Sunday, November 02, 2008

Gustav Mahler enchantment

It may happen that, as time passes, I will be adding reviews of music I listen to this blog. Music plays important role in my life. I hardly can play, though. Of course, I "play" - I mean - I have fun to play several melodies on my alto- and bass- recorders, on Indian bass flute, or few tones on Jewish horn - Shofar - but it is even less than amateurish activity. However, my son, being realy amateurish guitarist, does it much better than I ever did !!!

On the other hand, we listen to music of many genres, ranging from ancient music, through Bach & Bethoveen, Mahler, Sibelius to Penderecki, Gorecki, Glass, Arvo Part, not to mention modern Jazz and ambitious rock & metal music. We literally live within music during our weekends and evenings.

This weekend I devoted to Mahler and his first three symphonies. Anyone who searches for the music deep in its meaning, with some dose of "programmatic" themes, which do end in banality - should listen to them:
  • Symphony No. 1 - As Henry-Louis de La Grange writes it is a "mixture of sorrow and irony, the grotesque and the sublime, tragedy and humor" and that was the programme added by Mahler to the symphony
  • Symphony No. 2 - With beautiful poem "Primeval Light" from "The Youth's Magic Horn" - collection of popular German folk poems, the symphony asks fundamental questions about life and death, depicts the importance of joyful times in our life, goes through despair of meaningless activities of life, to end in the true hope of our sould renewal. It's worth to read what Henry-Louis de La Grange wrote about 2-nd symphony
  • Symphony No. 3 - One of the most imposing of all Mahler's symphonies. This is the act of creativity that caused Mahler to express: "The composer who writes 'a major work, literally reflecting the whole world, is himself only, as it were, an instrument played by the whole universe' ". The symphony programme was around the answers that composer gets from Nature, its glory and from man: Summer Marches In, What the Flowers on the Meadow Tell Me, What the Animals in the Forest Tell Me, What Man Tells Me, What the Angels Tell Me, What Love Tells Me. The best illustration of this incredible music is in Mahler's own words: "My symphony will be something the world has never heard before. In it Nature herself acquires a voice and tells secrets so profound that they are perhaps glimpsed only in dreams! I assure you, there are passages where I myself sometimes get an eerie feeling; it seems as though it were not I who composed them."
    Again, the best ever text about it is by Henry-Louis de La Grange.

Of great importance is of course, what performance do you listen to. I did to Bernstain's...
I'm not sure if there exists anything better than Bernstain recording of Mahler's symphonies. Needless to say, watching Bernstein profound dedication to music, his conductor's "body-language" is another incredible experience.

I must also say some bad words about an attempt to illustrate Mahler's music by computer graphics. I refer to "Vision Mahler" by Johannes Deutsch. The music performance (conductor Semyon Bychkov) is fine, but the illustration is primitive. I understand the need of interpretations other than the composer programme for the symphony, I understand the need for visual experiments with music, but to illustrate the glorious Mahler's Symphony No. 2 with phlegmatic shapes from XX century 90-ties computer 3D graphics was too much to me.
I hope, Johannes Deutsch, who is certainly good artist will come up with something better in the future !

At this moment it is good to remind Gustaw Mahler's words: "If a composer could say what he had to say in words, he would not bother trying to say it in music". And this equally applies to words as to images !!!

So, while I advice to listen to Bernstain's "The Symphonies", I certainly do not to "Vision Mahler" ...

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