Gustav Mahler

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Gustav Mahler in 1909
Gustav Mahler in 1909

Gustav Mahler (July 7, 1860May 18, 1911) was a Bohemian-Austrian composer and conductor.

Mahler was best known during his own lifetime as one of the leading orchestral and operatic conductors of the day. He has since come to be acknowledged as among the most important post-romantic composers. With the exceptions of an early piano quintet and Totenfeier, the original tone-poem version of the first movement of the second symphony, Mahler's entire output consists of only two genres: symphony and song. Besides the nine completed numbered symphonies, his principal works are the song cycles Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (usually rendered as 'Songs of a Wayfarer', but literally 'Songs of a Travelling Journeyman') and Kindertotenlieder ('Songs on the Death of Children'), and the synthesis of symphony and song cycle that is Das Lied von der Erde ('The Song of the Earth').


[edit] Biography

[edit] Early life

Gustav Mahler at six years
Gustav Mahler at six years

Gustav Mahler was born into a Jewish family in Kaliště (in German Kalischt), in the Austro-Hungarian Empire (today in the Czech Republic), the second of twelve children. His parents soon moved to Jihlava (in German Iglau), Moravia, where Mahler spent his childhood. Having noticed the boy's talent at an early age, his parents arranged piano lessons for him when he was six years old.

In 1875, Mahler, then fifteen, was admitted to the Vienna Conservatoire where he studied piano under Julius Epstein, harmony with Robert Fuchs, and composition with Franz Krenn. Three years later Mahler attended Vienna University, where Anton Bruckner was lecturing. There he studied history and philosophy as well as music. While at the university, he worked as a music teacher and made his first major attempt at composition with the cantata Das klagende Lied. The work was entered in a competition where the jury was headed by Johannes Brahms, but failed to win a prize.

[edit] Growing reputation

In 1880, Mahler began his career as a conductor with a job at a summer theatre at Bad Hall; in the years that followed, he took posts at successively larger opera houses: in Ljubljana in 1881, Olomouc in 1882, Vienna in 1883, Kassel in 1884, Prague in 1885, Leipzig in 1886 and Budapest in 1888. In 1887, he took over conducting Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen from an ill Arthur Nikisch, firmly establishing his reputation among critics and public alike. The year after, he made a complete performing edition of Carl Maria von Weber's unfinished opera Die drei Pintos, the success of which brought financial rewards and contributed to his gradually growing fame. Brahms was greatly impressed by his conducting of "Don Giovanni". His first long-term appointment was at the Hamburg Opera in 1891, where he stayed until 1897. From 1893 to 1896, he took summer vacations at Steinbach am Attersee in Upper Austria, where he revised his Symphony No. 1 (first heard in 1889), composed his Symphony No. 2, sketched his Symphony No. 3, and wrote most of the song collection Lieder aus 'Des Knaben Wunderhorn' (Songs from 'The Youth's Magic Horn'), based on a famous set of heavily redacted folk-poems.

In 1897, Mahler, then thirty-seven, was offered the directorship of the Vienna Opera, the most prestigious musical position in the Austrian Empire. This was an 'Imperial' post, and under Austro-Hungarian law, no such posts could be occupied by Jews. Mahler, who was never a devout or practising Jew, had, in preparation, converted to Roman Catholicism. Upon meeting a friend of his shortly after his conversion, he remarked, "I have just changed my coat", showing that it was only for the job.

In ten years at the Vienna Opera, Mahler transformed the institution's repertoire and raised its artistic standards, bending both performers and listeners to his will. When he first took over the Opera, the most popular works were Lohengrin, Manon, and Cavalleria rusticana; the new director concentrated his energies on classic operas of Christoph Willibald Gluck and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and, in collaboration with the painter Alfred Roller (Brno 1864-Vienna 1935), created shadowy, transfixing productions of Fidelio, Tristan und Isolde, and Der Ring des Nibelungen.

In Mahler's day Vienna was one of the world’s biggest cities and the capital of a great empire in Central Europe. It was home to a lively artistic and intellectual scene. Sigmund Freud had his practice there and was pioneering psychoanalysis in the city. It was also home to famous painters such as Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele. Mahler knew many of these intellectuals and artists.

