Composers from Amazon.com's Get Started in Classical:
This is from Amazon.com's Get Started in Classical.
List of Composers
Within his symphonies, Mahler gives voice to the stark contradictions
of human experience
Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) reportedly once observed that for him, writing
a symphony meant "creating an entire world with all the technical means
available." However hyperbolic such a claim may sound, Mahler's legacy
bears out the enormous scope of his vision. He expanded the symphony
into an all-inclusive whole that could embrace the high and the low. In
Mahler's music you will hear the remembered innocence of childhood
together with the deep wisdom of the philosopher; excesses of
sentimentality and the lover's passion; violent human despair face to face
with the sublimity of nature; the thirst for transcendence and the peaceful
acceptance of death--all coexisting in brilliantly imagined collages of
sound. And while the works of Mahler are on one level intensely
personal--a sort of aural autobiography--knowledge of the individual
experiences that lie behind them is by no means necessary for a listener to
be moved. This is music so intensely lived that the different states of mind
it evokes acquire a universal resonance, or at least one wrenchingly
relevant to a century so fraught with contradictions.
The Symphony No. 1 (composed in 1888) offers a splendid access into the
world of Mahler. Although its length and instrumental forces don't yet
overstep the conventions of the time, Mahler's unique voice can already be heard announcing itself
with stunning confidence. Listen to how the composer establishes the scene of spring's awakening,
like a wide-angle camera pan: sustained high notes in the strings, followed by a brooding theme in the
winds and then the distant echo of a quickening fanfare (the latter will carry great weight by the
symphony's end). The colorful effect of the orchestration, subdivided into a kaleidoscopic variety of
tints, is one of the hallmarks of Mahler's style (an example of the "technical means" mentioned in the
opening quote). Later on, Mahler introduces a theme of ascending shape recycled from his earlier
Songs of a Wayfarer--also included on this disc in a moving performance by Dietrich-Fischer
Dieskau. It's as if Mahler is sublimating the emotions of the forlorn lover expressed in the song cycle.
Another song without words is the subject of the bizarre third movement, which introduces a key
facet of Mahler's musical personality: his irony. Played in canon in the minor mode, the familiar tune
of "Frčre Jacques" conjures a funeral procession. Pay attention to the surreal atmosphere Mahler
creates, first with a muted solo double bass at the top of its register, later adding in a tuba and--after a
klezmer-like street band interruption of the procession--scoring the harp in its lower register. The
whole gives the impression of a viewer in a dream witnessing his own burial in progress.
Mahler is a master of dramatic tension, which he constantly maximizes through the principle of
contrast. Sometimes it's the placement of an entire movement--such as the vigorous energy of the
rustic peasant dance in the second--that alters the atmosphere, but often it's within a larger
movement. This is above all apparent in the gigantic finale, with its oases of serene melody located
between cataclysmic outbursts from the full ensemble. Rafael Kubelik is one of the great underrated
interpreters of Mahler, and he negotiates these transitions with remarkably sensitive spontaneity. By
the end, as a jubilant fanfare of affirmation peals out, you will have experienced the typically
Mahlerian sensation of scaling to the top of the mountain in this symphonic journey.
Thomas May, Classical Editor
More Mahler can be found in Musical Information and Recommendations for Adults.
O'Connor Music Studio Recommendations
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