Showcase Sep-Nov 2014 - page 34

All this has bearing on Mahler’s perception of the
structure of his Second Symphony, a matter on which
he made various comments that are not so much
contradictory as they are complementary. He said that the
first three movements were in effect “only the exposition”
of the symphony and that the appearance of the
Urlicht
song, the fourth movement, sheds light on what comes
before. He referred to the three middle movements as
having the function only of an “interludium.”
allegro maestoso.
The first movement, the
Totenfeier
,
is firmly anchored to the classical sonata tradition (late
Romantic branch). Its character is that of a march, and
Mahler’s choice of key—C minor—surely alludes to
the
classic exemplar of such a piece, the
marcia funebre
in Beethoven’s
Eroica
. The lyric, contrasting theme,
beautifully scored for horns, is an homage to Beethoven’s
Violin Concerto.
andante moderato.
The thematic material of the second
movement, both the gentle dance it begins with and the
cello tune that soon joins in, goes back to Leipzig and the
time of the
Totenfeier
. This movement was occasionally
played by itself, and Mahler used to refer to these bucolic
genre pieces as the raisins in his cakes.
in quietly flowing movement.
The third movement is a
symphonic expansion of a song about Saint Anthony of
Padua’s Sermon to the Fishes; the text comes from the
collection of German folk verse,
Des Knaben Wunderhorn
(The Boy’s Magic Horn). Mahler worked on the two
pieces simultaneously and finished the scoring of the
song one day after he completed the orchestration of
the scherzo.
Urlicht: very solemn, but simple.
The sardonic
Fischpredigt
scherzo skids into silence, and its final
shudder is succeeded by a new sound, the sound of a
human voice. In summoning that resource, as he would in
his next two symphonies as well, Mahler consciously and
explicitly evokes Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.
Urlicht
,
whose text also comes from
Des Knaben Wunderhorn
, is
one of Mahler’s loveliest songs.
in the tempo of the scherzo.
The peace that the song
spreads over the symphony like balm is shattered by an
outburst whose ferocity again refers to the corresponding
place in Beethoven’s Ninth. Mahler arrays before us a
great and pictorial pageant. Horns sound in the distance
(Mahler referred to this as “the crier in the wilderness”).
A march with a suggestion of the Gregorian
Dies irae
is
heard, and so is other music saturated in angst, more
trumpet signals, marches and a chorale. Then Mahler’s
Great Summons: horns and trumpets loud but at a great
distance, while in the foreground a solitary bird flutters
grandson of the composer of
Der Freischütz
,
Euryanthe
and
Oberon
, music close to Mahler’s heart. The encounter
had interesting consequences.
First, Weber invited Mahler to examine his grandfather’s
sketches for an opera called
Die drei Pintos
(The Three
Pintos), hoping to interest Mahler in extracting a
performing version from those sketches. Next, Mahler
and Weber’s wife, Marion, fell in love, and some of the
affair is, as it were, composed into the First Symphony,
on which Mahler worked with great concentration in
February and March 1888.
an imaginary funeral
Mahler did, in any event, take on
Die drei Pintos
and
conducted its highly acclaimed premiere on January 20,
1888. Bouquets and wreaths galore were presented to
Mahler and the cast. Mahler took home as many of these
floral tributes as he could manage, and lying in his room
amid their seductive scent, he imagined himself dead on his
bier. The experience sharpened greatly Mahler’s vision of a
compositional project he had had in mind for some months:
a large orchestral piece called
Totenfeier
(Funeral Rites).
Mahler completed this work later in 1888, and five years
later—after having left Leipzig to become music director
of the opera in Budapest, then principal conductor
in Hamburg—he realized that
Totenfeier
was not an
independent piece but rather the first movement of a new
symphony. In 1893-94, working around his conducting
obligations, he wrote a second and third movement, also
a finale and revision to the first movement; a song he had
previously composed,
Urlicht
(Primal Light), was inserted
as the fourth movement.
Mahler led the Berlin Philharmonic in the premiere of the
first three movements on March 4, 1895, and of the entire
work on December 13 of that year. He revised the scoring
again in 1903 and was still tinkering with it as late as 1909.
the music
The Second Symphony is often called the
Resurrection
,
but Mahler himself gave it no title. On various occasions,
though, he offered programs to explain the work—yet
he blew hot and cold on this question, being skeptical
and then changing his mind repeatedly as to just what
the program was. Yet across their differences, Mahler’s
various program descriptions share certain features.
The first movement celebrates a dead hero, retaining
its original
Totenfeier
aspect. The second and third
movements represent retrospect, the second being
innocent and nostalgic, the third including a certain
element of the grotesque. The fourth and fifth movements
are the resolution, and they deal with the Last Judgment,
redemption and resurrection.
34
MINNESOTA ORCHESTRA SHOWCASE
Program Notes
sept
26, 27, 28
1...,24,25,26,27,28,29,30,31,32,33 35,36,37,38,39,40,41,42,43,44,...92
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