Saturday, March 15, 2008

Mahler: Symphony #1

It's about time we tackled a Mahler Symphony, so let's start at the start and listen to his First Symphony.

Mahler was born in Bohemia in 1860, what was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and during his career he was famous much more for his conducting skills than his symphonies. He even conducted New York's Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic during the last four or so years of his life.
Claudio Abbado and the Berliner Philharmoniker
Gustav Mahler (1860-1911)
Symphony #1
Deutsche Grammophon, 1991
A few things about this symphony:

1) First of all, when you fire up a Mahler symphony, be sure to keep one finger on the volume button. I don't know any composer who goes through quite such a range of dynamics, from practically inaudible to roaringly loud.

2) This symphony was reviled at its first performance. Mahler later said, "In Budapest, where I performed it for the first time, my friends bashfully avoided me afterward; nobody dared talk to me about the performance and my work, and I went around like a sick person or an outcast."

3) Listen for the "cuckoo calls" in the first movement, played by the woodwinds.

4) At the beginning of the third movement, listen for the "Frere Jacques" theme, but note how it's played in a funereal-sounding minor key.

5) And finally, if you're not a brass instrument player, you'll wish you were after listening to the ripping final movement of this symphony.

Enjoy! We'll be returning to Mahler several more times over the course of this year. If you're interested in adding Mahler to your classical music collection, feel free to peruse the links below.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Excellent summary!! Thank you for putting a little fire in my belly....I really need to put the headphones on and listen to some Mahler this April. You've inspired me! :)