What maestros do in Mahler 2

What maestros do in Mahler 2


norman lebrecht

June 10, 2017

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  • Ungeheuer says:


  • John Borstlap says:

    Nice & embarrassingly revealing.

    This episode is, from a purely musical point of view, weak: mere pumped-up Mendelssohn, blown-up to cheap pomposity, providing conductors with the means to exhibit their narcisism. That Mahler not quite believed in the ‘message’ of this symphony, is demonstrated by the symphonies that followed it. The ‘deep truths of life’ reveal themselves in silence.

    • Harold Lewis says:

      You’d know about cheap pomposity, Borstlap, wouldn’t you?

    • M2N2K says:

      It seems to me that a major part of Mahler’s genius is precisely that ability of creating genuinely powerful statements while using relatively simple (sometimes bordering on simplistic) motivic material, more noticeably so in early symphonies but occasionally even as late as in the Ninth.

      • John Borstlap says:

        In the early symphonies, those ‘powerful’ statements are not so sophisticated, but in the 9th and 10th they are very sophisticated indeed, in those works they are on a totally different level. Many music lovers experience any loud brass as ‘powerful’ and thus confer meaning to the wall of sound where there is in reality only surface volume. There is a big difference in artistry between the empty Bernsteinian pomposity of the 2nd and the anxious hysteria of the climaxes in the 9th (1st mvt).

        • Mikey says:

          wow! pretentious much?

        • Mark Henriksen says:

          Like the empty walls of sound in Bruckner, right? You’ve lost your ability to hear.

          • John Borstlap says:

            It is a matter of context and the quality of the material. It is not a simple thing (sorry to have to say).

        • M2N2K says:

          The level of “sophistication” has never been directly proportionate with musical quality. True grandeur of expression achieved by relatively simple means is rather rare and it is not surprising that it can be beyond some people’s comprehension and appreciation.

          • John Borstlap says:

            It is a matter of context. A climax with simple means can be very sophisticated. It is no ‘hard science’ though…… It would be interesting to conduct a research programme on climaxes in Wagner’s Ring, for instance.

          • M2N2K says:

            Agree fully with your first three sentences here. Antonym of simple is not sophisticated but complicated, which is why something can be simple and sophisticated at the same time. Mahler’s music often is and final minutes of his Second are a brilliant example.

      • Lunchtime O'Rihm says:

        I would not consider music written by a “convert” to be valid. Mahler is a real Horlicks composer, if he had access to a flush lavatory he would have included one after all did he not say to write a symphony must include the world, even the banal!

        • M2N2K says:

          He did say something like that, but, like with most great composers, the music he created is much better than the statements he made.

    • JOE Vandeleur says:

      Sir, regarding your recent claim that an ancestor of yours was killed by a French grenade in the woods at Waterloo 1815! I am afraid, it could not have been a French grenade, firstly, the French Artillery did not use grenades! Secondly if your relative was mushrooming hunting in June 1815, unlikely since mushrooms appear in late August/September, thirdly, if he was in the woods at Waterloo, he was more than likely on the Allied (Wellington’s) line, so it must have been the Grenadier Regiment of Foot Guards who lobbed the fatal grenade. Sorry about that, friendly fire etc happens in war.

      • John Borstlap says:

        We looked into the family archieves again, and indeed it appears that a) there is no mention where the grenade came from and that it was French was probably merely the assumption of family members who were anti-Napoleon; and b) uncle Anatole probably made-up his intention to look for mushrooms to cover-up his secret meeting with one of those peasant girls he was chasing regularly.

    • Ellingtonia says:

      Mr Borstlap, a question, could you conduct it better than any of the featured conductors, if not, I suggest you button your lip!

      • John Borstlap says:

        The reason why I never vote is that I would not know how exactly a country has to be run. The other people vote for LePen, AfD, Wilders and the BNP. Since one of the staff members here went mute after his dentist provided him with much too big false teeth, we stopped having opinions about dentistry because we could not do it better.

    • Purple Haze says:

      Forget Mahler! Here’s Jimi Hendrix doing Star Spangled Banner. Now yer suppin’ Diesel eh!


    • tomasz. says:

      ohhh, do shut up

  • Cubs Fan says:

    Too bad that video isn’t available for Walter or Kemmerer. Is there anything of Kaplan?

  • Rich C. says:

    One of the finest endings to the M2. Nice and slow. Anyone know which Bernstein recording is that?

