Author Topic: Mahler - Symphony No 1 - A Walkthrough  (Read 23781 times)

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.

Offline John Copeland

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • *
  • Posts: 3963
  • Messiaen is playing...
  • Location: Clydebank, Scotland
  • Currently Listening to:
    Whatever is posted here...
Mahler - Symphony No 1 - A Walkthrough
« on: June 08, 2008, 12:09:52 PM »
Gustav Mahler
Born July 7, 1860, Kalischt, Bohemia.
Died May 18, 1911, Vienna, Austria.
Symphony No. 1 in D major, (1884-8, rev. 1893-6)


HISTORY
Mahlers Symphony Number One. What can be said about it which has not already been said, apart from this was his most troublesome Symphony?
Well, we can start with the revelation that it is not a Symphony per se. Mahler already had his first Symphony in mind when he was composing Songs of a Wayfarer (1884), a complimentary accompaniment for Der Trompeter von Säkkingen by Joseph Victor von Scheffel, and it is from these origins and a broken love affair with Soprano Joanna Richter (a singer at the Kassel Opera which Mahler commanded) that his first Symphony emerged. Songs of a Wayfarer became hugely successful in its own right, but Gustav Mahler was determined to forge his destiny in the Symphonic form. Mahlers earlier song music thus found its considered way into his first Symphony, revised and changed to fit the Symphonic format. So it is safe to say that Mahler did not sit down and write the First from scratch. He did in fact gather much of it from what had gone before (without the lieder) and ‘arrange’ it to fit. The original 1st had been arranged with five movements, one of which (the score of which was ‘discovered’ in 1966) was the second movement known as ‘Blumine’. But Mahler dropped this in 1896, seven years after its first performance, presumably so that the symphony would follow the classic four movement structure.
His completed (but not final) draft of the score was finished in the first six weeks of 1888, at which time he said to a colleague: “It has turned out so overwhelming it came gushing out like a mountain torrent!”
The first performance of the Symphony was in Budapest, 20/11/1889. At this stage it had 5 movements, no program, and was titled “Symphonic Poem in Two parts” – the first part holding movements one and two (Blumine), and the second part holding the rest. Mahlers “mountain torrent” was met by confusion and some hostility because it was so different (as we shall see) to what audiences of the day expected from the form.
By the time it came to its following performances in Hamburg and Weimar (1893, 1894), Mahler had tinkered some more and called the work ‘Titan – Tone poem in Symphonic form.’ In truth, he did this because he didn’t really know how else to theme or programme the work, as he knew his audience needed something to refer to so they could better understand what the music meant. He’d plucked ‘The Titan’ from a novel by German writer and romanticist Jean Paul. The only thematic thread in common with the Symphony and Jean Pauls Titan is the story of a broken heart, but Mahler himself accepted the association was too loose to be properly coupled. By the time Mahler came to conduct the work himself in Berlin, two years after Weimar, he’d dropped the ‘Blumine’ second movement, messed around with the score some more, dropped the reference to ‘Titan’ and instead ventured out with the work repackaged as ‘Symphony in D major, for large Orchestra’. Well, this didn’t work either, because as late as 1899, the work was hissed at by the audience in Vienna. Mahler finally had the work finalised and published as we know it today between 1898 and 1900, settling on a four movement symphony with no programme called 'Symphony No. 1 in D major'.
So why was the work so unappreciated by audiences, and what caused Mahler to become so perplexed by it?

