Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Proms: Mahler & Nature

150th Anniversary of Mahler’s birth.
Tonight’s Proms: Mahler’s 3rd Symphony                    BBC
Yosemite ©2007 Am Ang Zhang

Here is an extract from Julliard Online:
Gerald Fox

Mahler considered the Third his "nature" symphony. He wrote: "My symphony will be unlike anything the world has ever heard! All nature speaks in it, telling deep secrets that one might guess only in a dream!"                         

Mahler himself described his experience in writing the enormous first movement: "It is frightening, the way this music keeps growing and expanding so far beyond anything I have ever composed before. I am seized with horror when I realize where all this is leading ..."

The movement begins with a startling call to attention, an open, majestic theme for eight horns in unison, which has been compared to the main theme of the finale of Brahms' Symphony No. 1. Its origin seems to be an Austrian children's marching song which Brahms also suggested in his Academic Festival Overture. The movement is characterized by its many marches, ranging from noble and heroic to vulgar (Mahler called the latter das Gesindel, 'The rabble').

The second movement is in complete contrast: a delicate minuet of moderate length, full of grace and lightness. It bears much the same relationship to the first as the Andante moderato second movement of the Second Symphony does to its highly dramatic, extensive first movement.

The second movement, with the title, "What the flowers in the meadow tell me," was described by Mahler as "carefree, as only flowers are. Everything floats on the height with lightness and suppleness, like flowers waving on their stems in the breeze."

©2008 Am Ang Zhang

In the third movement, scherzando, there are two main elements. The first draws on Mahler's earlier Wunderhorn song with piano accompaniment, Ablösung im Sommer ("Relief in Summer"). The second element is Mahler's use of an offstage posthorn in many of the trio sections. The posthorn solo includes a large fragment of a popular Spanish tune that is the main theme of Glinka's Jota Aragonesa, and also appears in Liszt's Spanish Rhapsody. The coda of the movement is apocalyptic.

Deep isolation characterizes the fourth movement, in which the contralto sings lines from Das trunkene Lied of Nietzsche's Also Sprach Zarathustra (coincidentally, Mahler's friend, Richard Strauss, was working on his symphonic poem at about the same time). The movement grips the listener with its dark mystery, despite the occasional ecstatic shafts of light.

The fifth movement follows without pause, and is a sprightly setting of a poem, Es sungen drei Engel, from Des Knaben Wunderhorn. It is sung by all the vocal forces: contralto, boys' choir and women's chorus. It opens with the boys' choir brightly singing, "bimm, bamm, bimm, bamm…" in onomatopoeic imitation of matins bells. The effect of cheerful, bright, and tingling bells abruptly dispersing the dark shadows of the previous movement is startling. A darker mid-section exhorts sinners to repent. At about four minutes in length, the movement vies with the Purgatorio of the Tenth Symphony as Mahler's shortest. As befits the music's light and playful nature, timpani (and violins) are silent.

Again following without pause is the first of Mahler's sublime Adagios; its opening theme a near quotation from the Lento assai of Beethoven's 16th String Quartet, Op. 135. It is amusing to note that a moment later, the second theme seems to have inspired the World War II popular song, "I'll Be Seeing You."
 Yosemite©2007 Am Ang Zhang
Mindful that the symphony is a glorification of all nature and all creation, Mahler ends it with a D-major, fortissimo apotheosis.

Listen: BBC


Jobbing Doctor said...

Hi Am,

As a lifelong admirer of Mahler, I recently decided to rank his symphonies in the order that I enjoy them the most: here it is - 2, 5, 10 (Cooke. Completion), 4, 1, 9, 6, 7, 3 then finally 8.
I regret I find the 3rd one of his least inspiring and rather overblown symphonies.

Cockroach Catcher said...

We all have our preferences. The 3rd was introduced to me by a talented violinist who was a patient of mine so it invoke a different kind of memory. I like the 1st in some strange fashion but never liked the 8th. There is such freshness in the 1st.

Thanks for sharing.