Week 8 – Discussion: Nationalism and Modernism in Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 “Titan”
1 GUSTAV MAHLER
“Imagine the universe beginning to sing and resound,” Gustav Mahler wrote of his Symphony No. 8, the “Symphony of a Thousand.” “It is no longer human voices; it is planets and suns revolving.” Mahler was late Romantic music’s ultimate big thinker. In his own lifetime he was generally regarded as a conductor who composed on the side, producing huge, bizarre symphonies accepted only by a cult following.
Born in 1860, in Kalischt, Bohemia, he came from a middle-class family. He entered the Vienna Conservatory in 1875, studying piano, harmony, and composition in a musically conservative atmosphere. Nevertheless, he became a supporter of Wagner andBruckner, both of whose works he would later conduct frequently, and became part of a social circle interested in socialism, Nietzschean philosophy, and pan-Germanism. Around 1880, he began conducting and wrote his first mature work, Das klagende Lied. Mahler’s conducting career advanced rapidly, moving him from Kassel to Prague to Leipzig to Budapest; he was usually either greatly respected or thoroughly despised by the performers for his exacting rehearsals and perfectionism. In 1897 he became music director of the Vienna Court Opera and then, a year later, of the Vienna Philharmonic. Mahler’s conducting career permitted composition only during the summers, in a series of “composing huts” he had built in picturesque rural locations. He completed his first symphony in 1888, but it met with utter audience incomprehension. He reserved this time for symphonies, all of them large-scale works, and song cycles. In Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth), he merged the two forms into an immense song-symphony. The Viennese public largely failed to understand his music, but Mahler took their reactions calmly, accurately predicting that “My time will yet come.” Meanwhile, his autocratic ways as a conductor alienated musicians. In 1901, the press and the musicians essentially forced his resignation from the Philharmonic. He married a young composition student, Alma Schindler in 1902, and they soon had two daughters. By 1907 Mahler was increasingly away from Vienna, conducting his own works, and thus he resigned from the opera as well. Just after accepting the position of principal conductor of New York’s Metropolitan Opera, but before leaving Vienna, Mahler’s older daughter, age 4, died from scarlet fever and diphtheria, and he learned he himself had a defective heart valve. In New York, he was impressed by the caliber of talent and quickly gained audience approval. In 1909 he became conductor of the New York Philharmonic, which he found much more agreeable than the opera work by this time. The following year, he had a triumphant premiere of his massive Symphony No. 8 in Munich. Despite the professional successes, his personal life suffered another blow when his and Alma’s marriage began having problems. They stayed together, and after he became ill in February 1911, she saw to it that he made it back to Vienna, where he died on May 18.
The conductors Bruno Walter, Otto Klemperer, Willem Mengelberg, and Maurice Abravanel kept Mahler’s legacy alive, andMahler’s are now among the most recorded of any symphonies. His frequent incorporation of vocal elements into symphonic writing brought to full fruition a process that had begun with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, demonstrating his music’s firm roots in the Germanic classical tradition. However, it was his huge tapestries of shifting moods and tones, ranging from tragedy to bitter irony (often explicitly indicated in performance directions), from café music to evocations of the sublime, that portended a century in which multiplicity ruled.
Please view the first 15 minutes and 24 seconds of this video as it discusses our topic, the Symphony No. 1 in D Major “Titan”:
More about the Symphony No. 1:
Like many composers, Mahler was both drawn to and wary of the notion of program music. He wrestled with the idea of linking his musical ideas with an extra-musical program, fearing his music would not be taken seriously. At the same time, the attraction of an underlying narrative as a unifying structure held great appeal for Mahler. At the time he was composing his first symphony, Mahlerwas so ambivalent about the inclusion of a program that he called it a symphonic poem. Its overall narrative describes, in Mahler’s words, “a strong, heroic man, his life and sufferings, his battles and defeat at the hands of Fate.”
The argument for the Symphony No. 1 as program music is strengthened by the fact that much of its musical material was borrowed from other sources. In the first two movements, Mahler used melodies from two of his songs as the basis for elaborate thematic development. In the third movement, he set the folk song “Brother Martin,” known to most audiences as “Frère Jacques,” in a somber minor key. In the final movement Mahler goes even further afield in his borrowings, taking material from Liszt’s Dante Symphonyand Wagner’s Parsifal.
Mahler explained his rationale for appropriating so much previously composed material when he commented to a friend, “Composing is like playing with building blocks, where new buildings are created again and again, using the same blocks.” Another more practical reason might have been the fact that Mahler could only compose during the summers. Mahler made his living primarily as a conductor, and his demanding schedule did not provide him time to write during the concert season. Finally, despite Mahler’s ambivalence about associating his music with a specific program, Mahler himself provided one to the music critic Ludwig Karpath.