Mahler worked at the Opera for nine months of each year, with only his summers free for composing; these summers he spent mainly at Maiernigg, on the Wörthersee. In that idyllic setting he composed his fifth through eighth symphonies, the Rückert Lieder and Kindertotenlieder (Songs on the Death of Children), both based on poems by Friedrich Rückert, and Der Tamboursg'sell, the last of his 'Des Knaben Wunderhorn' settings.

[edit] Later years

In June 1901, he moved into a fine new villa on the lake in Maiernigg, Carinthia ([1]). On March 9, 1902, Mahler married Alma Schindler (18791964), twenty years his junior and the stepdaughter of the noted Viennese painter Carl Moll. Alma was a musician and composer, but Mahler forbade her to engage in creative work, although she did make clean manuscript copies of his hand-written scores. Mahler did interact creatively with some women, such as viola-player Natalie Bauer-Lechner, two years his senior, whom he had met while studying in Vienna. But he told Alma that her role should only be to tend to his needs. Alma and Gustav had two daughters, Maria Anna ('Putzi'; 19021907), who died of either scarlet fever or diphtheria at the age of only five, and Anna ('Gucki'; 19041988), who later became a sculptor.

The death of their older daughter left Mahler grief-stricken; but further blows were to come. That same year he discovered he had a heart disease (infective endocarditis), and was forced to limit his exercising and count his steps with a pedometer. At the Opera, his stubborn obstinacy in artistic matters had created enemies, and he was also increasingly subject to attacks in anti-Semitic portions of the press. His resignation from the Opera, in 1907, was hardly unexpected.

Mahler's own music aroused considerable opposition from music critics, who tended to hear his symphonies as 'potpourris' in which themes from "disparate" periods and traditions were indiscriminately mingled. Mahler's juxtaposition of material from both "high" and "low" cultures, as well as his mixing of different ethnic traditions, often outraged conservative critics at a time when workers' mass organizations were growing rapidly, and clashes between Germans, Czechs, Hungarians and Jews in Austro-Hungary were creating anxiety and instability. However, he always had vociferous admirers on his side. In his last years, Mahler began to score major successes with a wider public, notably with a Munich performance of the Second Symphony in 1900, with the first complete performance of the Third in Krefeld in 1902, with a valedictory Viennese performance of the Second in 1907, and, above all, with the Munich premiere of the gargantuan Eighth in 1910. The music he wrote after that, however, was not performed during his lifetime.

The final impetus for Mahler's departure from the Vienna Opera was a generous offer from the Metropolitan Opera in New York. He conducted a season there in 1908, only to be set aside in favor of Arturo Toscanini; while he had been enormously popular with public and critics alike, he had fallen out of favor with the trustees of the board of the Met. Back in Europe, with his marriage in crisis and Alma's infidelity having been revealed, Mahler, in 1910, had a single (and apparently helpful) consultation with Sigmund Freud.

Having now signed a contract to conduct the long-established New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Mahler and his family travelled again to America. At this time, he completed his Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth), and his Symphony No. 9, which would be his last completed work. In February 1911, during a long and demanding concert season in New York, Mahler fell seriously ill with a streptococcal blood infection, and conducted his last concert in a fever (the programme included the world premiere of Ferruccio Busoni's Berceuse élégiaque). Returning to Europe, he was taken to Paris, where a new serum had recently been developed. He did not respond, however, and was taken back to Vienna at his request. He died there from his infection on May 18, 1911 at the age of 50, leaving his Symphony No. 10 unfinished.

It is said that among his last words was "Mozart." He was buried, at his request, beside his daughter, in Grinzing Cemetery outside Vienna. In obedience to his last wishes, he was buried in silence, with the gravestone bearing only the name "Gustav Mahler." Mahler's good friend Bruno Walter describes the funeral in his book Gustav Mahler (1958), on page 73: "On May 18, 1911, he died. Next evening we laid the coffin in the cemetery at Grinzing, a storm broke and such torrents of rain fell that it was almost impossible to proceed. An immense crowd, dead silent, followed the hearse. At the moment when the coffin was lowered, the sun broke through the clouds."

Alma Mahler quotes Gustav as saying "I am thrice homeless, as a native of Bohemia in Austria, as an Austrian among Germans, and as a Jew throughout the world. Everywhere an intruder, never welcomed." However, this is astonishingly close to a remark written by Anton Rubinstein in the 1860s or 1870s, and may therefore have been adapted, for its appositeness, by Mahler (or indeed Alma).

