Skip to main content


The Ninth Wave by Ivan Aivazofsky

I used to have fun searching for the right artwork for my diaries, especially with the Romantic pieces.  For today's work, the Schubert String Quartet #15, I looked for something with turbulent water, a subject of which there are no shortage of Romantic paintings, that having been one of their favorite subjects.  The title, The Ninth Wave, refers to the marine myth that waves come in sets of nine, and the highest of them all is the ninth wave.  

Normally, I would associate Schubert with a more human portrait, because his music is so intensely human, as is, for example, today's appetizer, Schubert's Swan Song.

Standchen by Schubert, Beatrice Berrut and Camille Thomas

More Schubert below...

Listening to the above, we can notice two important characteristics of Schubert's music.  First, notice how melodic his music is.  

We had a discussion in comments a few weeks ago when somebody asked what I meant by "melodic."  Fair question!  I don't have a Grove's Encyclopedia, so I can't give you the definitive answer.  But a melody has a beginning and an end.  It's linear, going from left to right, not all vertical entanglement like a fugue.  And it speaks.  The Classical Era composers were not great composers of melodies for the most part.  They focused on short motifs that could be chopped up and recombined in various ways and used as glue and cement in construction of a larger work.  Like... Da da da DAAAH! for instance.  Beethoven himself, as great a composer as he was, bemoaned the fact that he felt he had never created a single really great melody.  The Romantics would change that.

The second thing we notice about the above piece is technical.  It's the constant shifting back and forth from major key to minor key.  You don't have to be a music theorist to catch it, although it might be more obvious now that I've pointed it out.  This was one of Schubert's favorite techniques, especially in his later works.  It lends his music a bittersweetness, a combination of two contrasting flavors.  He will use that in today's music as well, but with a different end in mind.

Was Schubert a Romantic or a Classical composer?

This is an old debate.  I might as well weigh in, right?  One definition of Romantic Period music is everything composed between the death of Beethoven and the Death of Mahler, a definition that's both sloppy and neat.  Schubert's one of the more problematic composers, though, because he falls on the cusp.  

For instance, there's this, the Allegretto from his Symphony #3.  How would you categorize this?

That's VERY classical in style.  In fact, it reminds me of Haydn's Clock Symphony, one of the defining yardsticks of what is Classical.  Similar orchestration, same loving attention to the woodwinds, every note clear and meant to be heard in the back row, same playfulness with the strictness of a ticky-tocky rhythm.

Schubert's "Late Period"

... And then we get to Schubert's later works, the works that came after he had experienced setbacks and failures.  Schubert died at the age of 31. At least Mozart lived to 35, something Schubert could have aspired to.  His life had not been a notable success, at least not while he lived.  His health had deteriorated throughout most of the 1820s until his death in 1829.  A physician who saw him described his symptoms as those of mercury poisoning, which was pretty much synonymous for syphilis, because mercury was the only treatment (and not as effective treatment) for syphilis.  

Thus it's strange that we can talk about the "late period" of a composer who only lived to be 31.  Schubert was just getting started.  He was still taking music lessons when he died.

Schubert is part of that club of alumni that were present in 1824 for the first performance of Beethoven's Ninth symphony, one of the reasons I'm focusing on him today.  It's interesting to see in Schubert's music of this period the wake that had been left in the waters by Beethoven's Ninth. Schubert is buried, at his own request, next to Beethoven in Wahring Cemetery in Vienna, the epitaph reading: "The art of music here entombed a rich possession; but even far fairer hopes. Here lies Franz Schubert."  A recognition that even greater works might have been yet to come.

This is my second diary on Schubert.  I did his String Quintet a couple of years ago, and I hope that I've improved in my diary-writing since then.  (Probably -- that's how these things usually go.)  I fumbled for descriptions of the form and poured lavish praise on it, hoping my enthusiasm might make up for my clumsiness.  The String Quartet #15, Schubert's last quartet, ranks up there with the quintet as one of the jewels of Western civilization, a reason for us not to give up on the whole human experiment and start culturing Anthrax in our garage.  

The pros and cons of culturing Anthrax

What?  You've never thought about culturing Anthrax in your garage?  Ah, you're still innocent.