Audiences of Mahler’s time were most disturbed by the third movement, with its ghostly reworking of a children’s folksong in the tempo of a funeral march. Mahler indicated this music was full of “biting irony,” in which “all the coarseness, the mirth and the banality of the world are heard in the sound of a Bohemian village band, together with the hero’s terrible cries of pain.” The loutish parody of the village band, complete with oom-pahs, mingles with music taken from another of Mahler’s Wayfarer songs, “Die zwei blauen Augen” (“Your Two Blue Eyes“), which resembles a melody from Jewish liturgy. Viennese audiences, notoriously anti-Semitic, likely also reacted negatively to the Jewish sound of this movement.
In the finale, according to Mahler’s narrative: “The hero is exposed to the most fearful combats and to all the sorrows of the world. He and his triumphant motifs are hit on the head again and again by Destiny. …Only when he has triumphed over death, and when all the glorious memories of youth have returned with themes from the first movement, does he get the upper hand, and there is a great victorious chorale!”
Destiny intervenes with pounding brasses and timpani, full of portentous Sturm und Drang, but a triumphant brass choir hints at the hero’s ultimate victory, even as he continues to struggle with the overwhelming forces bent on his destruction. Finally the chorale bursts forth (some listeners have discerned traces of the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah in it) and concludes the symphony, with the horns standing to play their final notes.
“It’s the most spontaneous and daringly composed of my works,” said Mahler of his first symphony. “Naively, I imagined that it … would have … immediate appeal. … How great was my surprise and disappointment when it turned out quite differently. In Budapest, where I first performed it, my friends avoided me afterwards … I went about like a leper and an outlaw.”
Both critics and audiences reacted negatively, with one critic deriding it as a parody of a symphony. The influential Viennese criticEduard Hanslick was equally harsh. “The new symphony is the kind of music which for me is not music,” he wrote. Subsequent performances, even after Mahler’s substantial revisions to the symphony, provoked equally strong reactions. More than 10 years after its premiere, another critic described the audience after Mahler’s first symphony: “There were startled faces all around, and some hissing was heard.”
© 2010 Elizabeth Schwartz
Source: Oregon Symphony website [Link (链接到外部网站。)
Given the above reading material and video segment, discuss your initial reaction to the music of Gustav Mahler (without hearing the entire work).
Based upon his biographical sketch and the program notes by Ms. Schwartz, do you think that you want to hear this symphony? Why or why not?
Do you understand what is meant by Program Music versus Absolute Music?
What does Mahler include in his music that makes it “programmatic“?
Is Mahler simply expressing his own life story – the good and the bad – through his music?
How is this different than what Beethoven, Haydn, or Bach did in their own music?
2 THE CONCERT EXPERIENCE & CONCERT REVIEW
As a part of your “Music Experience“, this class will be attending 5 concerts during the term and submitting a review of each concert. You should have read sample professional reviews in the Start Here section of this course.
These reviews should be no shorter than 1 full single-spaced page, utilizing a standard font (Times New Roman, Arial, Century Gothic, or Tahoma) of 12 point size or smaller, and be no less than 800 words in length. A copy of the concert program, if available, must be attached to the document. In the absence of a program, a ticket stub or some similar “evidence of attendance” will suffice.
The goals of concert attendance include, but are not limited to, providing students with opportunities to:
- participate as an audience member in the active process of music-making,
- develop and broaden listening skills,
- hear a broad range of music repertoire presented in live performances by large ensembles, chamber music groups, and/or soloists, and
- develop and model appropriate concert etiquette as audience members.
If you are uncertain about or unable to attend an event, please contact to me immediately as these assignments are a significant portion of your final grade in this course.
A Concert Review is a critical review of the event you attended. If you choose to cite any sources that are not personal information (program notes, course packet, etc.), it is necessary to include footnotes and a bibliography in your review.
In addition to attaching a copy of the program and/or ticket stub, be certain that you:
- Include your name, date, class title, term, and instructor,
- List the name of the group or concert, date of event, and location, and
- Make observations about the performance, such as:What do you believe is the mission of the performer(s)?
- How did the performer/piece connect with the audience?
- Did the composition bridge the past to the present?
- What was the ambiance of the concert?
- What instruments or voices were featured, and how were they used?
- Was it an effective combination?
- Did the performer(s) seem to find the piece(s) satisfying?
- What was the audience reaction?
Steps to writing a successful Concert Review include the following:
- Take Notes During the Concert
Although this is one of the most challenging aspects of writing a concert report, it is vital that you take notes that are detailed enough to generate a thorough report.
Writing the Concert Review: Style and Content
- These are formal papers. Provide a title that reflects the concert you attended or viewed.
- Your report should have an introduction, body, and conclusion.
- Cover ALL of the works on the concert program.
- Provide concrete examples and support your statements with analysis or factual information.
- Remember that “less is more“. Don’t get bogged down in wordy sentence constructs.
- PROOFREAD your paper!
- Cite your sources.