Author Topic: Mahler - Third and Fourth Symphonies  (Read 11861 times)

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Heather Harrison

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Mahler - Third and Fourth Symphonies
« on: April 06, 2007, 10:47:37 AM »
For my first post on the new forum, I thought I should follow up on an old thread that I started on the old forum.  I wanted to spend a lot of time studying one of Mahler's symphonies, and unable to decide which one, I posed the question to the forum.  Here is the old thread:

http://www.good-music-guide.com/forum/index.php/topic,13153.0.html

I set it out as a poll listing all of Mahler's symphonies, including Das Lied von der Erde.  All of them got at least one vote, but Symphony No. 3 pulled out ahead early on and it got twice as the second-place examples (Nos. 2 and 9, tied).  Given the quality of all of Mahler's symphonies, I was a little surprised that one pulled out so far ahead.  Perhaps part of the reason is that this particular symphony is a good one to spend a lot of time on.  Some of the others (such as No. 6) might not be as well suited to this sort of exercise.

I started that thread on February 18, and the poll closed a week later.  Since then, I have listened to the Third Symphony many times and in a number of performances, but I am by no means finished (and probably never will be).  Also, to complicate matters, I decided to add the Fourth Symphony to this project because it is so closely related to the Third; it makes sense to consider them together.  It is unusual to find two separate symphonies with thematic connections to each other, but since the Fourth Symphony was constructed around a movement that was ultimately rejected from the Third, it makes sense.

I will start by posting a few thoughts on these symphonies, and I am sure others here will want to chime in.  As I continue to explore them, I will post in more detail, and I ultimately intend to post comparative reviews of all of the performances that I have of these symphonies, but I haven't finished forming my opinions yet, so I will leave that until later.

Here are the performances that I have.  If anyone wishes to recommend others, please do so.  I could always add one or two more for comparison.

THIRD SYMPHONY:



(The Abravanel/Utah Symphony performance is on a stereo LP; the last one shown is a documentary DVD; and the others are CD or SACD.)

FOURTH SYMPHONY:



(The Bernstein/New York Philharmonic performance is on a mono LP; the others are CD or SACD.)

Again, I'm not quite ready yet to do comparative reviews of these, so I will leave that for later.  To keep this post from getting too long, I will stop it here and continue in the next post with some of my general thoughts about these symphonies.

Heather

Offline not edward

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Re: Mahler - Third and Fourth Symphonies
« Reply #1 on: April 06, 2007, 11:00:14 AM »
I really, really like Szell in the 4th. It has the lightness and joy this symphony needs without hiding the dark undercurrents below.

I don't like the 3rd much by comparison, so I wouldn't deem my liking for the Horenstein recording very relevant (it's the only one I have these days).
"I don't at all mind actively disliking a piece of contemporary music, but in order to feel happy about it I must consciously understand why I dislike it. Otherwise it remains in my mind as unfinished business."
 -- Aaron Copland, The Pleasures of Music

Offline MishaK

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Re: Mahler - Third and Fourth Symphonies
« Reply #2 on: April 06, 2007, 11:06:15 AM »
I haven't decided on a favorite for the 4th yet. Chailly is excellent in the 3rd. Keep an eye out for a new live Mahler 3rd with Haitink/CSO that will come out next month on the CSO's own new label. I attended the live performance  which will be on this recording and it was spellbinding.

Online Que

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Re: Mahler - Third and Fourth Symphonies
« Reply #3 on: April 06, 2007, 11:19:08 AM »
For the 3rd I think Haitink's first recording with the RCO is a must-have.
One of the very best of that cycle.



My favourite 4th is also with the RCO: conducted by Mengelberg. But I guess that's not a helpful recommendation because it is a not widely availble and historical recording. (Naxos will probably do a new transfer soon..)

Second favourite 4th is with Bruno Walter:



Q


Offline Brewski

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Re: Mahler - Third and Fourth Symphonies
« Reply #4 on: April 06, 2007, 11:22:17 AM »
Keep an eye out for a new live Mahler 3rd with Haitink/CSO that will come out next month on the CSO's own new label. I attended the live performance  which will be on this recording and it was spellbinding.

Oh wow, does that sound enticing...

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Heather Harrison

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Re: Mahler - Third and Fourth Symphonies
« Reply #5 on: April 06, 2007, 11:26:34 AM »
I will start on the Third Symphony without getting into the programmatic aspects (I will bring that in later).