Alma outlived Gustav by more than 50 years, and in their course, she was active in publishing material about his life and music. However, her accounts have been attacked as unreliable, false, and misleading.[1]This constitutes the Alma Problem. For example, she allegedly tampered with the couple's correspondence and, in her publications, Gustav is often portrayed more negatively than some historians might like.

[edit] Music

Gustav Mahler
Gustav Mahler

Mahler was the last in a line of Viennese symphonists extending from the First Viennese School of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert to the Romantics Bruckner and Brahms; he also incorporated the ideas of non-Viennese Romantic composers like Robert Schumann and Felix Mendelssohn. The major influence on his work, however, was that of Wagner, who was, according to Mahler, the only composer after Beethoven truly to have "development" (see Sonata form and History of sonata form) in his music.

[edit] Style of writing

The spirit of the Lied (German for song) constantly rests in his work. He followed Franz Schubert and Robert Schumann in developing the song cycle, but rather than write piano accompaniment, he orchestrated it instead. Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (Songs of a Travelling Journeyman) is a set of four songs written as a rejected lover wandering alone along the earth; Mahler wrote the text himself, inspired by his unhappy love affair with a singer while conducting at Kassel.

Keenly aware of the colourations of the orchestra, the composer filled his symphonies with flowing melodies and expressive harmonies, achieving bright tonal qualities using the clarity of his melodic lines. Among his other innovations are expressive use of combinations of instruments in both large and small scale, increased use of percussion, as well as combining voice and chorus to symphony form, and extreme voice leading in his counterpoint. His orchestral style was based on counterpoint; two melodies would each start off the other seemingly simultaneously, choosing clarity over a mass orgy of sound.

Often, his works involved the spirit of Austrian peasant song and dance. The Ländler – the Austrian folk-dance, which developed first into the minuet and then into the waltz – figures in several symphonies, as indeed do the minuet and the waltz. (All three historical stages – Ländler, minuet, and waltz – are represented in the 'dance movement' of the Ninth Symphony).

Mahler combined the ideas of Romanticism, including the use of program music, and the use of song melodies in symphonic works, with the resources that the development of the symphony orchestra had made possible. The result was to extend, and eventually break, the understanding of symphonic form, as he searched for ways to expand his music. He stated that a symphony should be an "entire world". As a result, he met with difficulties in presenting his works, and would continually revise the details of his orchestration until he was satisfied with the effect.

Mahler's harmonic writing was at times highly innovative, and only long familiarity can have blunted the effect of the chords constructed in 'perfect fourths' which lead to the 'first subject' of the Seventh Symphony, or the remarkable (and unclassifiable!) 9-note 'crisis' sonority that erupts into the first movement of the Tenth. 'Anti-modernist' zeal presumably lies behind assertions to the effect that Mahler "never abandoned the principle of tonality, as those following him, in particular those of the Second Viennese School, would later do": anyone who would deny this composer's pre-Schoenbergian exploitation of expressive anti-tonality should be challenged to name the keys that they hear at such points as bb.385ff in the finale of the Sixth Symphony or the most tonally complex areas of the Tenth.

He was deeply spiritual and described his music in terms of nature very often. This resulted in his music being viewed as extremely emotional for a long time after his death. In addition to restlessly searching for ways of extending symphonic expression, he was also an ardent craftsman, which shows both in his meticulous working methods and careful planning, and in his studies of previous composers.

[edit] Tonality

In spite of above statements, tonality, as an expressive and constructional principle, was clearly of great importance to Mahler. This is shown most clearly by his approach to the issue of so-called 'progressive tonality'. While his First Symphony is clearly a D major work, his Second 'progresses' from a C minor first movement to an E-flat major conclusion; his Third moves from a first movement which ends in F major to a finale which ends in D major – while his Fourth dies away in a serene E major that seemingly has no awareness of its distance from the work's basic G major. The Fifth moves from a C-sharp minor funeral march, through a desperately conflict-ridden A minor movement, a vigorous dance movement in D major, and a lyrical F major 'Adagietto', to a triumphant finale in D major – while the Sixth, very much by contrast, starts in A minor, ends in A minor, and juxtaposes a slow movement in E-flat major with a scherzo in A minor. The Seventh is tonally highly 'progressive', with a first movement that moves from a (possible) B minor start to an E major conclusion, and a finale that defines a celebratory C major. In the Eighth Symphony, the composer's expressive intentions led him to construct a work that both starts and ends in E-flat – whereas the 'valedictory' Ninth moves from a D major first movement to a D-flat major finale. The Tenth, insofar as we can be sure that Mahler's ultimate tonal intentions are discernible, was to start and end in F-sharp major.