I had an instructor from China one time, who told our class about how on a recent trip to a part of Asia on business, he had encountered a number of armless children with begging bowls seated outside the ticket counters.  The airline workers warned him not to give them any money.  Why?  Because gangs were deliberately cutting off the arms of children just so they could use them in this way, setting them up as little begging ATM machines.  

So that's the human race.  Schubert's String Quartet #15 and children as ATM machines.  It's a tough call.  I suppose you could do like the Olympics and throw out the best and worst scores, but the extremes are more important than the middle in defining us.

About the String Quartet #15 in G.

I'm only going to do the first movement.  It's long and very intense and the whole quartet would require a second diary.  Which it deserves, but it hadn't originally been on my list of works that I wanted to spend weeks on.  It's still fair game if somebody wants to finish the quartet up.

And it's easy for me because, once again, (Yay!) I get to whip out my snazzy blue graphic explaining Sonata-Allegro form, a graphic I made to save myself typing.

For Sonata-Allegro form junkies, like me (and you too, I hope), this is a red, raw meat.  One review of the quartet explained the form of the movement this way:

In a unique approach to sonata form, Schubert seems to co-evolve both theme areas in successive waves as each interrupts the other while internally growing more elaborate. Far more “development” happens in the traditional areas of exposition and recapitulation than the literal development section itself, which is relatively brief by comparison. Instead, there is contrast, expansion and variation in an endless matrix of sudden contrasts in modality, texture, dynamics, rhythm and mood. It is not until the last few bars that the battle finally yields to a briefly stable victory for G Major.
Like many famous pieces of music, Schubert exploits the chord progressions of The Circle of Fifths

Before your eyes glaze over, RELAX.  This is a momentary music theory lesson for dummies.  Most of the music you know and sang in school uses just three chords.  If you're singing a song in C (the letter at the top of the circle,) the the other two chords are F and G, the chords to left and right of C in that pic.  No other chords in that song.  All of Hank William's Sr. songs, same deal.  Likewise, if the song was in some other key, like A, we can see that the two companion chords in the pic are D and E.  That's because there is a natural harmonic relationship between chords that are exactly a fifth interval apart from each other.  Like C and F or G.  

Sometimes, though, you get really cool chord progressions that don't stop at one step to left or right, but just keep going to the right around that circle, like C then G then D then A...  It's one of those things that gives Bach his characteristic sound.  Think of the Eagles' Hotel California, a classic Circle of Fifths progression song.

The whole song is based on that chord progression.  Dinking around with my recorder flute, I can hear it starting in F# (bottom of the circle), then moving one step counter-clockwise to B, then two steps to A, then one step to E...  Eventually it gets back to F#, as any well-behaved song does.  

This is not unusual.  Circle of Fifth chord progressions are very cool.  

One of my favorite examples of the same, the theme song from the James Bond flick, You Only Live Twice (my vote for the best Bond music of 'em all.)  Listen.

So Circle of Fifths chord progressions are cool and not unusual.  They pose a musical problem, though, in that you have to get back to where you started somehow, and you can get lost in the wandering chords.  Schubert always gets back, but to begin the quartet with a Circle of Fifths, and make it, in fact, the CENTRAL FEATURE of the quartet, makes it edgy and turbulent.  This quartet is both uplifting... and unsettling.

Just a quick note: It says on the video that I made that the quartet is in G minor.  Actually, it's listed for programs as a quartet in G major.  Because of Schubert's minor/major mixing, it's not always clear.

Schubert's String Quartet #15 in G Major, D. 887, First movement, Allegro molto moderato, The Melos Quartet

Introduction (0:00)

And so we begin with an opening motif, a long held note beginning softly and then rising in volume, to be chopped off, very abruptly.  The first time, in G.  Then again, in D, a fifth higher.  This is the foundation of the quartet.  There follows a settling back into G major to prepare us for...

Exposition: First Theme (0:35)

A violin begins the first theme.  Notice the tremolo in the background, the other instruments creating a shimmering, mystical effect by playing the same note very quickly, basically by shaking their hands quickly as if with palsy.  The cello then repeats the violin's statement.  