Like many of Mahler's symphonies, the structure is at least somewhat symmetric.  This one (in its final form) is in six movements, and the first and sixth are the longest and most expansive.  The second and fifth are shorter and lighter in style, and the third and fourth provide a central core.

One central idea that I take out of the entire symphony, and which pervades most of its movements, is a musical idea of conflict between darker and lighter forces.  The first movement starts with a fanfare and then quickly sinks into a quite, undulating, minimalistic set of chords which seem to be going nowhere.  The mood is rather dark.  But later, a march emerges from the dark musical textures, and it builds up, only to be subsumed in darkness again.  This pattern keeps repeating, but at the end of the movement it is the raucous march that wins the day.  I find it interesting that Mahler chose to emulate the coarse, lively, and chaotic atmosphere of popular march music.  This must have been a bit of a shock to audiences of the time to find such "coarse, lowly" music in the first movement of a grand symphony.  However, in the context of Mahler's programmatic ideas (which I will discuss later), it makes perfect sense.  Musically, it works wonderfully, describing a sense of struggle as this happy chaos tries to emerge from the darkly textured background and finally succeeds.

The second movement is quite a contrast.  It starts out as a serene, classically inspired minuet.  It consists of alternating sequences of serene minuet-like passages and more troubled scherzo-like passages.  The idea of conflict and contrast of musical ideas seems to persist here, albeit in a lighter style which seems to look forward to the general mood of the Fourth Symphony.  This movement provides a nice interlude after the weighty opening.

The third movement is one of the more interesting and enigmatic symphonic movements I have encountered.  It is basically a scherzo-and-trio form, but somewhat extended and modified.  The contrast between the scherzo portions and the trio is quite striking.  The scherzo is a lively, chaotic, and even somewhat grotesque (in a good way) piece built on short themes from a previously composed song.  The basic theme is memorable, and it tends to stick in my head.  But as the trio begins, all of this lively chaos dies down and the music melts into an achingly beautiful solo for a distant posthorn (a now-obsolete instrument that sounds somewhat like a trumpet).  After a while, the scherzo theme tries to intrude, but the posthorn seems to win.  Then, in a move I found to be somewhat unexpected, the end of the movement looks back to the chaotic march music of the first movement.

The fourth movement returns to the dark, undulating chords of the first.  A solo contralto voice comes in and sings a text from Also sprach Zarathustra.  This is a very slow movement which seems to gradually build up and then sink back down into the undulating chords, only to build back up again.  It has a contemplative mood, and if there is musical conflict expressed here, it is happening in a subdued way.  This movement is quite a contrast to the energy of the third and fifth movements.

The fifth movement - the shortest movement in the symphony - is for boys' choir, womens' choir, and contralto soloist with orchestra.  The beginning is reminiscent of the cheerful sound of church bells, and this theme continues throughout the movement.  The main musical themes are relatively simple, pleasing melodies that tend to stick in my head.  But that sense of musical conflict does intrude; in the center of the movement, the themes and harmonies become distorted, as if the whole scene is turning into a bad dream.  But then it pulls out of the bad dream and all is cheerful again.  It almost seems like it wants to build to a big choral finale and end the symphony, but that is not its destiny; it just fades away.

The sixth movement is about as long as the first.  Again, it seems to be a conflict between dark and light, but the light is more prevalent.  The chaos of the first movement is not present here; this movement has the stately grandeur that contemporary audiences might have hoped for in the first.  It is a slow movement with a main theme that sounds very much like the old pop standard I'll Be Seeing You.  It makes me wonder if the composer of that song was familiar with Mahler.  Again, the conflict is present.  The music wants to build to a grand, stately finale, but dissonant chords keep intruding and the melody gets pushed down into the background.  But it does not give up; it keeps trying and finally breaks through, culminating in a long, drawn-out coda.  So, as with most of Mahler's symphonies (and contrary to some popular perceptions), the symphony ends on a positive note.

This is a massive piece of music - probably the longest commonly-performed symphony at about 100 minutes.  I do not find even a moment of it to be boring.

One night, I decided to listen to it very closely.  I put it in the CD player, turned off the lights, and just sat and listened.  What I found was an incredibly emotionally powerful work that has a lot to say.  This music is definitely well worth exploring.

In future posts, I will discuss the Fourth Symphony, as well as Mahler's fascinating programmatic ideas for the Third.  But to start out, I just wanted to go over the musical impressions.

Heather

Offline MishaK

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Re: Mahler - Third and Fourth Symphonies
« Reply #6 on: April 06, 2007, 11:45:24 AM »
The first movement starts with a fanfare

Note that it is basically the theme from the finale of Brahms's 1st but in minor.