[edit] Symphonies

[edit] First period

His symphonic output is generally divided into three 'periods'. The 'first period', dominated by his reading of the Wunderhorn poems, comprises his Symphonies Nos. 1 to 4. Within this group, the cross-fertilization from the world of Mahlerian song is in fact considerable. The Symphony No. 1 uses a melodic idea from one of the Gesellen songs in its first movement, and employs a section of another in the central part of its third. The Symphony No. 2's third movement is a voice-less orchestral amplification and extension of a Wunderhorn song, and is followed by a Wunderhorn setting incorporated completely. The Symphony No. 3's third movement is another orchestral fantasia on a Wunderhorn song, while its fifth is a Wunderhorn setting made especially for the symphony. In the Symphony No. 4, the finale is a pre-existing Wunderhorn setting (earlier considered as a possible finale for the Symphony No. 3), elements of which are 'prefiguringly' inserted into the first three movements.

[edit] Second period

The symphonies of the 'second period', Nos. 5 to 7, manifest an increased severity of expression and reveal a growing interest in non-standard instrumentation (a whip in the Symphony No. 5; cowbells, 'deep bells' and a 'hammer' in the Symphony No. 6; and cowbells, cornet, 'tenor horn', mandolin and guitar in the Symphony No. 7), although non-standard instruments are present in earlier symphonies, like a post horn in the Symphony No. 3. Though the symphonies in this group have no vocal component, the world of Mahlerian song is hinted at in the first movement of the Symphony No. 5 and the slow movement of the Symphony No. 6, where phrases from one of the Kindertotenlieder are briefly heard, and in No.5's finale, which incorporates material from the 1896 Wunderhorn song 'Lob des hohen Verstandes'.

[edit] Third period

Mahler's symphonic 'third period' is marked by increasing polyphony and embraces Nos. 8, 9, and 10 (unfinished), as well as Das Lied von der Erde. Credible connections with freestanding songs are difficult to demonstrate in these works – perhaps unsurprisingly, as Mahler's last non-symphonic songs were the Kindertotenlieder, completed in 1904. A striking example does come, however, with the intervallically exact reminiscence, on the 9th's final page, of the line 'On the heights the day is fine' from Kindertotenlieder no.4.

Few composers are felt to have freely intermixed their work and their life as so completely as Mahler; the impression is only strengthened by the musical connections that can be heard to exist between symphonies, seeming to bind them together into a larger 'narrative'. Material heard in No. 3 recurs in the finale of No. 4; an idea from the first movement of No. 4 is heard to open No. 5; and a 'tragic' harmonic gesture that is repeatedly heard in No. 6 (a major chord declining into a minor) makes a striking reappearance in No. 7. In the unfinished draft of No. 10, furthermore, there are personal notations to his wife Alma (who was, at the time, having an affair with Walter Gropius, her future second husband) as well as other seemingly autobiographical references. (Commentators who would view these notations as the 'out-of-control' scribblings of a man 'at the end of his tether' should be aware, however, that when he re-wrote his draft of the symphony's original B-flat major conclusion in a version transposed so as to end the work in F-sharp, Mahler also copied the 'emotional' marginalia into the new score!).

[edit] Curse of the ninth

Mahler was obsessed by Beethoven's legacy; he declared that all of his symphonies were "ninths", having the same impact and scale as Beethoven's famous Choral symphony. Mahler was also apparently a firm believer in the curse of the ninth and thus terrified of writing a ninth numbered symphony. This is held to be the reason why he did not give a number to the symphonic work - Das Lied von der Erde - which followed his Eighth, but instead described it merely as Eine Symphonie für eine Tenor- und eine Alt- (oder Bariton-) Stimme und Orchester (nach Hans Bethges "Die chinesische Flöte") (A symphony for one tenor and one alto (or baritone) voice and orchestra, after Hans Bethge's "The Chinese Flute"). The work can be considered a combination of song cycle and symphony.