    • Daniel Ayala says:

      Lenny did a cycle of Mahler symphonies in the 1970’s for unitel, later released by DG. The cycle is taken from live concerts, mostly with the Vienna Philahrmonic. However, this 2nd was recorded with the London Symphony.

    • Maria says:

      With LSO at Ely Cathedral, 1974-ish.

      Televised at the time.

  • Olassus says:

    I hope they were (are) better in bed.

  • Petros Linardos says:

    Question to orchestral players: Bernstein, Rattle and, to a lesser extent, Chailly, loose eye contact with the players and look high up a lot. Does that matter?

    • Cubs Fan says:

      I think they’re looking at the chorus – that’s why some of them are mouthing the words.

    • M2N2K says:

      Yes it does, but… In my experience, Bernstein did and Rattle does look at the individual players quite a lot too (I don’t remember Chailly that well because I haven’t worked with him in over three decades), if not as much as for example Mehta. In any case, amount of eye contact is not directly proportionate to the quality of conducting.

    • M2N2K says:

      In this particular passage, of course they are looking at the chorus – that is obvious, which is why I was sure that the question was about their general manner of conducting.

  • John says:

    To some of the preceding commenters, conduct it better!

  • Brucknerian says:

    I still am not really convinced about Mahler. Bruckner yes, he was going to Mass etc all the time. But Mahler became an RC just to get the job at the Hofoper but never went to Mass at all. Someone once said the difference between Bruckner and Mahler was that Bruckner had found god, but Mahler is still looking for him!

    • Petros Linardos says:

      You may have a point. I mostly agree. I don’t really connect with most Mahler symphonies, except for the 9th and 10th (adagio). But for me Mahler’s songs are another matter: incisive, beautiful and sometimes sublime.

    • John Borstlap says:

      That is why Mahler has become the 20C saint of existential angst for so many people and why his music so aptly expresses the 20th century as a whole, so much better than any intentionallly-modern music of the same era.

      • Percy French says:

        One note of Bruckner is probably worth more than all of Mahler’s overblown output, I just don’t get his stuff at all. Have you seen these Mahler cartoons, I have some originals in my collection.

        • M2N2K says:

          Why “probably”? Have more confidence in your opinions! They are not worth more than those by people who have opposite views, anyway. Given a choice between an artist who has “found” god versus another who is forever “searching” for one (seems like a fair description of a key difference between Bruckner and Mahler), I would prefer the latter most of the time: far more interesting for artistic expression.

          • Percy French says:

            I am confident in my opinions. Mahler apart from his lieder is not worth a farthing. I am an Irishman and as such believe in God! An Englishman or other on the other hand well what can I say? Yes a composer still looking for God follows the agnostic path and would suit an Englishman etc. Mahler puts the kitchen sink into his symphonies, they are a real “Horlicks” of ideas I understand where Bruckner is coming from, having visited his tomb in St. Florian, the organ register! He is the most important symphonist after Beethoven. There is an evolution in style from 0-9, the early works quote from his masses, the 7th quotes from his Te Deum and was written when Wagner passed on to Valhalla. The 8th is his greatest complete work, his 9th which he called farewell to life would have been his masterpiece. From the instrumentation’s point of view, Bruckner is hardly a romantic. He goes from baroque sound ideal and anticipates in so far tendencies that will only come back in modern music. His thoughts sweep from the mystic and the primitive gothic over to Palestrina and up to the XIXth century’s communion with nature. Bruckner is completely detached from the fiery Wagnerian eroticism and the background of his music is built on piety and a communion with God that in European music on exists in Bach. Bruckner’s Art is timeless: he only saw and worked for eternity. He is a true descendent of German mystics like Master Eckart, Jacob Bohme, Bruckner like other artists appears to have the effect of erratic memory blocks from ancient times. With his predisposition to sublime ecstasies, Bruckner is the inheritor of all means of expression of peak romanticism: he lives at a time when the universe of sounds is dissolving into fragmentary sensations and multiple seductions. In his music which touches the whole range of human feelings there is not one note that would not confirm the immediate and true contact with eternity. The heart of his symphonies is always the slow movement, this is exemplified in his 8th, which paints a deeply inward looking picture of the soul that still derives entirely from the opening movement’s basic material, the ecstatically mounting climactic ascents he termed Himmelflug (flight into heaven). Chorale like chords in the strings are set against a tapestry of harp sound. I am reminded of Immanuel Kant, “Two things awe me most, the starry sky above me and the moral law within me”. Ulrich Schreiber has aptly described the majestic hymn of triumph in radiant C major at the end of the Finale of the 8th symphony, “Fight and desperation, victory and resignation are united in a unique apotheosis which for the last time in the history of the symphony reconciles God and the world, art and life”. Listen to Karajan conduct the 8th at St.Florian, nothing finer, I was there!