At 1:27, the trembling ceases, and a bold unison statement is made of the first theme with the sweeping opening motif of the introduction, and here, a further wandering by fifths, as the music builds towards a stunningly beautiful mini-climax at 1:58.  

As we make a gentle landing from that, a new theme is introduced at 2:24.  NOTICE how Schubert puts a very obvious seam in the music here, to say, "That part is different from this next part for some reason."  The new theme is gentle but hesitant.

At 3:21, this theme begins to morph and lose its gentleness.  We begin a number of chord progressions by fifths again, the music becoming tense and anxious.  Where is he taking us?  It's restless, searching, until about 3:34, when we seem to find refuge in a stable place, arriving at the second key, D Major.

Exposition Second Theme (3:54)

Notice how the music's character changes here, Schubert's way of putting another seam in the music, to distinguish parts.

The cello now plays a theme in D major to the accompaniment of plucked strings. It's really the same as the previous one at 2:24, but with a a sober confidence as the cello presents it.

At 4:23, as the cello ends its statement, the anxious traveling circle of fifths music returns in full agitation briefly, but then, at 4:47, we return to the cello's statement.  It's less confident in tone, and the anxious skittering of the violin in the accompaniment further undermines that.  

Development (5:45)

At 5:45, as we reach the end of the exposition, it trails off into formless mumbling.  What next?

This is one of the best development sections ever in chamber music.  That's what's next.  

At 6:09, the shimmering tremolo of the first theme returns for the first time in a long while.  Almost angelic by contrast, isn't it?  We're now in the distant key of E flat, if you care about that stuff.  

The formless mumbling returns at 6:33.  Whatever it's saying, it's not satisfied.  It carries us away to a new key (E major).

At 6:55, we settle down, and we repeat the shimmering first theme again.  Are you happy now?

NO. Rage and despair!  (Beginning at 7:12).  Listen to the cello especially here, and if you can't hear it well, crank up your bass, as it just saws its heart out in the background.  The sweeping motif of the introduction returns, and this time it sounds furious.  

But, ah!  At 7:29, a ray of sunlight appears, if only briefly.  Is there a way out of this mess?  

NO! We haven't hit bottom yet.  Not even close.  We take some more battering from the introductory motif.  The repetition here is a cue that that we're reaching the climax soon.

7:59.  And this is where, if you could see me, my arms fling out east and west, it's so crucifying.  The violins play the long soaring notes of the intro motif, dripping with grief.  The cello saws its heart out, going up and down its musical range, probably stabbing the other players left and right.

8:12.  The ray of sunlight.  Again.  Is there hope? (Yet?)

8:31.  We take more battering from the intro motif.  But there's a new sense of direction to it, possibly a positive direction, and we're getting more major key music, less minor key. The music rises higher and higher...

9:03  ... And it emerges through all of this to a gentle moment of bliss.  No crashing triumphant crescendo, victory over adversity here.  Relief.  Like a mother's hug.  Home.  In G major again.

Recapitulation First Theme Again (9:59)

The first theme returns. The shimmering tremolo is gone.  The accompaniment is slow and calming.  In good narrative style, we have been transformed by our journey.  At 10:52, it begins again the workup to the mini-climax we heard in the exposition, but this too, is changed.  

Recapitulation Second Theme Again (11:50)

Same as before, except we start in C major (the OTHER side of the G major on the Circle of Fifths).  After the repeat of the anxious traveling music (12:40), we repeat the theme again once more, now in the home key of G major, where we belong.

Coda (14:04)

We're getting close to the end.  As we end the second theme, the "mumbling" music that launched us into the development returns, granting us a certain kind of symmetry.  But at 14:23 it suddenly emerges from this with a clear, bold statement with some finality to it.

At 14:47, the introduction motif returns, and again, it has that same subtle mix of major and minor which leaves you a little uneasy.  And this brings us to the end.

Hope you liked it!

NEXT WEEK:  We're going to do the Schubert Symphony #9, the "Great C Major," as it's called.  I'm only planning on doing the first two movements.  If people insist, I might do a second week on it to finish it.  Schubert's Ninth is huge.  It was composed only two years after Schubert heard Beethoven's Ninth, and there's a similar element of gigantism involved in it.

Originally posted to Dumbo on Thu May 24, 2012 at 08:57 PM PDT.