THE SYMPHONY
First Movement.
Langsam, schleppend - Immer sehr gemächlich [Slow, held back - Always very leisurely]
The major orchestral influences of the late 1800’s were Berlioz, Wagner, Schumann and other great orchestral masters, and the audiences of the day expected to hear such coming from the likes of their contempory composers, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Bruckner et al. Mahler, however, had other ideas.
Mahlers first opens in a fundamentally different way from what one might expect from the period. Strings play seven octaves of ‘A’ natural in a quiet, somewhat magical opening. The Octaves are split – some of the double basses play a low A, but the rest of the strings are in higher harmonics. It is the humming of the Universe around us, and it suggests a springboard for life to come. The woodwinds join in, developing a theme, but suddenly a contrasting military like theme is played by offstage trumpets, announcing something different. The clarinet then ushers in some cuckoo birdsong, and from this an airy sauntering melody like a walk in Springtime emerges. The walking is here is clearly done by the wayfarer from the second song of 'Lieder eines fahrenden Geselln', (Songs of a Wayfarer) “I went this morning over the field.” This theme continues and the wayfarer continues his walk in a blaze of happiness, interrupted only by some threatening tones from the basses, tuba and bass drum. The threat fades quickly, giving way to the clarinet birdsong and the wayfarer continues his happy journey. By the end of the movement, Mr. Wayfarer is near ecstatic, and a herald of horns announce a positive end to his delightful walk.

Second Movement.
Kräftig bewegt, doch nicht zu schnell - Trio: Recht gemächlich [Moving strongly, but not too fast - Trio: leisurely]
This is the Scherzo. The birdcall theme is picked up again, but this time not by a delightful clarinet, but by ominous cellos and basses. The cellos and basses are not in a good mood with this, and turn the birdsong into something of a stomping dance. This builds to an exciting fanfare before giving way to echoes of “I went this morning over the field”, and again, our happy wayfarer is on his journey again. From his influence, the scherzo becomes a joy unto itself, building to and reaching a giddy climax. This is all good and well for Mr. Wayfarer, but what comes next is one of the biggest puzzles in symphonic history...

Third Movement.
Feierlich und gemessen, ohne zu schleppen - Sehr einfach und schlicht wie eine Volksweise [Solemn and measured, without dragging - Simple, like a folk melody]
The song known to Mahler in its Austrian guise as Bruder Martin enters in a minor key. We know it as Frere Jacques, and the theme is asked by Mahler to be played as a ‘parody’. The lyrics of Frere Jacques can be paraphrased in translaton as “Wake up to the bells!” and one wonders if Mahler is trying to wake the wayfarer up from his dizzying walk, to get him to ‘get real’. Frere Jacques minor key presents it as a funeral march of sorts, definitely not the delightful song we often hear sung by school children. This dirge is joined by all but the trumpets and trombones which seem to be holing themselves back for something to come. Our wayfarers Universe is no longer the harmonic ‘A’ which started him off, and he tries to consolidate himself by taking up a poor mans drum and cymbal, once referred to ‘like a one man band in a funeral march.’
Still, there are very faint echoes of the first movement here until a new melody emerges. This melody is in fact the final song of ‘Lieder eines fahrenden Geselln’, the pain of a lost love and the recovery from that through the joy of nature. A wistful longing for death and a mock at the futility of life are parodied throughout this movement...so where does that leave Mr. Wayfarer?

Fourth Movement.
Stürmisch bewegt - Sehr gesangvoll [Tempestuously - Very melodious]
In the opening of the fourth movement, the trumpets and trombones make up for their previous absences by crashing in with what Mahler called “the cry of a wounded heart.” Interestingly, this cry of a wounded heart is again Frere Jacques, only this time with two extra notes at beginning and end and played a third lower. This gives way to a lush romantic theme, a reminiscence of love once held. There is some discussion as to what comes after the love theme – it is pretty close to “And he shall reign” from Handels Messiah, maybe indicating a recovery from the heartbreak – this rises from horns and an orchestral fullness reflects upon much of the Symphony which has gone before, reaching a massive climax which ends...perhaps unexpectedly...with two notes, which hark back to natures birdcall heard in the first movement.

In Summary.
This Symphony shows us the travels of a lovesick wayfarer. Mahler started this work when he was 24 years old, and it is no wonder the work was met by such hostility. It is a modern, multi-layered, challenging and thought provoking piece which didn’t sit well with the conventional classical palate of the era it was composed. Its themes and ideas are so paradoxical that it is no surprise that Mahler dropped the programme he initially wrote for it. Mahlers Symphony No. 1 in D major can only be explained through ones personal experience of it – its theme isn’t linear and its parallels are always trying to become one.
Today, it still unfairly carries the ‘Titan’ tag, which Mahler himself dropped in 1896, three or four years before his truly final score was published. We can make up our minds what its all about ourselves, which was Mahlers final intent when it was published with no program in 1900. For me it is a Symphony describing one mans death of love and nature, and the clawing of his sensibility back in an infinite but unpredictable Universe.