          • M2N2K says:

            Isn’t classical music wonderful? You are among those who worship Bruckner and find everything you want to hear in his symphonies, while many others including me find his music, admittedly occasionally majestic and inspired, nevertheless rather one-dimensional, devoid of conflict and somewhat monochromatic, especially when compared to Mahler whose symphonies contain infinitely richer worlds of emotions and passions, so that even their deeply human “imperfections” manage to add to their appeal. Let the music of both these composers continue to be performed as long as this civilization survives! Meanwhile though, given a choice between a person who knows all the answers and the one who has doubts and never stops asking big questions, I would never hesitate in my preference to have a long conversation with the latter – it is considerably more exciting and fulfilling.

          • Margaret says:

            Regards your wonderful message below this one, to which there’s no “reply button” . . . Thank you for every single word! It’s as if you precisely read my mind. I couldn’t possibly agree with you more; neither could I begin to articulate my feelings as splendidly as you did your. Bravo!

            Lots of Mahler bashing going on here, and I genuinely wonder why. Good to see that someone (aside from myself), highly respects the genius in his legacy. To me, there’s no one who rival’s Mahler — and delightfully, you’re right: that’s about individual taste!

          • Margaret says:

            M2N2K: Oops, my comment printed just below your words that I complimented. So where I wrote “below”, it should say “above”. Sorry for the confusion!

  • Gustav says:

    Did anybody find out where that Mahler 2 manuscript went ???

  • Brian B says:

    At first I thought this had something to do with actual interpretations of a specific musical event in Mahler’s score. Instead it was really all about podium antics and grimaces. Most of it unnecessary. Unless you’re being filmed.

    • Percy French says:

      Take a look at this site for Mahler cartoons! Maybe it explains about number 2!

      He does seem to be a composer who use a kitchen sink/WC in a symphony if it was available, a cartoon alludes to his overblown orchestration. Wonder how it would sound with my 24 Banjo band!

      • John Borstlap says:

        These cartoons are interesting. Most of them are not amusing at all and merely nasty. On the positive side, at those times classical music was important. Compare with the absence of such attention in today’s media.

  • Henry says:

    Heard a very fine Mahler 2 in Paris about three weeks ago, conducted by a relatively restrained Daniel Harding. He and the orchestra took a long break after the first movement. Harding actually sat down and drank from a water bottle, I suppose preparing for the marathon to come. Heard a forgettable version last year in Toronto with an full intermission after the first movement, apparently not an uncommon practice.

    • May says:

      I was at that performance as well. Very fine playing I must add. Wiebke Lehmkuhl gave an absolutely stunning performance of Urlicht, and given that I was seated behind her and couldn’t see her face while singing, I was especially moved. Interestingly she and Christina Karg were seated in the orchestra between the violins and the harps, and not at the front of the stage.
      Mahler writes in the score at the end of the first movement: “Hier folgt eine Pause von mindestens 5 Minuten.”

      • May says:

        Watching Eschenbach I can’t help but wonder if maybe he’d reveal more about his inner thoughts by not extending the index finger on his left hand.

      • Henry says:

        Thank you. I didn’t know about Mahler’s note in the score.

  • Steve P says:

    Ungeheuer nailed it: amusing.

    Lenny all day for me, btw.

  • Jim says:

    If I got given the chance to conduct Mahler 2 I would not give a toss what anybody (let alone the sniggering classes) thought of my appearance!

  • stweart says:

    Simon’s farewell concert with HIS (CBSO) orchestra ?
    More emotion than usual even.

  • ben LEGEBEKE says:

    Ridiculous to leave out Bernard Haitink. One of the greatest Mahler conductors of our time…!!!!

  • herrera says:

    I happen to possess the only video of Mahler conducting his Second, and what he does at the climax is simply…astonishing. It is like looking into the face of God.

    • John Borstlap says:

      It may be the famous but short film footage – alas without sound – where M slowly rises into the air and disappears through the ceiling.

