Columbus Prepares for Mahler

Gustav Mahler(Photo: Wikipedia/ Moritz Nähr)
Gustav Mahler(Photo: Wikipedia/ Moritz Nähr)

Gustav Mahler’s Das Lied von derErde (The Song of the Earth) will be performed by the Columbus Symphony in the Ohio Theater February 22 and 23. We’ll discuss the work itself next week. For now:

Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid at all.

Mahler (1860-1911) has throngs of devotees. More than devotees, there are Mahler-obsessives. They know every symphony, every art song and cycle, every finished edition of the unfinished Tenth Symphony. They get into shouting matches-and worse-over conductors. Bernstein, Jochum, Horenstein, Bruno Walter, Klemperer. All of these learned gentleman have been dead for many years but their recordings can have tempers flare. One hopes these maestri up in heaven look down and say “Shut up and listen to the music.”

For the rest of us, Mahler is a composer who fascinates. He has universal themes in his music of death, loneliness and abandonment. Sounds like quite a party. That’s what I mean when I tell you not to be afraid.

Mahler was his parents’ first-born. There were 14 children of whom six survived infancy. This means eight babies were lost. One brother committed suicide as an adult.

Mahler’s marriage to Alma Schindler brought a beautiful, popular woman into his life. She was a composer herself but Mahler forbade her a life in music. Alma’s resentment festered and led to several affairs. Mahler was a public figure and his wife’s gadding about was public knowledge. The couple had two daughters. Maria Anna died at age six of diphtheria. At the time of her death Mahler had been diagnosed with the heart condition that would kill him in two years.

We’ll talk later about his triumphs as a conductor in Prague, Budapest, Vienna and New York. But themes of abandonment are clear in his on shortened life.

Despite that, there’s a lot of bliss in Mahler’s music. There are dances, cowbells, song, melody, a night on the mountains and a dip in the lake. He’s not a composer of gloomy music at all. He’s a composer who lived an often gloomy life who knew how to mix the sad with the invigorating.

Mahler never loses hope. He gives up the struggle with peace and beauty. Hence the Mahler obsessives. To borrow my Quaker brethren, Mahler’s music “speaks to the condition”. He is where you are.

Comments
  • Phil Rudell, music lover.

    It’s amazing what he accomplished in a fairly short life. He deserves a place in the pantheon of great composers. It matters not if some listeners don’t like it.