Author Topic: Elgar's Mahlerian Masterpiece  (Read 7488 times)

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karlhenning

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Re: Elgar's Mahlerian Masterpiece
« Reply #60 on: December 08, 2010, 02:59:16 PM »
I have at last seen light viz. the Elgar Second, and this thread has been the catalyst. So, warm thanks to everyone for his part in the conversation.

Offhand, though (and of course I am less familiar with the Mahler symphonies than most here) the Elgar Second generally impresses me as nearer kin to Wagner than to Mahler. Not the scherzo so much, which gets a move on much more lively than is Wagner's wont.

karlhenning

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Re: Elgar's Mahlerian Masterpiece
« Reply #61 on: December 08, 2010, 03:27:47 PM »
And there are plenty of delicately scored passages in both the third and fourth movements.  Offhand, I don't know of another composer who carries off a solo flute trilling the Eb which is just a minor third above the bottom of the instrument's range, with quite so many other members of the orchestra playing.  That is certainly masterly scoring.

Offline jochanaan

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Re: Elgar's Mahlerian Masterpiece
« Reply #62 on: December 10, 2010, 05:32:36 PM »
...I'm not aware of anything by him that equals Mahler's delicacy (when he wants to be) and subtle use of color.

If I'm wrong, please enlighten me...
Enigma Variations. 8) Especially some of the less well-known variations like "Dorabella," with its muted strings and soft woodwinds, and the next-to-last one, marked "* * *" that supposedly depicts his mistress.  (Those are very difficult to play well, BTW!  The community orchestra I played the set with, never really got it together despite intense rehearsals... :o)
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Offline Lethevich

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Re: Elgar's Mahlerian Masterpiece
« Reply #63 on: December 10, 2010, 09:34:42 PM »
This was an enlightening thread to read. I have associated Elgar's 2nd with Mahler for a while, not particularly with the middle-period symphonies mentioned here, but with the 9th. I also don't hear much in common between the two composers instrumentally or in their temperament, but there are similarities in mood and ambition. Especially between the 2nd and 9th, there is an almost overbearing richness to the music which despite being of a tragic mood is none the less maddeningly un-programmatic, at least in concrete terms.

It feels as though both composers are forging into incredibly abstract musical territories with these pieces, and perhaps this going against the differing expectations audiences have of both composers prior to the works. Elgar was a national tunesmith and producer of music to delight, Mahler was a sublime uber-Romantic, whose music was full of concrete references to dance and literature. While these traits remain in their two last complete symphonies, they feel less "important" to me than they did in their previous works - both composers seem to be using the pieces to express something highly introspective, but nothing so trite that it can be summed up in a short sentence (or even at all). Comparing the 2nd symphony to Strauss in these terms doesn't work for me, as Strauss was also a thoughtful composer, but he really only seems to reach this level of painful introspection* in Metamorphosen, which remains a (very wonderful) study on a smaller scale.

*I suppose I contrast this to Strauss' wonderful way of exploring abstract concepts (such as in Frau ohne Schatten) but in a more distanced, less visceral way.

Nb: this is coming from somebody who doesn't really "get" Mahler, so it could well be completely wrong ;D
« Last Edit: December 10, 2010, 09:39:51 PM by Lethe »
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Offline DavidRoss

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Re: Elgar's Mahlerian Masterpiece
« Reply #64 on: December 11, 2010, 05:33:15 AM »
Enigma Variations. 8) Especially some of the less well-known variations like "Dorabella," with its muted strings and soft woodwinds, and the next-to-last one, marked "* * *" that supposedly depicts his mistress.  (Those are very difficult to play well, BTW!  The community orchestra I played the set with, never really got it together despite intense rehearsals... :o)
I stand corrected, Jo--thanks!
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Offline Klaatu

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Re: Elgar's Mahlerian Masterpiece
« Reply #65 on: December 12, 2010, 12:19:48 PM »
Hello again, ladies & gents.

First of all, many thanks to Sergeant Rock and Luke for reassuring me that I wasn't going nuts! Until they posted their contributions, I felt I was possibly the only Elgar (and Mahler) enthusiast in the universe, who could sense anything in common between the two composers. (In certain works, let me add; not their entire canon.)

I was especially grateful to the Sarge for his comments on Sospiri:

I agree with you about this too....and not just an emotional similarity but the actual sound of the music. It's so obvious in the first two minutes I'm shocked no one else hears it.

- because his reponse to the music exactly mirrors my own.

Please note, folks, that I'm not inferring that I'm "right" and others are "wrong"; just that I'm heartened to find that other people hear something Mahlerian - late Mahlerian - in Elgar 2 and Sospiri. As a non-musician it is extremely difficult for me to articulate this something -

so I'm also grateful to Scarpia for the following:

"When I wrote of "the angst of Elgar" I was not trying to describe Elgar's character or personality, but the impression created by his music, of a typically British character that knows pain refuses to outwardly acknowledge it.  He depicts pain and agony, but pain and agony that is fought against and although it might slip out it is put back in its place by an affirmative statement.  In Mahler, pain and angst are wallowed in, never in Elgar."