As it happened, Mahler did in fact die after writing his ninth numbered symphony, leaving his tenth unfinished. There have been several attempts to complete the Tenth (or produce 'performing versions' of the draft) since the 1940s, the most popular being Deryck Cooke's performing version, first published in 1963. Alma Mahler had previously denied any performance or further completion of Mahler's Tenth Symphony, until she heard a London BBC tape recording of Cooke's version in 1963. She wrote Cooke a letter in English, postmarked New York, 8 May 1963, which Cooke includes in the preface pages to the score:

Dear Mr. Cooke,

Mr. Harold Byrns visited me here in New York. Today he read me your excellent articles on Mahler's Tenth Symphony and [showed me] your equally authoritative score. Afterwards I expressed my desire to finally listen to the London BBC tape. I was so moved by this performance that I immediately asked Mr. Byrns to play the work a second time. I then realised that the time had come when I must reconsider my previous decision not to permit the performance of this work. I have now decided once and for all to give you full permission to go ahead with performances in any part of the world. I enclose [a] copy of my letter of even date to [the] BBC.

Sincerely yours,
Alma Maria Mahler [2]

Alma Mahler died a little more than a year later.

[edit] Legacy

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Critics are no longer to be found who will insist that Mahler's popularity is a fad or a craze that will shortly pass; but while his place in musical history and in the repertoire seems secure, sober assessment of his specific legacy is inhibited by several factors. For example, little common ground can be found between those who revere Mahler for his 'emotional frankness' and 'spiritual honesty', and his equally vociferous detractors for whom the same music displays 'mawkishness', 'tastelessness' and 'sentimentality' (Franz Schmidt clearly spoke for the latter camp when he described Mahler's symphonies as "cheap novels"). A similar divide separates those who appreciate and analyze the symphonies as conscientiously orchestrated and rigorously organised large-scale forms, and those who see merely the lavish, sprawling outpourings of a 'self-indulgent egotist'.

Passionate admirers of Mahler, too, have sometimes muddied the waters by seeing the composer through the prism of their own preoccupations; thus the critical literature boasts manic-depressives who have insisted that Mahler's contrast-rich work betrays a manic-depressive psychology, homosexuals who have asserted that his tender expressiveness reveals him to have been gay, and Jews who have claimed that his music exposes the cultural and social tensions that led to the Holocaust.[citation needed] In one of his series of six lectures at Harvard University in the 1970's, composer-conductor Leonard Bernstein, who felt a strong affinity with Mahler, expressed the view that Mahler, in his music, "foretold" the atomic age and that Mahler was the "prophet" of the twentieth-century, the "century of death", as Bernstein put it. [[2]] Vehement resistance to Mahler's expressive message sometimes has additional racial and nationalistic overtones; devoted Mahlerian Hans Keller used to quote an influential British critic as declaring: "The truth is, we just don't want Mahler over here."

With Mahler thus to some extent still critically embattled, a situation has developed in which his detractors attempt to minimise his legacy, and his admirers tend to respond by exaggerating it. A cautious middle ground might be pursued by noting that a combination of factors (World War I, economic depression, relentless Austrian anti-Semitism [so fierce that it had caused Mahler himself to convert to Roman Catholicism in 1897 to improve his prospects] and World War II) worked greatly to inhibit performance and understanding of Mahler's music after 1911, and undoubtedly made his posthumous influence less than it could have been. As a result, it was principally among composers who had known Mahler or been part of his circle that his influence was first felt – even if such personal relationships often brought extra-musical factors into play.

Mahler told fellow composer Jean Sibelius in 1907 that "a symphony should be like the world: it must embrace everything"; putting this philosophy into practice, he brought the genre to a new level of artistic development. Increasing the range of contrasts within and between movements necessitated an expansion of scale and scope (at around 95 minutes, his six-movement Symphony No. 3 is the longest in the general symphonic repertoire; his Symphony No. 8 premiered with some one thousand performers) – while the admission of vocal and choral elements (with texts drawn from folk-poetry, Nietzsche, Goethe, Chinese literature, and Medieval Roman Catholic mysticism) made manifest a philosophical as well as autobiographical content. Neglected for several decades after his death, Mahler's symphonies and orchestral songs are now part of the core repertoire of major symphony orchestras worldwide.