Don

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Re: Mahler - Third and Fourth Symphonies
« Reply #7 on: April 06, 2007, 12:18:30 PM »
I will start on the Third Symphony without getting into the programmatic aspects (I will bring that in later).

Like many of Mahler's symphonies, the structure is at least somewhat symmetric.  This one (in its final form) is in six movements, and the first and sixth are the longest and most expansive.  The second and fifth are shorter and lighter in style, and the third and fourth provide a central core.

One central idea that I take out of the entire symphony, and which pervades most of its movements, is a musical idea of conflict between darker and lighter forces. 

Heather

A conflict that also applies to most of the masterpieces of great composers.

facehugger

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Re: Mahler - Third and Fourth Symphonies
« Reply #8 on: April 06, 2007, 12:19:36 PM »
bernstein for the 3rd, walter for the 4th

i do like boulez's mahler though

facehuggerie

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Re: Mahler - Third and Fourth Symphonies
« Reply #9 on: April 06, 2007, 12:22:17 PM »
bernstein for the 3rd, walter for the 4th

i do like boulez's mahler though

how long do you listen mahler ? i havent heard of it from you

facehugger

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Re: Mahler - Third and Fourth Symphonies
« Reply #10 on: April 06, 2007, 12:23:36 PM »
i've loved mahler for years and years

Don

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Re: Mahler - Third and Fourth Symphonies
« Reply #11 on: April 06, 2007, 12:24:54 PM »
i've loved mahler for years and years

So that's a total of two years? ;D

facehugger

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Re: Mahler - Third and Fourth Symphonies
« Reply #12 on: April 06, 2007, 12:25:12 PM »
4

facehugger

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Re: Mahler - Third and Fourth Symphonies
« Reply #13 on: April 06, 2007, 12:25:26 PM »
honestly, sort out your maths

Drasko

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Re: Mahler - Third and Fourth Symphonies
« Reply #14 on: April 06, 2007, 12:26:43 PM »
Second favourite 4th is with Bruno Walter:



Q

If you like that one then do try to get Walter's live 1953 NYPO with Irmgard Seefried on Tahra. Seefried is much better suited to the part and sound quality is exceptional.

facehuggerie

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Re: Mahler - Third and Fourth Symphonies
« Reply #15 on: April 06, 2007, 12:29:20 PM »
i've loved mahler for years and years

ahh okay..  :-[


Don

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Re: Mahler - Third and Fourth Symphonies
« Reply #16 on: April 06, 2007, 12:35:08 PM »
4

Excuse me for downsizing your total.

Online Que

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Re: Mahler - Third and Fourth Symphonies
« Reply #17 on: April 06, 2007, 12:40:24 PM »
If you like that one then do try to get Walter's live 1953 NYPO with Irmgard Seefried on Tahra. Seefried is much better suited to the part and sound quality is exceptional.

Thanks! Seefried sounds very good.

Q

Offline Bunny

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Re: Mahler - Third and Fourth Symphonies
« Reply #18 on: April 06, 2007, 07:10:51 PM »
First I have to say that I'm always looking for new recordings of Mahler, so this thread should be a very expensive one for me. ;)

I don't want to mention things that have already been brought up, so I'll try to fill in with a few more notable recordings of these symphonies.

How can there be any discussion of Mahler's 3rd without mentioning Jascha Horenstein?  For years, his was the absolute reference for this symphony.  Other notable more modern recordings of the 3rd should also include the recordings of Jesús Lopez-Cobos/Cincinnati SO and Boulez/WP.

   

For Mahler's 4th, there are also many other great recordings -- including Levi/Atlanta SO; Inbal/Frankfurt RSO; and my sentimental favorite, Reiner/Chicago SO.  I say sentimental favorite because Lisa della Casa did have problems when she recorded this.  Her voice was a bit wobbly (and I am being polite) but not enough to spoil the recording.

   


Offline Daverz

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Re: Mahler - Third and Fourth Symphonies
« Reply #19 on: April 06, 2007, 10:27:57 PM »
The 3 and 4 in the Neumann box are very beautiful and go right to the top of the heap for me, the sound of the Czech Philharmonic works extremely well in this music.



Also for the 4th I'm fond of the classic Kletzki recording with Emmy Loose



I don't like the Horenstein recording of the 3rd, it just sounds dull and grey to me,  and I think it's time to retire that one as a "reference".