That's it...that's it! He depicts pain and agony, but pain and agony that is fought against. One might perhaps say: pain and agony that must be fought against.

Thanks, Scarpia. That's a fair chunk of what I was trying to express. And it explains the differences too. Mahler lets it all out while Elgar - a painfully sensitive artist with plenty of "deep stuff" to get out of his system - tries to hold it all in. (Because it's ungentlemanly? Because he's scared of what might happen if he did?) But he doesn't quite manage it, and in the Second Symphony his pain is spurting out of the cracks.

So that's what I was trying to say, I think. Elgar 2 sounds to me like someone has straitjacketed Mahler and told him "hold it in, hold it in..." and the sheer tension of doing so makes this work - IMHO - exceptional in Elgar's output.

I'm suddenly reminded of the lyrics to the song Until It Sleeps by heavy-metal legends Metallica:

Where do I take this pain of mine
I run but it stays right by my side

So tear me open and put me out
There's things inside that scream and shout
And the pain still hates me
So hold me until it sleeps

Just like the curse, just like the stray
You feed it once and now it stays
Now it stays

So tear me open but beware
There's things inside without a care
And the dirt still stains me
So wash me until I'm clean

It grips you so hold me
It stains you so hold me
It hates you so hold me
It holds you so hold me
Until it sleeps


Metallica's James Hetfield pleads with his lover to hold him until the pain goes away. Elgar had to make do with a British stiff upper lip!

I'm pleased I've encouraged a few people to listen to Elgar 2 for the first time - or to listen to it anew. Job done!

Thanks for all your contributions.

Scarpia

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Re: Elgar's Mahlerian Masterpiece
« Reply #66 on: December 12, 2010, 01:21:36 PM »
In the end, we agree.  Imagine that!

Online drogulus

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Re: Elgar's Mahlerian Masterpiece
« Reply #67 on: December 13, 2010, 03:11:39 PM »
     As the most vicious partisan of Elgar's 2nd Symphony I'm glad to see it's being discussed in a way indicating it might be worthy of serious attention. Incidentally, if the work doesn't yield to your first attempt to grasp it start with the middle movements, which are perhaps most immediately attractive if you aren't an Elgar-phile.
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Offline Uhor

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Re: Elgar's Mahlerian Masterpiece
« Reply #68 on: May 26, 2020, 11:38:06 AM »
I kinda always thought Elgar's second was a little rubbish melange of Strauss of Brahms.

Offline Mirror Image

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Re: Elgar's Mahlerian Masterpiece
« Reply #69 on: May 26, 2020, 01:22:01 PM »
I kinda always thought Elgar's second was a little rubbish melange of Strauss of Brahms.

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Offline Uhor

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Re: Elgar's Mahlerian Masterpiece
« Reply #70 on: May 26, 2020, 06:18:20 PM »
It's better than the first movement certainly, rather nice actually; I get nothing from post 5th symphony Schostakovich if you were wondering.

Offline 71 dB

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Re: Elgar's Mahlerian Masterpiece
« Reply #71 on: May 27, 2020, 03:16:33 AM »
I kinda always thought Elgar's second was a little rubbish melange of Strauss of Brahms.

I think Elgar's music is a "melange" of a lot more influences than that, but to me Elgar is able to create a wonderfully rich and coherent package out of it all.
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Offline JohnP

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Re: Elgar's Mahlerian Masterpiece
« Reply #72 on: May 28, 2020, 05:59:36 AM »
Yes, I agree with that entirely. Nevertheless, of the many images you could have chosen to illustrate this aspect of Elgar's music, you chose the one ('retired English colonel') which chimes with the stereotyped view of the composer startlingly, which suggests to me the endurance of this stereotype!  :)

I recommend James Hamilton-Paterson’s wonderfully entertaining Gerontius, a fictional account of Elgar’s 1923 journey along the River Amazon.

In it he writes something very interesting about the popular image of Elgar.

“‘I can tell you - it’s like dining with a time- bomb,’ she said. ‘It’s up to you to guess when it’s due to go off.’

‘He is a genius,’ said her friend emolliently.

‘A bloody rude one.’

.....’What I meant Kate dear, is that I recognised his presence at once. He never said much at all during those rehearsals- he just sort of smouldered and now and again clapped a hand to his brow when someone did something silly. Actually I rather think he once turned his back in the lot of us when we missed an entry and various people had to trot up to pacify him and turn him around.

‘That part at least sounds like our passenger,’ Kate said.

‘But that isn’t the part I mean. When the actual performance was going well and we all had that feeling, you know? - as if nobody can put a foot wrong? - he was extraordinary. That little figure on the podium in the distance looked apart in some way but at the same time we realised he was controlling the lot of us. We were all completely in his service and for as long as we could give ourselves up to his spirit or his musical vision or whatever it was the whole thing became absolutely magnetic. By the end we all felt exalted, too. Personally I never slept a wink that night. And from then until the other day I never clapped eyes on him. Yet when we were introduced it was that odd quality which hit me at once and even after so long I remembered it. I can’t explain it better than that.’