Also republished by DKOMA, An Ear for Music, and Community Spotlight.

EMAIL TO A FRIEND X
Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags

?

More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

  •  Schubert is more melodic because he wrote lieder: (8+ / 0-)

    "Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." --M. L. King "You can't fix stupid" --Ron White -6.00, -5.18

    by zenbassoon on Thu May 24, 2012 at 09:12:28 PM PDT

    •  And I am belatedly adding my current favorite (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Dumbo

      lied, from Beethoven by way of Jussi Bjorling:

      I enjoyed this diary very much, Dumbo, and then I wandered off into a listening and viewing binge and forgot to come back. Part of getting old, I guess. Anyway, on our continuing discussion of music and film, I just finally saw Fitzcarraldo, with all that operatic stuff, a lot from Caruso, then I saw Rififi, a noir heist film (beautifully done), in which one of the gang sings snatches of O Sole Mio all the way until he loses his life. I just recently bought The Very Best of Jussi Bjorling, so you can see why that's where I am today:-).

      Schubert is fantastic. Wish he could have lived longer, but grateful that he made the best of the little time he had. Poor dear.

      W. H. Auden: "We must love one another or die."

      by martyc35 on Fri May 25, 2012 at 08:34:26 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thank you!!! (8+ / 0-)

    Fantastic as always!  

    I really appreciate the hours you spend on the diaries.

    Join us at Bookflurries-Bookchat on Wednesday nights 8:00 PM EST

    by cfk on Thu May 24, 2012 at 09:38:20 PM PDT

  •  Here What I Was Thinking Today (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cfk, Dumbo, Renee, palantir, SoCalHobbit

    When opportunity calls pick up the phone and give it directions to your house.

    by webranding on Thu May 24, 2012 at 09:53:16 PM PDT

  •  From Schubert's Swan Songs--Abscheid D957 (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dumbo

    Schubert's Farewell
    The essence of Schubert

    http://www.youtube.com/...

  •  Aivazovsky was a genius, too! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dumbo

    I wasn't expecting to find one of his paintings here.

  •  Melody vs harmony (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dumbo

    I think melodic tones are those played monophonically, and harmonic tones are those played polyphonically. For example, scale runs are melodic, and chords are harmonic. At least that's how I've always thought of it.

    Free University and Health Care for all, now. -8.88, -7.13

    by SoCalHobbit on Thu May 24, 2012 at 11:39:30 PM PDT

  •  The first movement of the quartet is also a prime (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dumbo

    example of the "heavenly length" of many of his late works, especially his chamber music and piano sonatas. I think it is important to repeat the exposition in the first movement to give it the grand scale that it needs, even though it makes the movement run almost 20 minutes. The Quartetto Italiano plays the repeat, as does the Alban Berg Quartet in their ravishing, out-of-print live recording. You can still get used copies of the latter.

    In Schubert's final piano sonata (D. 960), the exposition repeat is also often omitted even though there is a brief but remarkable bridge passage that disappears as a result.

    •  ARghhhh.... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Dallasdoc

      Heheh...  I'm not one of those people who need the repeats.  I've gone back and forth on that over the years and come to the conclusion that being a purist doesn't help the music or its understanding in many cases, especially Schubert's 9th.  Although I would feel short-shrifted if they left it out of a Haydn symphony.  Repeats made a lot more sense when music was short.  By the time you get to the symphonic monstrosities, repeats are definitely, to my mind, optional.

      I'm hunting for the right Schubert 9th clip for next week, and I'm looking for a good one that doesn't have the repeat.  Gardiner or Sawallisch look like they'll do.  There are two clips of Sawallisch, his studio recording, and a live recording, the live one having the repeat.  I prefer his studio version.

      I like the Szell recording and came close to using it, but I'm bothered by the way Columbia recorded it.

      •  Must tell you (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Dumbo

        I went back and listened to the first movement of the quintet.  I truly want to play that piece - the only time I read through it I was on a small dose of LSD, so it hardly counts - the notes kept getting away!

        There is a performance from that same Zagreb festival that had Susanna and Monicka plus a pianist playing the Mendelssohn first piano trio - amazing.

