massive 8th at the Proms. I put Mahler aside for a while and now an OAP have returned to this young man's old man's music and am assiduously buying all the recommended versions, particularly the Lieder, I can find. I am not a trained Muscian and I do not understand the effect that music has on the brain, however, I know that much of Mahler's music stimulates mine. Funny, I have just finished listening to the Walter version of the 2nd Symphony which arrived in the post yesterday. I expected poor fidelity, but it trilled in my aged ear. 

RE: Mahler, Mahler everywhere: why?

Thank you for your interesting observations about the effect of personal 'charisma'.

Mr. Mahler's incredible career thrived in the turbulent post-Victorian
sexual revolution propelled by his fellow Viennans the psychoanalyst
Sigmund Freud and the avant-garde artist Gustav Klimt along with an
international coterie of very daring 'Desperate Housewives'  who bravely
demanded birth control, sexual freedom and sexual satisfaction for
themselves and other women.

My fast-paced, fact-based historical novel, 'Sex and the Rebel
Woman' reveals the behind-the-scenes stories of the leading players in
that revolution and highlights Gustav and Alma Mahler's pivotal roles.

I hope you will read it and recommend it to other readers. It is available in the Kindle store.

Again, thank you for your post!

Virginia Ann Harris

RE: Mahler, Mahler everywhere: why?

Hm. Very interesting discourse, to someone who shares the concerns about Mahler.

Is Mahler an acquired taste, or a required one? Personally I would go with acquired.

33lp - I agree - the music doesn't connect with me emotionally.

John Gardiner - I agree though that the treatment of some elements of song and waltz etc...are often ironic in Mahler's symphonies, which does make them contemporary.

The apex of the Austro-German symphonic tradition, undeniable moments of great beauty, and a masterful sense of large-scale symphonic structure, yes. And a healthy does of ironic post-modernism - it is easy to understand the man's popularity.

Frequent and complex changes of mood though, which makes the emotional connection difficult at times, and an overblown sense of form if you feel the large-scale structures are simply too long. Dare I say it, I also find some of the themes a bit 'syrupy'. Only subjective opinion, I know.

Jury still out......

Could be out for some time.

Best wishes

Partsong

Fraz Jo - disapntd. Bn ringin this grl al week. No ansr...looks lke she changed her mnd. O well...Ldwg...

RE: Mahler, Mahler everywhere: why?

I've skimmed through this strand and probably missed the point of a lot of it.    But a couple of  observations nevertheless.   First, Mahler was, and possibly still is, the quintessential gramophone composer ( possibly even the "Gramophone"composer, given the email promoting no fewer than 6 DIY cycles that has just arrived in my inbox).   For much of the 1950s and into the 1960s that was the only way you could hear his music at all.    I remember getting the Flipse recordings of the Sixth and the Eighth out of the library at university just to see what the music was like, and even trying to get hold of the Rosbaud 7th - a disappointment.   The Bruno Walter First and Fourth on early LP, Scherchen's Fifth, and the Horenstein Ninth more or less made up my total listening experience for almost fifteen years, and I only heard two of the symphonies in the hall in all that time - Barbirolli's Ninth in Manchester with the Halle, which should have been recorded and wasn't, and the "Resurrection" in Manchester under Rudolf Schwarz. And a Barbirolli "Das Lied von der Erde", with Kerstin Meyer.  No Third at all, you'll notice, and even when Bernstein's arrived the CBS sound was, - well, let's say, compromised.  Mind you, even when I heard Bernstein conduct the Seventh in the RFH, that is how the sound struck me live, not to mention the choreography, but I was never a great fan of the RFH acoustic.

 

I think most of us at that time learnt our Mahler the way later generations learnt Dylan, or the Stones, (and some even learnt their Turangalila from John Peel).   I think it's perfectly OK not to like the music, and not worth getting uptight about if you don't happen to.   But in many ways he's still a misunderstood composer.    Folk rattle on glibly about form, without considering the implications of what goes on in a Mahler movement.   Take the first movement of the Ninth, for example.    You can read it as a sonata in the geographical sense, but the boundaries are ambiguous.   And even so, only in terms of thematic process.   Harmonically, the movement is a rondo - in parallel with, but not in any way hybridised  with the sonata process.   The whole thing keeps collapsing on D.    Whatever he tries to do, Mahler can't escape it.   It is painfully explicit, and heartbreakingly simple - there's even a funeral march in case we miss the point.  He has found the perfect musical equivalent for what he wants to say. That is mastery. In "Das Lied von der Erde", which really is a symphony too, he reverses, and thereby negates, the accepted symphonic process entirely. The work unfolds from a beginning (which is also its end) to a first (and last) movement which is a scena, cavatina and cabaletta interpolated with a funeral march which is also a development section which can't develop, only celebrate, from which the cabaletta moves to symphonically recapitulate the main themes from the "Trinklied".  Death isn't a dialectical process.  This, too, is mastery.    You may not like it, but you can't deny it.    But I agree with the rumbles.   Even this music can be oversold.    Where is "Gramophone's" DIY Liszt cycle?   I'd be happy with just one, but six would be nice, too.

Peter Street

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