‘I’ll allow he has a certain something about him,’ admitted Kate, ‘but in all honesty I do t know whether that isn’t just because I know who he is. One’s unfairly disposed to detect all sorts of qualities in the famous simply because they’re famous, while all they might actually have done was invent a mutton extract for a South Polar expedition.’

‘Exactly,’ said an Acquaintance. ‘Or dissolve a wife or two in a bath of acid.’

‘One thing you can say about him him - he looks like nobody’s idea of a composer.’

‘I suppose not,’ said Fora. ‘But I’m not sure how a composer should look. That Beethovenesque romantic hero - you know, tousled hair, wind-tattered cloak, shaking his fist at lightening and generally living in squalor - that would frankly look pretty silly in Nineteen twenty-three, wouldn’t it?’

‘Granted. But even so you don’t expect him to look like a retired general full of equine anecdotes about linseed oil and skimmed milk and ante-post betting.’

Dora said: ‘I still don’t think there’s any point in applying ordinary standards of behaviour to completely extraordinary people. Look at all that music he’s given the world which they’ll still be playing long after we’re forgotten. You can teach even quite stupid children to say please and thank- you and hold doors open for ladies and generally ape being a good little social animal, but who can you train to write The Dream of Gerontius or even Land of Hope and Glory?’

‘I still think it hurts nobody to be moderately polite.’

‘Dora’s got a point,’ said another Acquaintance who had so far not spoken. ‘Surely a genius is someone whose gift is so commanding, so overwhelming that there’s no space or energy left over for bothering with niceties. Most of the geniuses one can think of were pretty odd in one way or another. You’d have said the y were half crazy if they hadn’t been writing or painting or composing works which were obviously of greater importance than the unconventional private life of the man who created them.’
« Last Edit: May 28, 2020, 06:24:30 AM by JohnP »

Offline JohnP

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Re: Elgar's Mahlerian Masterpiece
« Reply #73 on: June 04, 2020, 07:08:12 PM »

From Diana McVeagh’s book on Elgar’s music:

“Elgar told the publisher that ‘the spirit of the whole work is intended to be high & pure joy: there are retrospective passages of sadness but the whole of the sorrow is smoothed out & ennobled in the last movement, which ends in a calm &, I hope & intend, elevated mood’. All Shelley’s poem might be read, he said, though neither the poem nor the music wholly illustrate or elucidate each other. He told Ernest Newman: ‘my attitude towards the poem, or rather to the “Spirit of Delight” was an attempt to give the reticent Spirit a hint (with sad enough retrospections) as to what we would like to have!’ So many experiences, such rich associations, went into this music. His turmoils, his extremes of elation and morbid despair, are at its heart, transfigured so that his private memories become universal.

.....There is no triumph, no certainty here, but a courageous and compassionate reconciliation of the extremes of this great work. The Symphony’s final pages unforgettably mingle delight, regret, and acceptance.

....Canon Gairdner suggested, and Elgar agreed, that it is the ‘passionate pilgrimage’ of a soul.”

Elgar, The Music Maker. McVeagh, Diana.

Offline Roasted Swan

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Re: Elgar's Mahlerian Masterpiece
« Reply #74 on: June 06, 2020, 03:49:40 AM »
I think a couple of my posts in this thread fell victim to the "cull of the crash" and I haven't exhaustively gone back through the comments and recommendations....  but this morning I listened to a favourite version of Symphony 2 - Jeffrey Tate with the LSO.  It really is a strikingly fine version - with Tate pushing the expressive envelope and the LSO responding with thrilling playing.  All backed up by some excellent EMI (as was) engineering, this demands consideration alongside the very best.  The icing on the cake as a "filler" is the heart-breaking Sospiri which makes an inspired envoi after the Symphony's closing pages.  Added to which it struck me that this is perhaps Elgar's most Mahlerian (Adagietto-esque) composition of all.  If you do not know this version but love the symphony, do try and hear it......


Offline Biffo

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Re: Elgar's Mahlerian Masterpiece
« Reply #75 on: June 06, 2020, 04:16:00 AM »
I think a couple of my posts in this thread fell victim to the "cull of the crash" and I haven't exhaustively gone back through the comments and recommendations....  but this morning I listened to a favourite version of Symphony 2 - Jeffrey Tate with the LSO.  It really is a strikingly fine version - with Tate pushing the expressive envelope and the LSO responding with thrilling playing.  All backed up by some excellent EMI (as was) engineering, this demands consideration alongside the very best.  The icing on the cake as a "filler" is the heart-breaking Sospiri which makes an inspired envoi after the Symphony's closing pages.  Added to which it struck me that this is perhaps Elgar's most Mahlerian (Adagietto-esque) composition of all.  If you do not know this version but love the symphony, do try and hear it......



I am not sure I want another recording but I have saved it to my library on Spotify. I will give it a listen when I have finished the recently acquired Boult set. No doubt I will probably weaken as it is available very cheaply as a download from Presto (both symphonies)

Offline 71 dB

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Re: Elgar's Mahlerian Masterpiece
« Reply #76 on: June 06, 2020, 11:06:37 AM »
If you do not know this version but love the symphony, do try and hear it......



I don't know this performance, but since this is my favorite Symphony I'll check it out.  ;)
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