An allergic reaction

This week we did Mahler 5, although the first day of work last week was actually a rehearsal for this week. Mahler 5 is a big piece and this is not the only orchestra that will schedule five rehearsals for a Mahler symphony.

The first day back is always a little strange. This year was
stranger than most, as we’d been away from work for so long. I had very
mixed feelings about the start of the season. I looked forward to
getting an identity back, but the looming tyranny of double-service
days only heightened my sense of not having gotten as much done this
summer as I had planned.

Apparently I resolved these mixed feelings by getting mad at –
Mahler. I’ve never been a great Mahler fan. I’ve always had a soft spot
for the 2nd, having grown up listening to an ancient recording of
Klemperer and Vienna done right after the war. But I’d never had a
negative reaction quite as pronounced as I did last week. For whatever
reason, Mahler 5 struck me as very tinny. I remarked to my cello
standpartner that I couldn’t believe that the Austro-Hungarian Empire
was really such a wonderful a place that Mahler would be so nostalgic
for it. Of course the Austro-Hungarian empire was in full swing when he
wrote the piece; maybe it was just the idea of K und K that caused him to wax so sentimental.

Mahler is still a controversial composer. After all the arguments
are made (and there are countless webpages devoted to the subject of
Mahler), the fact remains that some people like him and some just

I generally don’t. Mahler symphonies seem to me to be about… Mahler.
And he doesn’t come across as very likeable. Lots of composers weren’t
very likeable, of course. But Wagner opera isn’t about Wagner’s
personal angst. Mahler symphonies generally seem to be Too Much
Information for me (yes the Adagietto is beautiful, but I really don’t
need to know the pillow-talk words to it – thanks to Mahler, I do). And
then there are all the gimmicks: the gestoppen horns, the winds
pointing their bells in the air, horns standing on their chairs (he
must have been great fun to work for, that guy), the cowbells, the
f*ucking hammer in the sixth. Someone would have served Mahler very
well by plastering his little composing hut with endless repetitions of
the word “semplice.”

But then there’s the ninth symphony. Maybe I’d be happier with
Mahler if I regarded everything up to that point as a student work.


One Response to “An allergic reaction”

  1. Charles Noble Says:

    Oh, yes – it’s all about the Ninth – though I do love parts of most of the rest of the symphonies: the hushed, magical opening of the First, the last movement of the Second, the adagietto of the Fifth, etc. I find that as I grow older my feelings change as to what parts I find relevant to me – sometimes the loud stuff speaks (yells) to me, sometimes it’s those quiet “glimpses behind the curtain”.

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