Mahler, without end

July 1, 2009 at 4:42 pm (Music)

Many thanks to Alex Ross for “Endless Mahler” in the June 8 & 15 issue of The New Yorker. In this article, Ross evaluates the traversal of Mahler’s works that took place this Spring at Carnegie Hall. It was not, he concludes, an unqualified success on all levels, partly because “The composer made cruel demands on his performers; each symphony is a marathon in itself.”

Gustav Mahler has been quoted as having declared that  “a symphony must be like the world. It must contain everything.” It seems as though he wrote  music with this maxim in mind.

While in college in the early 1960’s, I first heard this recording:


Many years on, it is still my favorite. (Bruno Walter knew Mahler.)

Here is this symphony’s blazing finale. The year is 1989; the orchestra is the mighty Berlin Philharmonic, led by one of the world’s great conductor’s, Claudio Abbado.

It can be interesting – and disconcerting at times – to read the comments posted on YouTube. One viewer said of Abbado: “Look at him at the end, it’s like he just doesn’t want the song to be over.” Actually, it looks to me as though he is gasping for air, struggling to re-enter the temporal world after a supreme out-of-body experience. I have watched this video numerous times now, and each time I marvel: So this is what it is like to be deep inside this glorious music.

Alex Ross calls Mahler’s symphonies  “love letters to the human race.”

Gustav Mahler

Gustav Mahler, 1860-1911

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