Author Topic: Spiritualism in Late Mahler  (Read 4339 times)

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Offline madaboutmahler

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Spiritualism in Late Mahler
« on: September 21, 2014, 04:17:35 AM »
Happy to be back!!

I am currently writing a mini dissertation on the 'spirituality and philosophy' in Mahler's late works (5th symphony onwards). Would really love to hear and quote some opinions from people here if you want to share.
By spirituality in this instance, I mean the deeper meaning of the music, what you think his music could represent on a spiritual level, based on the context of his life or the impact it has had on the world. For example, what do you believe the last movement of the 9th could be saying, or the hammer blows in the 6th?

Hope you are well!
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Offline mc ukrneal

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Re: Spiritualism in Late Mahler
« Reply #1 on: September 21, 2014, 09:43:56 AM »
Glad to see you around!!!

It's a complicated topic. I'll get back to you on it (though I am sure others will chime in), but I wanted to be sure to give you a happy welcome back.
Be kind to your fellow posters!!

Offline Lisztianwagner

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Re: Spiritualism in Late Mahler
« Reply #2 on: September 21, 2014, 10:03:25 AM »
Quite complex, but interesting matter! :)

The final movement of Mahler's 9th Symphony is absolutely a masterpiece, one of my favourite mahlerian parts; brilliant, expressive massive orchestration; hauntingly beautiful music, very deep, intense and dramatic, with veiled melancholy, but at the same time also passionate, powerful and overwhelming.
It's difficult to say what Mahler wanted to describe with this music, but those particular atmospheres strongly suggest me a tragic fate, that one of a man who clearly perceives the shadow of death over him (for example, the obscure, mysterious solos of brass or when the lyrical crescendos of violin contrast with the lower strings that almost sound to ruin their light), but in spite of this, he tries to struggle to reach his aims before accepting and dying (the breathtaking climaxes). The development of the movement just seems to symbolically depict a life at the end: the melody goes quietly like the course of time, sometimes with so impassed, vivid moments, before it exhausts into the final pianissimo evoking a farewell to the world.
« Last Edit: September 23, 2014, 01:10:46 AM by Lisztianwagner »
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Offline madaboutmahler

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Re: Spiritualism in Late Mahler
« Reply #3 on: September 21, 2014, 11:43:31 AM »
Thanks Neal! Look forward to hearing what you have to say!

Wonderful paragraph, Ilaria. I agree, so haunting yet so spiritually comforting. It should make us cherish the life we have, but also allow us to imagine what comes beyond..

I was watching a very fascinating documentary today in which Michael Kennedy said he thought the finale of the 9th was in a way a requiem to Mahler's deceased child, he used how a quote from Kindertotenlieder is heard in the closing bars.. it was the first time I had heard this suggestion but I think it makes a lot of sense. As if Mahler was saying his own farewell to life and love, but was hoping in his resolution that where he was going next was where his daughter was.

All very moving....
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Offline Lisztianwagner

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Re: Spiritualism in Late Mahler
« Reply #4 on: September 21, 2014, 12:12:08 PM »
I agree, the whole movement almost sounds like a giant elegy, Kennedy's suggestion makes much sense; I've read about another interpretation of the Adagio, by the great mahlerian conductor Leonard Bernstein; he thought that the entire movement is symbolically prophesying three kinds of death: Mahler's own impending death, the death of tonality, and the death of "Faustian" culture in all the arts. The first one is also mine. The second one is fascinating and could make sense too, because it was just in that period that atonality started spreading; Mahler never broke tonality, though he took it to extremes, but in that same vital viennese artistic atmosphere Schoenberg was developing dissonance and a new tonal structure.
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Offline EigenUser