Sample, beginning of fourth movement from one of my favourite Mahler cycles... the late Klaus Tennstedt with the LPO - the one to get if you want to hear Mahler in full glory!

hornteacher

  • Guest
Re: Mahler - Symphony No 1 - A Walkthrough
« Reply #1 on: June 08, 2008, 12:17:57 PM »
Thanks for these program notes.  You know we need more of this kind of thing.  I do score studies all the time and it would be nice to have threads dedicated to the musical analysis of works (including measure numbers, themes, forms, etc).  Professor Greenberg from the Teaching Company calls them "Word Scores".

Offline Marcel

  • Full Member
  • *
  • Posts: 120
Re: Mahler - Symphony No 1 - A Walkthrough
« Reply #2 on: June 08, 2008, 10:35:22 PM »
Thanks, this is good..  ;)

Offline Anne

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 1269
Re: Mahler - Symphony No 1 - A Walkthrough
« Reply #3 on: June 11, 2008, 04:36:20 PM »
Mahler10th,

Thank you very much for this walkthrough.  It would be helpful if more of these were available.

Offline JoshLilly

  • Full Member
  • *
  • Posts: 402
  • Joachim Raff, the greatest!
Re: Mahler - Symphony No 1 - A Walkthrough
« Reply #4 on: June 12, 2008, 04:28:08 AM »
What a nice read.  Thanks very much!

Offline Josquin des Prez

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 3654
  • Lyric Suite, Opus131
Re: Mahler - Symphony No 1 - A Walkthrough
« Reply #5 on: June 13, 2008, 05:26:48 AM »
Dr. Hanslick frowns upon this thread.
 

Offline John Copeland

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • *
  • Posts: 3963
  • Messiaen is playing...
  • Location: Clydebank, Scotland
  • Currently Listening to:
    Whatever is posted here...
Re: Mahler - Symphony No 1 - A Walkthrough
« Reply #6 on: June 13, 2008, 06:16:47 AM »
Dr. Hanslick frowns upon this thread.
 


Your picture isn't showing up here.  Here's the pic of the crabbit Hanslick.

Offline Rod Corkin

  • Full Member
  • *
  • Posts: 565
    • Classical Music Mayhem
Re: Mahler - Symphony No 1 - A Walkthrough
« Reply #7 on: June 13, 2008, 06:59:27 AM »
Seeing if you'll get a more productive response from the Riff Raff here M?  ;D

I'm still waiting for the next installment at the Upper Chamber!!
"If I were but of noble birth..." - Rod Corkin
https://www.tapatalk.com/groups/classicalmusicmayhem/

Harry

  • Guest
Re: Mahler - Symphony No 1 - A Walkthrough
« Reply #8 on: June 13, 2008, 07:05:37 AM »
Seeing if you'll get a more productive response from the Riff Raff here M?  ;D

I'm still waiting for the next installment at the Upper Chamber!!

Yes a better response here as the RIFRAF from where it was originally posted.


Harry

  • Guest
Re: Mahler - Symphony No 1 - A Walkthrough
« Reply #9 on: June 13, 2008, 07:08:06 AM »
John I read this essay from you before, but since I was in the process of leaving the house, so to say, I want to compliment you on the beautiful and well expressed piece, that I read with great pleasure, very much producing the images that belong to this symphony.

Offline knight66

  • Global Moderator
  • *
  • Posts: 10101
  • Location: Edinburgh
Re: Mahler - Symphony No 1 - A Walkthrough
« Reply #10 on: June 13, 2008, 07:09:10 AM »
Rod, Not a clue what your post was about. As a two-liner, perhaps over-distilled.

mahler10th, thanks for the effort, I enjoyed the read. I have just got hold of the Gergiev LSO version. Hitherto my listening has mostly been to the Kibelik studio recording and much loved it is. I need more time to absorb the Gergiev, only had one listen so far, and that was interrupted several time.

