Author Topic: Worrying Mahler Trends  (Read 9507 times)

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Offline Archaic Torso of Apollo

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Worrying Mahler Trends
« on: January 21, 2009, 02:07:55 AM »
There seem to be a few recent trends in the performance of Mahler that strike me as somewhat dubious. For instance:

1. Performances of the 1st Symphony that include Blumine. These seem to have increased noticeably; they only prove to me that Mahler was right to exclude this movement.

2. Performing the 6th Symphony in Andante-Scherzo order. I think this is more defensible, but I prefer the opposite order.

3. Proliferating completions of the 10th Symphony. How many do we need, really? Having heard 3 or 4 of them, they just impress on me how close Mahler was to finishing the symphony himself.

Also - possibly more serious, though I don't really have the details here - some of the "scholarship" coming out of the Int'l Mahler Society. Apparently they would have us believe that the famous "Frere Jacques" solo in 1/iii should now be played by the entire bass section. How the hell they came to that conclusion, I don't know.

Anyway - this all strikes me as unnecessary mucking around with great music. So, some questions:

1. Why do you think this is going on?

2. Are you positive or negative toward these trends?

3. What further abominations against Mahler scores can you imagine?  :)
formerly VELIMIR (before that, Spitvalve)

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DavidW

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Re: Worrying Mahler Trends
« Reply #1 on: January 21, 2009, 03:11:03 AM »
I think the reason that these things happen is because the market is over-saturated with recordings of Mahler's work.  New recordings do things differently to stand out.  I never cared for the Blumine movement, and there never was a revelatory 10th symphony completion.

And of course Mahler nuts will buy recordings for major and minor, very minor differences.  A few years back I was obsessed with an oboe glissando in a short passage in the massive third symphony.  Thinking back it seems hilariously crazy that I was buying recordings just for a .1% difference! :D

I guess that's what it comes down to-- hearing a familiar work in a different light.  And that's why it's done.

Offline Archaic Torso of Apollo

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Re: Worrying Mahler Trends
« Reply #2 on: January 21, 2009, 03:16:20 AM »
I think the reason that these things happen is because the market is over-saturated with recordings of Mahler's work.  New recordings do things differently to stand out.
 

Bingo.  :)  I agree completely with your post. I think a contributing factor is that Mahler only wrote a small number of works, so there really isn't any unexplored territory.

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A few years back I was obsessed with an oboe glissando in a short passage in the massive third symphony. 

LOL I remember that  ;)  I was wondering what got into you...but I remember my own days of Mahler collecting mania
formerly VELIMIR (before that, Spitvalve)

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DavidW

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Re: Worrying Mahler Trends
« Reply #3 on: January 21, 2009, 03:40:03 AM »
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LOL I remember that  ;)  I was wondering what got into you...but I remember my own days of Mahler collecting mania

Haha yeah that was pretty funny! :D  I think Karl called it Mahleria. ;D  I've recovered, but I am still in danger of ending up like that for Bruckner. :o  I must be extra vigilant. 8)

Offline Archaic Torso of Apollo

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Re: Worrying Mahler Trends
« Reply #4 on: January 21, 2009, 03:42:11 AM »
I am still in danger of ending up like that for Bruckner. :o 

Jeez...with all the different Bruckner symphony editions, that is even worse a syndrome  :o  don't bankrupt yourself, man!
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Online Sergeant Rock

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Re: Worrying Mahler Trends
« Reply #5 on: January 25, 2009, 10:16:46 AM »
1. Performances of the 1st Symphony that include Blumine. These seem to have increased noticeably; they only prove to me that Mahler was right to exclude this movement.

This doesn't bother me; in fact, I approve. I love Blumine and I think it works exceedingly well within the symphony, making a beautiful, quiet interlude between the explosive end of the first movement and the boisterous, galumphing dance of the second. And five movements instead of four seem more...well, Mahlerian to me ;)


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2. Performing the 6th Symphony in Andante-Scherzo order. I think this is more defensible, but I prefer the opposite order.

Me too. I think Andante-Scherzo is just wrong, with very little defensible about it. Yeah, I know, I'm second guessing genius here (and in my comment above about Blumine) but I really do think he was wrong to change the original order.

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3. Proliferating completions of the 10th Symphony. How many do we need, really? Having heard 3 or 4 of them, they just impress on me how close Mahler was to finishing the symphony himself.

I buy them all but I still prefer Cooke I...which means the others are superfluous...to me anyway.

