Mahler dismembered

Mahler dismembered


norman lebrecht

April 27, 2011

The city of Hamburg is planning a big climax for its two-year Mahler cycle. It’s the eighth symphony conducted by Christoph Eschenbach, with some 500 performers in the O2 arena on May 20.

Before the Creator Spiritus gets moving that night, the audience will hear a new commission from American composer Nathaniel Stookey. Titled Mahl/er/werk – a German word meaning ‘grinding mechanism’, it is made up entirely of fragments of Mahler’s music, all in their original key, tempo and instrumentation. 
Stookey has dedicated the score to Alfred Schnittke, once a citizen of Hamburg, who created many works of out of shards of other men’s music (see Why Mahler?). I’m curious to hear it. There will be a broadcast on NDR.
Logo "Mah/ler/werk": Eine Auftragskomposition von Nathaniel Stookey für den NDR © NDR


  • The question that immediately comes to mind is, “Why Mahler?”. This postmodernist deconstruction model always makes me question the integrity of the composers concerned. There’s a sort of musical/intellectual arrogance at play here (albeit subconscious on the part of the composer) which attempts to re-contextualize said work and enable the listener to view the work and its components from different angles. But is this absolutely necessary. The original work is as it is, as pure as driven snow. Do we need such metamusic?
    Let the listener engage with the original work on its own terms, flow inside with the original text rather than be forced to piece together broken shards like some musical archaeologist. If its not broken, then don’t break it.

  • Dick Bobinson says:

    In the works of Mahler, a predominant concept is the concept of cultural culture. Several dematerialisms concerning Sartreist absurdity may be found. It could be said that subcultural deconstructivism holds that consensus is created by communication.
    “Society is fundamentally dead,” says Debord; however, according to Tilton, it is not so much society that is fundamentally dead, but rather the absurdity, and eventually the collapse, of society. Stockhausen suggests the use of precultural deconstruction to attack capitalism. But the subject is contextualised into a subcultural deconstructivism that includes language as a paradox.
    In the works of Mahler, a predominant concept is the distinction between figure and ground. The premise of the cultural paradigm of reality states that the establishment is part of the failure of culture, given that precultural deconstruction is invalid. Thus, Taruskin holds that the works of Mahler are not postmodern.

  • Oh dear, seem to have irritated someone here with my comment…Anyhow, the point I was making is this (and I don’t think I can make it any clearer): all this theft from the past is so fucking passe. It’s all been done before. Musical necrophilia just ain’t cool. Innit? Or more to the point….Oh, I can’t be bothered. Why Mahler? Why not Schnebel? Or Berio? Or Schnittke? Or Pousseur? Or Cage? Or Kagel? Or Bosseur? Why not Cheryl Cole?

  • Sirhc says:

    Instead of building a new work from pieces of Mahler symphonies someone should make the effort to edit his works into some kind of comprehensible form. Or maybe find the films that this music was written for so that we can make sense of these scores.