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Composers from Amazon.com's Get Started in Classical:

Bach Glass Schubert
Beethoven Mahler Stravinsky
Copland Mozart Tilson Thomas
Corigliano Mutter Wagner
Debussy Pärt Zimerman
NEW! Huang

Additional composers and musicians

Gustav Mahler

This is from Amazon.com's Get Started in Classical.

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.
List of Composers

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