Sarge
the phone rings and somebody says,
"hey, they made a movie about
Mahler, you ought to go see it.
he was as f*cked-up as you are."
                               --Charles Bukowski, "Mahler"

Offline Archaic Torso of Apollo

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Re: Worrying Mahler Trends
« Reply #6 on: January 25, 2009, 10:37:05 AM »
Me too. I think Andante-Scherzo is just wrong, with very little defensible about it. Yeah, I know, I'm second guessing genius here (and in my comment above about Blumine) but I really do think he was wrong to change the original order.

Where do you stand on the hammer-blow question (i.e. 2 or 3)? I prefer to have all 3 whacks, regardless of what the official version says. As I understood it, Mahler only deleted the 3rd blow because he was superstitious (and it didn't save him anyway!).
formerly VELIMIR (before that, Spitvalve)

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DavidW

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Re: Worrying Mahler Trends
« Reply #7 on: January 25, 2009, 10:46:22 AM »
As I understood it, Mahler only deleted the 3rd blow because he was superstitious (and it didn't save him anyway!).

I've heard that, but that's closer to urban legend than truth.  I think that he had legitimate reasons.  And even if it was true, it's still his work, his vision, and it should be respected by having it played as he wanted it to be played, instead of second guessing him.

If conductors want to be original and have their vision of the music played, they should write their own music instead of changing an existing work they didn't write.

Offline Archaic Torso of Apollo

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Re: Worrying Mahler Trends
« Reply #8 on: January 25, 2009, 10:55:11 AM »
Well I have another opinion which might be heretical  >:D I like some of the Wunderhorn songs to be done as duets. I don't think that's in the score either.

(so sue me)
formerly VELIMIR (before that, Spitvalve)

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Offline Jay F

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Re: Worrying Mahler Trends
« Reply #9 on: January 25, 2009, 11:07:24 AM »
Why do you think this is going on?
As someone said earlier, too much Mahler goin' on.

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Are you positive or negative toward these trends?
I like the Blumine movement. I only have one version with it, by James Judd, but I'm happy to have it. I prefer Scherzo-Andante, but I'm not going to reprogram a disc or make a CD-R over it. I don't care much about "completed" M10s one way or the other.

Online Sergeant Rock

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Re: Worrying Mahler Trends
« Reply #10 on: January 25, 2009, 11:51:48 AM »
Where do you stand on the hammer-blow question (i.e. 2 or 3)? I prefer to have all 3 whacks, regardless of what the official version says. As I understood it, Mahler only deleted the 3rd blow because he was superstitious (and it didn't save him anyway!).

Superstition could be part of the reason. His stated reason was because he thought the effect was too obvious and theatrical. But that begs the question: Why didn't he take out the other two then?

Me, I think Mahler's original concept was best: Scherzo-Andante, three hammerblows. He shouldn't have second guessed himself.

I've heard that, but that's closer to urban legend than truth.  I think that he had legitimate reasons.  And even if it was true, it's still his work, his vision, and it should be respected by having it played as he wanted it to be played, instead of second guessing him.

As I said, I don't think he should have second guessed himself. We've discussed many times why the original order of the movements makes more sense musically, technically and emotionally. Eliminating the last hammerblow makes the first two utterly pointless. What do they mean without the third and mortal blow? Le Grange makes a convincing argument that Mahler never came to a final decision about the Sixth. What we have today is the opportunity to hear it as originally conceived and as revised, and that gives us greater insight into Mahler and his music. Whether a conductor has the percussionist whack the block a third time really doesn't do a disservice to Mahler but does let us hear his first and (to my mind) best thoughts.

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If conductors want to be original and have their vision of the music played, they should write their own music instead of changing an existing work they didn't write.

But they aren't changing anything. They are simply playing Mahler's original score.

Sarge
the phone rings and somebody says,
"hey, they made a movie about
Mahler, you ought to go see it.
he was as f*cked-up as you are."
                               --Charles Bukowski, "Mahler"

Drasko

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Re: Worrying Mahler Trends
« Reply #11 on: January 25, 2009, 12:06:46 PM »
I prefer Scherzo-Andante, but I'm not going to reprogram a disc or make a CD-R over it. I don't care much about "completed" M10s one way or the other.

What he/she said.


Offline edward

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Re: Worrying Mahler Trends
« Reply #12 on: January 25, 2009, 01:38:53 PM »
Eliminating the last hammerblow makes the first two utterly pointless. What do they mean without the third and mortal blow?
I'm actually going to disagree with this one. I think it's very psychologically true for the mortal blow to be much weaker than the two previous ones.

