Friday, March 28, 2008

What the Animals in the Forest Tell Me

Gustav Mahler


The first time I ever heard Mahler was in Visconti's Death in Venice and I was swept away without having any idea of what I was listening to. On later viewings I thought that if I heard the Adagio from the 5th Symphony one more time I would walk out. Death in Venice was a movie I loved at first sight at 16 and later grew out of.

Then Donald Elfman or Chris Rouse or both gave me Mahler's 9th - I think it was the Bernard Haitink recording with the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra — for what must have been my 18th birthday or maybe just for fun and I fell hard at least for a decade. I listened to every recording of any Mahler I could get my hands on and while we were all still hanging out together in Philadelphia, Donald and Chris picked out for me what they thought were the best recordings. In 1980 — before the public embrace of Mahler — I knew a UCLA professor who would say, "If you were going to buy stock in a composer, I'd advise you to invest in Mahler." I went to Mahlerthons where nut cases like myself would listen to Mahler's entire output uninterrupted. I never actually stayed through the entire 'thon but it was fun to stop by. When you become familiar with Mahler and all of his music, it's easy to perceive it as one, long gigantic piece of music interrupted only by the composer's conducting obligations. A cathedral of themes and variations. I still have scores for all the symphonies. Have you ever tried to sell orchestral scores at a yard sale?

I haven't really sat down and listened to a Mahler symphony or song cycle in years but in preparing for this post I turned to the next symphony I fell in love with; the 3rd. Jascha Horenstein's 1970 recording with the London Symphony Orchestra is the best but if there is a remastered version, I do not have it. It's a little too quiet on the computer uploads to be fully appreciated so I went looking for an alternate version and listened to Pierre Boulez's much more recent recording with Anne Sofie von Otter and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra . The best Mahler symphony I ever saw performed live was conducted by Boulez at one of his Avery Fisher Hall Rug Concerts. It was an absolute thrill, the whole thing. So I downloaded the Boulez version of the 3rd and though it's a completely different approach from Horenstein's, there are some really interesting choices and interpretations and it's meticulous and transparent with a web-like rhythmic structure.

I think I read somewhere that upon its completion, Mahler showed the 3rd Symphony to Bruno Walter and asked Walter how he might conduct it because Mahler — the leading conductor at the time — did not know how. Boulez certainly does. I've posted the 3rd movement for you to listen to. It's 16 1/2 minutes but can keep you company while I teach a workshop and go on retreat. I'll be back in a week or two.

There are plenty of books on Mahler and loads of recordings of his music. Ken Russell made a film about Mahler that only Ken Russell could make (Ken Russell's Mahler). Robert Powell is excellent as Mahler and so is Georgina Hale as Alma. In another film, Bride of the Wind, Jonathan Pryce plays Mahler. One day, I'll have to write a post on Alma but that is definitely another post.

I'm glad to have made myself sit down and listen to the 3rd again while writing this post. It's been a great pleasure. Enjoy the Scherzando over your next week or two. Leave a comment or email me if you like.

Mahler: Symphony No.3 in D minor / Part 2 - 3. Comodo. Scherzando. Ohne Hast

Oh, and the What the Animals in the Forest Tell Me? That's Mahler's original title for the third movement of the Third Symphony.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I was listening that Mahler`s Symphony and I can say, I enjoyed very much, thank you for the music and also writing.

I thank you now also for your comments on my site.

Have a pleasant weekend, Suzanne!