[edit] Influence

Schoenberg, for example, almost a full generation younger than Mahler, came to venerate the older man as a "saint": an exemplary figure, selflessly devoted to art, generous to younger composers, and badly treated in the same way he himself was badly treated; Schoenberg could still, however, display a complicated attitude to the music and even speak of having had an "aversion" to it. This ambivalence did not, however, prevent him from becoming a penetrating analyst of Mahler's irregular melodic structures, or defending the Seventh Symphony against an American critic, nor did it inhibit his adoption and even refinement of massive Mahlerian effects in his Gurrelieder or Pelleas und Melisande, or, in those same works and elsewhere, the pursuit of Mahlerian clarity through soloistic or chamber-style orchestral scoring.

For Alban Berg, younger still, Mahler was a musical influence rather than a personal one (the tragic Symphony No. 6 was "the only Sixth, despite the Pastoral)", and Mahlerian elements can be heard in many of his works. For example, the two hammer blows (three in the original edition) in the finale of the Mahler Sixth find their echo in Berg's Three Orchestral Pieces, which features seven hammer blows in its final movement as well as thematic material of a decisively Mahlerian cut. In the case of Webern, who, in his early professional life, had conducted performances of Mahler symphonies, one may detect a Mahlerian concern with total textural clarity, although the small scale and rhetorical sparseness of Webern's mature pieces means that overt 'Mahlerisms' are hard to find outside his juvenilia.

The earliest significant non-contemporaries to register the impact of Mahler were perhaps Benjamin Britten and Dmitri Shostakovich, both of whom identified with elements of Mahler's personal and creative character as well as with aspects of his musical style. Britten, who had first come to know Mahler's Symphony No. 4 while still a student, produced a 'reduced orchestra' version of the second movement of Symphony No. 3 and during his life performed Mahler's music as both a piano-accompanist and conductor. Both Britten and Shostakovich came to hold Das Lied von der Erde in special regard, and undeniable references to it are found in such works as the former's Phaedra and the latter's Fourth and Tenth symphonies. In the United States, Aaron Copland's development of an authentically 'American' sound was influenced by Mahler, most notably in his Clarinet Concerto, written for Benny Goodman.

Among other leading composers, an aversion to Mahler can often be attributed to radically incompatible creative goals rather than to any failure to recognise his technical skill: to Stravinsky, Mahler was "malheur" (French for "misfortune"), while Vaughan Williams described him as a "tolerable imitation of a composer". By the late 20th century, however, Mahler's kaleidoscopic scoring and motivically independent lines in intense contrapuntal combination had become staples of modernism, and formerly shocking features of his music such as his radical discontinuities, his penchant for parody and quotation (including self-quotation) and his blunt juxtaposition of 'high' and 'low' styles were prominent features of postmodernism.

The extent of Mahler's influence on pre-1950s popular music has been widely neglected. However, the strong relationship which can be heard to exist between, for example the Sammy Fain/Irving Kahal song I'll Be Seeing You and a passage in the finale of Mahler's Symphony No. 3 leads one to wonder whether émigré musicians from central Europe had taken memories of Mahler's music with them to the United States. Attempts to present him as an influence upon the Hollywood style of film music, either directly or through the work such émigrés as Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Max Steiner, however, fail to take into account the frequently un-contrapuntal nature of such film scores, or that their often intense exploitation of the 'leitmotif' derived from Wagner rather than Mahler.

The scale of Mahler's interpretative legacy, likewise, should not be over-estimated. In the absence of actual recordings, his performances lived on only as fading memories and through their influence on conductors such as Bruno Walter and Otto Klemperer, both of whom worked with the composer and, having been assisted by him in their careers, went on to take his music to America and into the age of the LP record. His famous declaration "What you people of the theatre call your 'tradition' is nothing but your laziness and slovenliness" (usually abbreviatingly mis-quoted as 'Tradition is slovenliness'; in German, 'Tradition ist Schlamperei!'), might almost be taken as prefiguring the late 20th-century preoccupation with 'historically informed performance' that claimed to be liberating familiar baroque and classical works from thoughtlessly applied performance conventions deriving from later periods; one ought to note, however, that Mahler's own, fascinating arrangement of several movements into a 'Bach Suite' is, in terms of historical authenticity, massively anachronistic. In addition, while the practice (not universally celebrated) of playing Beethoven's Leonore No. 3 overture before the third act of Fidelio was Mahler's creation (originally introduced, it appears, to cover a difficult scene change), one notes that the kind of operatic production which Mahler favoured – with a 'stage manager' but no 'director', and with staging and production being devised by the conductor in a manner designed to serve the music throughout – has not survived in an age dominated by the so-called 'producer's opera'.