  • John R. says:

    As much as I appreciate this “blog”/column, it is truly infested with snide and bitter people who ruin the overall flow of conversation. It’s as if a very late night pub conversation had become completely drunk and disorderly and violent.
    I’m sure that none of the perpetrators cares but, could Lebrecht or some designated person kind of keep a lid on this stuff? PLEASE?
    It’s like the Republican Primary “debates” between Cruz and Trump; childish.

  • Royal Society for the Prevention of Wrong Note Muzak says:

    For decades critics of modern classical music have been derided as philistines for failing to grasp the subtleties of the chaotic sounding compositions, but there may now be an explanation for why many audiences find them so difficult to listen to.

    A new book on how the human brain interprets music has revealed that listeners rely upon finding patterns within the sounds they receive in order to make sense of it and interpret it as a musical composition.

    While traditional classical music follows strict patterns and formula that allow the brain to make sense of the sound, modern symphonies by composers such as Arnold Schoenberg and Anton Webern simply confuse listeners’ brains. Philip Ball, author of The Music Instinct, has drawn on the latest scientific findings from neuroscientists to show structure and patterns in music are a fundamental part of musical enjoyment.

    He said: “Many people still seem to find modern classical music challenging. If that is the case, then they can relax as it is challenging for a good reason and it is not because they are in some way too musically stupid to appreciate it. “The brain is a pattern seeking organ, so it looks for patterns in music to make sense of what we hear.

    The music of Bach, for example, embodies a lot of the pattern forming process. “Some of the things that were done by those composers such as Schoenberg undermined this cognitive aid for making music easier to understand and follow. Schoenberg’s music became fragmented which makes it harder for the brain to find structure. “That isn’t to say, of course, that it is impossible to listen to, it is just harder work. It would be wrong to dismiss such music as a racket.”

    Mr Ball believes that many traditional composers such as Mozart, Bach and Beethoven subconsciously followed strict musical formula to produce music that was easy on the ear by ensuring it contained patterns that could be picked out by the brain. In the early twentieth century, however, composers led by Schoenberg began to rally against the traditional conventions of music to produce compositions which lack tonal centres, known as atonal music.

    Under their vision, which has been adopted by many subsequent classical musicians, music no longer needed to be confined to a home note or chord. But such atonal music has been badly received by audiences and critics who have found it difficult to follow.
    Professor David Huron, an expert on music cognition at Ohio State University, has studied some of the underlying reasons why listeners struggled with such modern classical pieces. He said: “Much of what the brain does is to anticipate the future. Predicting what happens next has obvious survival value, and brains are remarkably adept at anticipating events.

    “We measured the predictability of tone sequences in music by Arnold Schoenberg and Anton Webern and found the successive pitches were less predictable than random tone sequences. “For listeners, this means that, every time you try to predict what happens next, you fail. The result is an overwhelming feeling of confusion, and the constant failures to anticipate what will happen next means that there is no pleasure from accurate prediction.”

    Dr Aniruddh Patel, a researcher at the Neurosciences Institute in San Diego, California, said that tonal music such as traditional classical music uses some of the same mechanisms needed for processing language. “This may be one reason such music is congenial to the human mind,” he said. “It may be a reason why atonal music is more difficult when first encountered.”

    Dr Timothy Jones, deputy principal at the Royal Academy of Music, said: “Mozart and Bach have similar levels of complexity as Schoenberg, but those complexities are in different musical domains. Their music is very information dense. “I would question how much of the familiarity with the music of Mozart and Bach has to do with culturalisation rather than an innate cognitive inability to understand the music of composers like Schoenberg. Certain people can learn to appreciate it.”

    Research has shown that listening to music is a major cognitive task that requires considerable processing resources to unpick harmony, rhythm and melody.Recent studies by Professor Nina Kraus, a neuroscientists at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, have shown that the electrical activity inside the brain while listening to music closely matches the physical properties of sound waves.
    Using brain scanning equipment Professor Kraus, who presented her findings at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Diego on Saturday, said the brainwaves recorded from volunteers listening to music could be converted back to sound.

    In one example where volunteers listened to Deep Purple’s Smoke on the Water, when the brainwaves were played back the song was clearly recognisable. She said: “When we play the brainwaves back as sound, although they don’t sound exactly like the song, it is pretty similar. It shows that the brain matches the physical properties of sound very closely.”

  • Margaret says:

    John R. I agree with your thinking; but speaking of “snide and bitter people”, I would prefer that you (and everyone else) remember that this is a music conversation site. Can’t we leave American politics out of it? Thank you!