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Re: Spiritualism in Late Mahler
« Reply #5 on: September 21, 2014, 03:09:32 PM »
I agree, the whole movement almost sounds like a giant elegy, Kennedy's suggestion makes much sense; I've read about another interpretation of the Adagio, by the great mahlerian conductor Leonard Bernstein; he thought that the entire movement is symbolically prophesying three kinds of death: Mahler's own impending death, the death of tonality, and the death of "Faustian" culture in all the arts. The first one is also mine. The second one is fascinating and could make sense too, because it was just in that period that atonality started spreading; Mahler never broke tonality, though he took it to extremes, but in that same vital viennese artistic atmosphere Schoenberg was developing dissonance and a new tonal structure.
Yes, all of this is very interesting. It is like an unwanted, but accepted fate. I think that the opposite extreme might be something like Ravel's La Valse. That piece really does seem to fight the changing times, only to lose in the end. Not to change the subject, though, as I love the finale of M9. My favorite slow movement of Mahler.

I also find it interesting that he quotes the finale significantly in that wild third movement. It is like some sort of premonition.
Beethoven's Op. 133 -- A fugue so bad that even Beethoven himself called it "Grosse".

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Re: Spiritualism in Late Mahler
« Reply #6 on: September 21, 2014, 05:56:52 PM »
For example, what do you believe the last movement of the 9th could be saying, or the hammer blows in the 6th?
Is there any documentation about what he himself says about it? To me, I get the same message that Ilaria depicts.

Offline madaboutmahler

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Re: Spiritualism in Late Mahler
« Reply #7 on: September 22, 2014, 12:32:27 PM »
Yes, all of this is very interesting. It is like an unwanted, but accepted fate. I think that the opposite extreme might be something like Ravel's La Valse. That piece really does seem to fight the changing times, only to lose in the end. Not to change the subject, though, as I love the finale of M9. My favorite slow movement of Mahler.

I also find it interesting that he quotes the finale significantly in that wild third movement. It is like some sort of premonition.
Very interesting point about La Valse, which is indeed one of my most favourite pieces ever too!
And the moment of the third movement you point out is one of my favourite moments in the symphony. It's so haunting as a premonition. Bernstein believed this section was Mahler attempting to achieve spiritual resolution to the vast urban world, but he goes onto fail that this fails due to the music continuing to turn on itself in mockery, as if humanity within this urban world cannot find the truth of resolution.. which is saved for the final movement where Mahler finally allows peace and acceptance.
What a piece it is.. I can barely talk about it without getting emotional, which is going to bode well for the spoken presentation I have to give!

I find Bernstein's comments about the death of tonality very interesting, Ilaria. He also emphasises how reluctant Mahler was towards this, always having been, the endless appogiaturas etc..

Is there any documentation about what he himself says about it? To me, I get the same message that Ilaria depicts.
Well I think the quote to Kindertotenlieder could be him saying something about it! As to any spoken documentation I am not too sure.. I will go and check my books of letters between Gustav and Alma and return to you about that..
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Offline aukhawk

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Re: Spiritualism in Late Mahler
« Reply #8 on: September 23, 2014, 06:32:40 AM »
Roger Norrington describes the insistent main theme of the 9th 1st movt (a simple 2 note falling cadence) as Mahler saying "good-bye ... good-bye ..." - but of course in German that doesn't quite work ... silly man, Woger  ;)

Offline Luke

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Re: Spiritualism in Late Mahler
« Reply #9 on: September 23, 2014, 11:34:19 AM »
Also like the infamous into-the-blue-distances repeated 'ewig' at the end of Das Lied, which is its own sort of farewell, of course.

But the German two-syllable 'Ade' is a common and suitably simple, intimate form of goodbye which does fit the M9 motive, so Norrington's theory doesn't fall down there, at least.

Offline Jo498

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Re: Spiritualism in Late Mahler
« Reply #10 on: September 23, 2014, 12:46:40 PM »
Yes, I was reminded of the "ewig" as well. But isn't the "two-tone motiv" (which gives rises to longer phrases, so I would be hesitant to give this particular two notes too much significance) stressed on the first note (syllable), so Ade or Adieu which ist usually stressed on the last syllable would not be a good fit.
And should really the FIRST movement of the 9th be already an "Abschied"?
Struck by the sounds before the sun,
I knew the night had gone.
The morning breeze like a bugle blew
Against the drums of dawn.
(Bob Dylan)

Offline Luke

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Re: Spiritualism in Late Mahler
« Reply #11 on: September 23, 2014, 01:01:58 PM »
I agree, but the stress-pattern matches Norrington's good-bye, so is consistent with him, even though he himself may be wrong (probably is, IMO). However, I presume he is speaking more generally, in any case.