On the other hand, I do agree with your strong preference for Scherzo-Andante.
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DavidW

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Re: Worrying Mahler Trends
« Reply #13 on: January 25, 2009, 01:45:31 PM »
What do they mean without the third and mortal blow?

But now you're not describing the music, but a story or program commonly given to the music.  And that is one that I reject.  Once rejecting extra-musical associations, I've never encountered an argument good enough for appending a third hammer blow.  And whether the conductor feels that the third hammer blow is appropriate or not, going against the composer's final wishes (for whatever reason) shows a deep lack of respect for the composer and the work.

Offline Wanderer

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Re: Worrying Mahler Trends
« Reply #14 on: January 25, 2009, 02:40:31 PM »
I don't much care about the Blumine movement. It's nice to have as a curiosity bonus track but for me Mahler was right to purge it from the symphony.

As for the Sixth symphony, I prefer the Andante - Scherzo order but I don't really care either way. The resulting order ambiguity could even turn out interesting in a live performance, anticipating what the conductor's going to do.


Considering the Tenth's state of completion at the time of Mahler's death and the gorgeous music contained in it, I consider the various reconstructions/performing versions (of which, I prefer Cooke's the most) not only legitimate but absolutely indispensable.


Concerning the three or two hammer blows in the Sixth symphony, I can see how three might be considered more psychologically compelling and find it equally legitimate as a performing practice without actually having a strong preference one way or the other.

Symphonien

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Re: Worrying Mahler Trends
« Reply #15 on: January 25, 2009, 08:36:54 PM »
But now you're not describing the music, but a story or program commonly given to the music.  And that is one that I reject.

Then you're rejecting Mahler's own conception of the symphony:

"It is the hero, on whom fall three blows of fate, the last of which fells him as a tree is felled" was what Mahler himself said about the Finale. This was why he put the hammer blows there in the first place. If there was no extra-musical significance to them, why would he bother with them at all? Are you trying to say he simply liked the sound of a hammer hitting a large block of wood and decided to put it into his symphony without intending any sort of symbolic meaning whatsoever?

Offline Archaic Torso of Apollo

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Re: Worrying Mahler Trends
« Reply #16 on: January 25, 2009, 10:33:42 PM »
  And whether the conductor feels that the third hammer blow is appropriate or not, going against the composer's final wishes (for whatever reason) shows a deep lack of respect for the composer and the work.

I disagree. Mahler himself is on record as saying that he expected conductors of the future to alter his scores if necessitated by circumstances.

And Mahler himself wasn't averse to "touching up" other composers' music (e.g. the Schumann symphonies).

As for the 3rd hammer - I have a suspicion that some conductors put it there because it looks neat visually in concert. On a recording, it hardly makes any difference.
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DavidW

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Re: Worrying Mahler Trends
« Reply #17 on: January 26, 2009, 05:20:40 AM »
Then you're rejecting Mahler's own conception of the symphony:

"It is the hero, on whom fall three blows of fate, the last of which fells him as a tree is felled" was what Mahler himself said about the Finale.

But he also said (sorry I don't have a direct quote though) that he wanted his music to stand without needing programs to give them context.  And all good music should be able to stand without a narrative.  If it can't succeed on the abstract level, it doesn't matter what the program is anyway.

DavidW

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Re: Worrying Mahler Trends
« Reply #18 on: January 26, 2009, 05:25:53 AM »
And Mahler himself wasn't averse to "touching up" other composers' music (e.g. the Schumann symphonies).

And when he did, and he did for Beethoven as well, he shows a lack of respect for composers far superior to him.  And the result of Mahler's tampering is well... crap.  He was not fit to lick the boots of composers like Beethoven and Schumann, yet he had the audacity to think that he could improve their music! :D

Offline Archaic Torso of Apollo

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Re: Worrying Mahler Trends
« Reply #19 on: January 26, 2009, 05:59:04 AM »
He was not fit to lick the boots of composers like Beethoven and Schumann,

I don't agree with this at all...but hey, that's just a personal preference  :)

The larger point is that Mahler was not against intelligent tampering with his own music, which is after all what we're discussing here.

The even larger point is that in his time, tampering with scores was not regarded with the puristic horror that it evokes today.
formerly VELIMIR (before that, Spitvalve)

"Who knows not strict counterpoint, lives and dies an ignoramus" - CPE Bach