Reports from supporters who point to Mahler's dedication to detailed and extensive rehearsal as having had an impact upon later musical practice may also be exaggerated. For example, one cannot cogently argue that Mahler himself was personally responsible for the ever-increasing 'professionalisation' of art-musical performance that took place throughout the 20th century. Likewise, many aspects of his rather ruthless perfectionism have not been perpetuated: in today's musical world, with its unionized players and 'self-governing' orchestras), Mahler's authoritarianism and his browbeating of individual players would never be tolerated.

As well as Shostakovich, Britten and Copland, Mahler's music also influenced Richard Strauss, the early symphonies of Havergal Brian, and the music of Kurt Weill, Leonard Bernstein and Alfred Schnittke. Alexander von Zemlinsky's Lyric Symphony seems to have been inspired by Das Lied von der Erde.

[edit] Mid and late 20th century

Mahler's difficulties in getting his works accepted led him to say, "My time will come". That time came in the mid 20th century, at a point when the development of the LP was allowing repeated hearings of the long and complex symphonies in competent and well-recorded performances. By 1956, every one of Mahler's symphonies (including Das Lied von der Erde and the opening Adagio movement of the unfinished Tenth Symphony) had been issued on LP – as had Des Knaben Wunderhorn, Das Klagende Lied, the song cycles, and many individual songs.

Advocated by both those who had known him (prominently among them the composers Alexander von Zemlinsky and Arnold Schoenberg), and by a generation of conductors including the American composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein, his works won over an audience hungry for the next wave of musical exploration. In the late twentieth century, new musicological methods led to the extensive editing of his scores, leading to various attempts to complete the tenth symphony, such as by Deryck Cooke, and improved versions of the others.

[edit] Interpreters

Over the years, Mahler symphonies have gained immense popularity, so that there is a wide array of available recordings aside from frequent live performances. Already by the end of the 1960s, several cycles of the nine completed Mahler symphonies (usually accompanied by the first movement of the unfinished Tenth) were available or well under way, allowing the composer's overall achievement and stature to be more easily assessed. Historical recordings exist by Willem Mengelberg and Bruno Walter, both of whom worked with Mahler himself. Dimitris Mitropoulos is a conductor who contributed greatly to the spread of Mahler premiering some of the composer's works in the U.S. He recorded all of Mahler's symphonies. Conductors who in the past have put their own mark on certain Mahler symphonies are Herbert von Karajan, Otto Klemperer, and Sir John Barbirolli. Leonard Bernstein (who was influenced by Mahler in his compositions) and Bernard Haitink have completed their Mahler cycles to high acclaim. Claudio Abbado, Sir Simon Rattle, Pierre Boulez, and Michael Tilson Thomas have more recently worked on their own cycles, all of them very successful. Mahler symphonies have developed a popularity among conductors comparable to Beethoven's symphonies, so the list of interpreters is long and includes Osmo Vanska, Oskar Fried, Hermann Scherchen, Riccardo Chailly, Giuseppe Sinopoli, and Klaus Tennstedt, who have completed their own cycles, Sir Georg Solti, Rafael Kubelík, whose interpretation of the first symphony dominates the scene, Gilbert Kaplan — an amateur whose second is celebrated, Carlo Maria Giulini, Jascha Horenstein, Lorin Maazel, Zubin Mehta, Markus Stenz, Christoph von Dohnányi, Benjamin Zander, Antoni Wit, Daniele Gatti, Eliahu Inbal, even jazz pianist Uri Caine with his own takes on some of the symphonies and Lieder.