To me (and to others) the first movement of the 9th is the real deal, and in some respects outweighs the other movements (though the last movement certainly balances it in most ways). It is complete in itself, even though the other movements complement it add expand upon it. I don't have a problem seeing it as a farewell - after all, it has all the markers of a death-haunted movement, including a funeral march and a kind of de-materialised transfiguration.

Offline EigenUser

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Re: Spiritualism in Late Mahler
« Reply #12 on: September 23, 2014, 04:34:02 PM »
Very interesting point about La Valse, which is indeed one of my most favourite pieces ever too!
And the moment of the third movement you point out is one of my favourite moments in the symphony. It's so haunting as a premonition. Bernstein believed this section was Mahler attempting to achieve spiritual resolution to the vast urban world, but he goes onto fail that this fails due to the music continuing to turn on itself in mockery, as if humanity within this urban world cannot find the truth of resolution.. which is saved for the final movement where Mahler finally allows peace and acceptance.
What a piece it is.. I can barely talk about it without getting emotional, which is going to bode well for the spoken presentation I have to give!
Even though the quote is "backwards" (by this I mean that the 4th movement theme is played before the 4th movement as a premonition), it sounds like a quote even without knowing it is going to be elaborated upon in the finale, if that makes any sense.

I think that my favorite part of the 9th is the end of the 3rd movement. I mean, literally, the last fifteen notes (assuming I counted in my head correctly). It sounds so irreversible and fatal.

I admit, though, that I rarely listen to a Mahler symphony in full. It's not Mahler -- it's me. I don't have the attention span required. I occasionally will, but it is much more common that I play movements. The 1st is probably the only one I can generally manage in one sitting. Somehow I don't have as much trouble listening to Messiaen, though (also known for really, really long works).
Beethoven's Op. 133 -- A fugue so bad that even Beethoven himself called it "Grosse".

Offline calyptorhynchus

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Re: Spiritualism in Late Mahler
« Reply #13 on: September 23, 2014, 11:06:16 PM »
I think Norrington is referring to the the German 'lebwohl' which means goodbye, and does fit that pattern. The motif is also a quotation from Beethoven's piano sonata les adieux, where it is also meant to suggest 'lebwohl'.

Offline Sergeant Rock

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Re: Spiritualism in Late Mahler
« Reply #14 on: September 24, 2014, 04:44:51 AM »
Is there any documentation about what he himself says about it? To me, I get the same message that Ilaria depicts.

La Grange (in his four volume biography) dismisses the idea that the Ninth is about death, or a goodbye to life. He thinks the farewell is to Mahler's youth, and a farewell to love. He quotes verses Mahler inscribed in his draft. The first movement:

O Jugenseit! Entschwundene!
O Liebe! Verwehte!

(O youth! Vanished!
O Love! Gone with the wind!)

Mahler was feeling his age at the time the Symphony was composed and the crisis with Alma was looming.

And in the last movement he wrote:

O Schonheit! Liebe!
Leb' wol! Leb' wol!

(O Beauty! Love!
Farewell! Farewell!)
Welt! Lebe Wohl!
(World! Farewell!)


La Grange thinks the goodbye to the World has to do with Mahler being told to cut back on his hiking after his non-fatal heart condition was discovered. Being denied nature (in the way he'd always experienced it) was in a sense saying goodbye to the world. There is a letter he wrote while composing the Ninth that describes how traumatic it was for him: "You can imagine how hard it is for me. For years I have been used to constant, vigorous exercise, roaming about through forests and mountains... "

La Grange also points out the song Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen as a possible clue to the meaning of farewell to the world in the Ninth: not a reference to death but rather not fitting in, not being part of daily life. As proof he offers the two middle movements, the "negative image of the Lebenstrudel"...the horror of the banal and quotidian whirlpool of life.