Initial reaction is that, as might be guessed, Gergiev goes full tilt at it and to the maximum he brings out the contrasts between the bucolic pastoral and the hysterical.

Mike
DavidW: Yeah Mike doesn't get angry, he gets even.
I wasted time: and time wasted me.

Harry

  • Guest
Re: Mahler - Symphony No 1 - A Walkthrough
« Reply #11 on: June 13, 2008, 07:18:13 AM »
"Riff Raff": One who does not pucker up to Rod Corkin's Beethoven-loving ass with Handelian lips.

Ehhhh, coffee spilled :o :P ;D

Offline John Copeland

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • *
  • Posts: 3963
  • Messiaen is playing...
  • Location: Clydebank, Scotland
  • Currently Listening to:
    Whatever is posted here...
Re: Mahler - Symphony No 1 - A Walkthrough
« Reply #12 on: June 13, 2008, 08:15:09 AM »
Well, thanks for all the positive responses.
The thing is, I took to this writing a walkthrough (working on another now) from Rod himself, because he published a few of his own Beethoven ones in another forum, and liking the structural approach and being a writer I decided to emulate the process.  I discovered that listening, researching, listening again and researching and writing about a piece is fantastically benificial to the enjoyment of it. 
I did post this on 'the' other forum ("the upper chamber") FIRST, but the responses were...well, there wasn't much to say in response to the few responses it got!  It needed a better home, that's for sure, which is why it's been published here.  I am surprised that no-one has taken issue with anything or offered an alternative on any of my comments, only compliments, and from some very well informed people here at that - I must be quite good at this sort of thing, so I'll publish another HERE soon to see 'what happens' again.
To my knowledge, there is no riff raff here - there ARE some people like me getting into the process and enjoying it very much, but on the whole the opinions and information here are wider, better informed and sometimes more colourful, coming from people enjoying and participating in the VAST spectrum of Classical Music rather than (in the main,) the late Classical era.
I will be publishing lots of stuff like this over time because I have found I enjoy the process very much.

Mike, I have only heard Gergiev do 1 & 6 and wasn't too happy with his treatment.  However, his set will be out soon, I'll get it, and hopefully it's better than I've heard.  (Shame, cos I love Gergiev.)
Thanks everyone else for their compliments on my "effort"! :o ;D

Offline AnthonyAthletic

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 1226
  • Currently Listening to:
    Respighi, Mahler, Vaughan Williams, Bruckner & Stravinsky
Re: Mahler - Symphony No 1 - A Walkthrough
« Reply #13 on: June 13, 2008, 08:22:37 AM »
I have just got hold of the Gergiev LSO version.

Initial reaction is that, as might be guessed, Gergiev goes full tilt at it and to the maximum he brings out the contrasts between the bucolic pastoral and the hysterical.

'Rushed', 'Forced', 'No Flow' 'Out of ones Comfort Zone', 'Run through' & its 'Lunchtime' before any shimmerings of 'Dawn & Daybreak' are allowed to mature.  With Gergiev its sandwich time, before cornflake time...it is that fast and this, to me, puts the rest of the symphony out of natural sync.

His 6th fares much better  ;)

"Two possibilities exist: Either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying"      (Arthur C. Clarke)

Offline knight66

  • Global Moderator
  • *
  • Posts: 10101
  • Location: Edinburgh
Re: Mahler - Symphony No 1 - A Walkthrough
« Reply #14 on: June 13, 2008, 08:26:33 AM »
Tony, How good to see you lured to post again. Do please expand your thinking for us. I very much enjoyed his fix on the 6th which I think yields well to the hyper approach. I have never seen the 1st in that way. Thus my love of the Kubelik. So I will have to have another listen over the weekend. Initially I got the impression of gear changes that were too violent...we shall see.