[edit] Media

[edit] Works

[edit] Symphonies

  • Symphony No. 1 in D major (?18841888; rev. 18931896; 2nd rev. 1906).
    • Note: This was first called "Symphonic Poem", later "Titan" (after Jean Paul). Originally in 5 movements, the second movement, Blumine, was discarded in final revision.
  • Symphony No. 2 in C minor (18881894; rev. 1903)
    • Note: The title "Resurrection", while popular with listeners, does not appear on the score and is not used in works of reference (e.g. the 'New Grove').
  • Symphony No. 3 in D minor (18931896, rev. 1906)
  • Symphony No. 4 in G major (1892, 18991900; rev. 19011910)
  • Symphony No. 5 (19011902; scoring repeatedly rev.)
    • Note: While the symphony begins in the advertised C-sharp minor, it should be noted that the composer, himself, wrote in a letter to his publisher, "it is difficult to speak of a key for the whole symphony, and to avoid misunderstandings the key should best be omitted."
  • Symphony No. 6 in A minor (19031904, rev. 1906; scoring repeatedly rev.)
    • Note: At a performance in Vienna in 1907, the title "Tragic" was attached to the symphony on posters and programs, but the word does not appear on the score and is not used in works of reference (e.g. the 'New Grove').
  • Symphony No. 7 in E minor (19041905; scoring repeatedly rev.)
    • Note: The title "Song of the Night", while popular with listeners, did not originate with Mahler, does not appear on the score, and is not used in works of reference (e.g. the 'New Grove').
American premiere of Mahler's Symphony No. 8
American premiere of Mahler's Symphony No. 8
Note: Several prominent Mahler conductors – notably Bruno Walter, Leonard Bernstein, Bernard Haitink, and Sir Georg Solti – have, for various reasons (for instance, the lack of counterpoint) refused to perform any of the various 'completions' of the Tenth that were available to them. This rejection extended even to the Cooke version – even though Cooke and his collaborators were well aware that no one but Mahler could ever 'complete' the Tenth Symphony, and thus described their score (which by now has been through several revisions) as merely "A Performing Version of the Draft", rather than as a true completion.

[edit] Vocal works

[edit] Recordings

On 9 November 1905 Mahler recorded for the reproducing piano Welte-Mignon four of his own compositions:

  • 'Ging heut' morgen übers Feld'. From: Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (piano accompaniment only).
  • 'Ich ging mit Lust durch einen grünen Wald'. From: Lieder aus "Des Knaben Wunderhorn" (piano accompaniment only).
  • 'Das himmlische Leben'. Wunderhorn setting, used as 4th movement of Symphony No. 4 (piano accompaniment only).
  • 1st movement (Trauermarsch) from Symphony No. 5 (in arrangement for solo piano).

[edit] Arrangements

In view of the relative infrequency of the symphonies' early performances (partly a result of their instrumental demands), consideration of the 2-piano and piano duet arrangements that were current during Mahler's lifetime is not without interest – especially where these were produced by outstanding musicians:

  • Symphony No. 1: Arrangement for piano duet by Bruno Walter (1906)
  • Symphony No. 2: Arrangement for 2 pianos by Hermann Behn (Leipzig, 1895); for piano duet by Bruno Walter (1899); for eight hands by Heinrich von Bocklet (1899; publ. U.E., Vienna, 1914)
  • Symphony No. 5: Arrangement for 2 pianos by August Stradal (Leipzig, n.d.)
  • Symphony No. 6: Arrangement for piano duet by Alexander Zemlinsky (Leipzig, 1906)
  • Symphony No. 7: Arrangement for piano duet by Alfredo Casella (Berlin, 1910)

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ Carr, Jonathan (1999). The Real Mahler. Constable and Robinson. ISBN 0-09-479500-2. 
  2. ^ Cooke, Deryck (1976). A Performing Version for the Draft of the Tenth Symphony. Associated Music Publishers. ISBN 0-571-51094-9. 
  • Adorno, Theodor Wiesengrund. (1996). Mahler: A Musical Physiognomy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-00769-3.
  • Blaukopf, Kurt. (1973). Gustav Mahler. Harmondsworth: Allen Lane. ISBN 0-7139-0464-X.
  • De La Grange, Henry-Louis. (1995). Gustav Mahler: Vienna: The Years of Challenge (1897-1904) (Vol. 2). Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-315159-6.
  • De La Grange, Henry-Louis. (2000). Gustav Mahler: Vienna: Triumph and Disillusion (1904-1907) (Vol. 3). Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-315160-X.
  • Machlis, J. and Forney, K. (1999). The Enjoyment of Music: An Introduction to Perceptive Listening (Chronological Version) (8th ed.). New York: Norton. ISBN 0-393-97299-2.
  • Sadie, S. (Ed.). (1988). The Grove Concise Dictionary of Music. London: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-333-43236-3.
  • Franklin, Peter (1997). The Life of Mahler. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-46761-6. 

[edit] External links

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