The fundamental argument against the "Ninth as a Death Symphony" is the fact that Mahler was actually doing well at the time of composition. His fatal diagnosis would be 18 months in the future. Mahler wasn't ready to die and was still fully engaged with the meaning of life.


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 k a rl h e nn i ng

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Re: Spiritualism in Late Mahler
« Reply #15 on: September 24, 2014, 05:58:24 AM »
Thanks for the color, Sarge.
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Offline madaboutmahler

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Re: Spiritualism in Late Mahler
« Reply #16 on: September 24, 2014, 05:59:27 AM »
To me (and to others) the first movement of the 9th is the real deal, and in some respects outweighs the other movements (though the last movement certainly balances it in most ways). It is complete in itself, even though the other movements complement it add expand upon it. I don't have a problem seeing it as a farewell - after all, it has all the markers of a death-haunted movement, including a funeral march and a kind of de-materialised transfiguration.
Very interesting. Although each of Mahler's symphonies have a funeral march (or at least a death obsessed) movement, so all have contemplation of death present, 9 to me is certainly the symphony in which it is most present in terms of the sense of resignation and acceptance by the end. The other symphonies with the strong theme of fatality running throughout (2, 3, 5 especially), all end gloriously, and 6 ends pessimistically, yet 9 reaches just pure solitude and dignified euphoria by the end, it must mean something different to say 2 or 3.. so I think the death of love is certainly very likely.

Great post, Sarge. If the 9th is a farewell to love, what do you think the 10th is?
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Offline k a rl h e nn i ng

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Re: Spiritualism in Late Mahler
« Reply #17 on: September 24, 2014, 06:03:37 AM »
Hi, Dan!  Great to see you back, and crazy as ever about Mahler:)
Karl Henning, Ph.D.
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Offline madaboutmahler

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Re: Spiritualism in Late Mahler
« Reply #18 on: September 24, 2014, 06:07:17 AM »
Hi, Dan!  Great to see you back, and crazy as ever about Mahler:)

Thanks Karl! Good to be back! :)
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Re: Spiritualism in Late Mahler
« Reply #19 on: September 24, 2014, 06:07:34 AM »
La Grange (in his four volume biography) dismisses the idea that the Ninth is about death, or a goodbye to life. He thinks the farewell is to Mahler's youth, and a farewell to love. He quotes verses Mahler inscribed in his draft. The first movement:

O Jugenseit! Entschwundene!
O Liebe! Verwehte!

(O youth! Vanished!
O Love! Gone with the wind!)

Mahler was feeling his age at the time the Symphony was composed and the crisis with Alma was looming.

And in the last movement he wrote:

O Schonheit! Liebe!
Leb' wol! Leb' wol!

(O Beauty! Love!
Farewell! Farewell!)
Welt! Lebe Wohl!
(World! Farewell!)


La Grange thinks the goodbye to the World has to do with Mahler being told to cut back on his hiking after his non-fatal heart condition was discovered. Being denied nature (in the way he'd always experienced it) was in a sense saying goodbye to the world. There is a letter he wrote while composing the Ninth that describes how traumatic it was for him: "You can imagine how hard it is for me. For years I have been used to constant, vigorous exercise, roaming about through forests and mountains... "

La Grange also points out the song Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen as a possible clue to the meaning of farewell to the world in the Ninth: not a reference to death but rather not fitting in, not being part of daily life. As proof he offers the two middle movements, the "negative image of the Lebenstrudel"...the horror of the banal and quotidian whirlpool of life.

The fundamental argument against the "Ninth as a Death Symphony" is the fact that Mahler was actually doing well at the time of composition. His fatal diagnosis would be 18 months in the future. Mahler wasn't ready to die and was still fully engaged with the meaning of life.


Sarge
Thanks, Sarge. I don't have the LaGrange books, so I appreciate the info. So it's more of a farewell to love, nature, and youth? Interesting.




Great post, Sarge. If the 9th is a farewell to love, what do you think the 10th is?
And here's the next great question!