Mike
DavidW: Yeah Mike doesn't get angry, he gets even.
I wasted time: and time wasted me.

Harry

  • Guest
Re: Mahler - Symphony No 1 - A Walkthrough
« Reply #15 on: June 13, 2008, 08:27:13 AM »
I am surprised that no-one has taken issue with anything or offered an alternative on any of my comments, only compliments, and from some very well informed people here at that - I must be quite good at this sort of thing, so I'll publish another HERE soon to see 'what happens' again.

You are good, and it is so well laid out, that I for one, could not add one ioata to give more insight!
And that's the honest truth. :)

Harry

  • Guest
Re: Mahler - Symphony No 1 - A Walkthrough
« Reply #16 on: June 13, 2008, 08:29:11 AM »
Tony, How good to see you lured to post again. Do please expand your thinking for us. I very much enjoyed his fix on the 6th which I think yields well to the hyper approach. I have never seen the 1st in that way. Thus my love of the Kubelik. So I will have to have another listen over the weekend. Initially I got the impression of gear changes that were too violent...we shall see.

Mike

Well yes, let me start listening to them too, before they gather to much dust!

Offline John Copeland

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • *
  • Posts: 3963
  • Messiaen is playing...
  • Location: Clydebank, Scotland
  • Currently Listening to:
    Whatever is posted here...
Re: Mahler - Symphony No 1 - A Walkthrough
« Reply #17 on: June 13, 2008, 08:36:02 AM »
It has been said many times before...the Kubelik studio recordings (and most of the rest, some if them better) are pure poetry.  Kubelik brings an aesthetic lyricism to Mahler which cannot be found elsewhere, and he's in my top three Mahlerians!  When it comes to the tenth adagio, Kubelik is STILL my man.

Offline Rod Corkin

  • Full Member
  • *
  • Posts: 565
    • Classical Music Mayhem
Re: Mahler - Symphony No 1 - A Walkthrough
« Reply #18 on: June 13, 2008, 08:36:40 AM »
Rod, Not a clue what your post was about. As a two-liner, perhaps over-distilled.


No it was not a two liner, please let me elaborate... Mahler10th's fine essay, inspired as has been mentioned by my own fine essays on Beethoven's 9 Symphonies, was actually was first presented to the world at my site.
"If I were but of noble birth..." - Rod Corkin
https://www.tapatalk.com/groups/classicalmusicmayhem/

Offline AnthonyAthletic

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 1226
  • Currently Listening to:
    Respighi, Mahler, Vaughan Williams, Bruckner & Stravinsky
Re: Mahler - Symphony No 1 - A Walkthrough
« Reply #19 on: June 13, 2008, 08:39:04 AM »
Tony, How good to see you lured to post again. Do please expand your thinking for us. I very much enjoyed his fix on the 6th which I think yields well to the hyper approach. I have never seen the 1st in that way. Thus my love of the Kubelik. So I will have to have another listen over the weekend. Initially I got the impression of gear changes that were too violent...we shall see.

Mike

Mike,

Yes the PC's been on but I've seldom been at home  ;D  A friend of mine who has his LSO Season Ticket came away gutted over the 1st Symphony.  He couldn't believe how Gergiev performed this, his words were somewhat stronger than mine, 'short changed' were highly touted words.  To me this performance is the fastest I have ever heard and it once the start of this work is marred then its all downhill (maybe that's too strong) perhaps at the same level from then on.  The speed at which Gergiev arrives at the 'ging heut morgen' theme is amazing, this too, rushed.

I can't fault the sound recording, very good but the performance bored me (which seldom happens with Mahler).  As a contradiction in terms it was so fast that I was glad when it was over but it seemed an age to be so.

I have lost track of many persons names on the forum, nice to know that most of the people have kept their original names.

As to the theme of the post, who sees his 1st symphony as his most problematic....surely the 2nd and the time it took to create an ending?

Very nicely reviewed though.  Its time to move on and play the LSO/Solti, not 'LSO Live' but 'LSO much better' ;)

Cheers,

"Two possibilities exist: Either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying"      (Arthur C. Clarke)