        Old people are like old houses - lots of character, but the plumbing leaks.

        by ramara on Fri May 25, 2012 at 04:34:55 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Currently watching the NASA ustream muted (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dumbo, historys mysteries

    while listening to Schubert's Allegretto from his Symphony #3. Nice.

    Free University and Health Care for all, now. -8.88, -7.13

    by SoCalHobbit on Thu May 24, 2012 at 11:58:05 PM PDT

  •  that was alot of fun (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dallasdoc, Dumbo, historys mysteries

    Thanks for this diary

  •  Melody (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dallasdoc, Dumbo, historys mysteries

    Great diary as usual.  Lots of us have no musical training and are pretty uneducated on how music works and how it's put together, though we may appreciate it as much as the next person.   I really like Schubert and appreciate you taking the time to find such great performances.

    The Classical Era composers were not great composers of melodies for the most part.
    Maybe except for Mozart, IMO.  Seems to me Schubert owes a lot to Mozart.  Thinking of his flute concerto or some of the piano concertos which really do have that linear, storytelling aspect to them.

    “If the misery of the poor be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our sin.” Charles Darwin

    by ivorybill on Fri May 25, 2012 at 05:16:19 AM PDT

    •  Agree about Mozart and melody (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Dumbo, historys mysteries, niemann

      Maybe it makes me unsophisticated, but Schubert and Mozart are probably my two favorite composers precisely because of their melodic gifts.  The intellectual brilliance of Beethoven's compositional sophistication -- which Mozart matches -- makes for thrilling and absorbing works, but nothing grabs the heart and squeezes it like a sublime melody emerging in the hands of a master composer.  

      Both Schubert and Mozart had melodies flowing from their pens like rivers, and that is the special mark of both their geniuses.  Before his death Schubert wrote the Moments Musicaux, little pieces for piano which feature melodic ideas which remained undeveloped, but which a dying young man had to put down on paper nonetheless.  Their poignance is overwhelming in that context, especially the angry and elegaic No. 2, the Andantino.  

      What Schubert could have done with his gift had he lived longer is one of the most tragic unanswered questions in music.

      When Free Speech is outlawed, only outlaws will have Free Speech.

      by Dallasdoc on Fri May 25, 2012 at 05:47:02 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Mozart's melodic invention. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Dallasdoc

        I would argue that his symphonies tend to be more motific than melodic, if motific is really a word.  Like the 40th. dada DA, dada DA, dada DAH DAH...

        But he had many works that just spin melodies out, long streams of musical linear dialogue.

        I've always been most impressed by his Violin Concerto #5, which I regret now having covered last month.  (I was getting bored with violin concertos, though).  It's one of his earlier works, so there are some rough edges to it, but the second movement is like what I described, just one long unending stream of beautiful musical dialogue.

    •  Melody really is mysterious. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JeffSCinNY, Dumbo

      It strikes me as one of those things that people intuitively know, but have a really hard time defining.  

      I think one of the hardest things in music is coming up with a really good tune.  There are only so many combinations of notes that you'd think all the tunes would have been used up by now ... but some people -- Paul McCartney, Gershwin, Hoagy Carmichael, Irving Berlin, etc. -- could just keep coming up with more and more memorable ones.

      I remember some years ago hearing a radio interview with the composer John Adams, who at the time had just had an opera/musical premiered in which he had attempted to write actual songs -- like musical/pop songs.  He said that it was much, much harder than he had imagined it would be, and he found a whole new respect for good songwriters.  (And frankly, when they played excerpts from his songs, I think they sounded like generic, unmemorable modern musical theater songs.)

      •  Jascha Heifetz bragged one time (0+ / 0-)

        to his friends that he was going to compose a hit pop song, just to prove he could.  And he did.  Under the pseudonym Jim Hoyl, he wrote a song, called "When you make love." I don't think it was a big hit, but it was covered by Bing Crosby.

    •  Be sure to check my reply to (0+ / 0-)

      Dallasdoc below your message.

      http://www.dailykos.com/...

  •  Re: Classical vs. Romantic (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JeffSCinNY, Dumbo

    It's interesting to me to read this right now because another composer from around the same time has been on my mind -- E.T.A. Hoffmann.

    He really is the embodiment of the claim that movements in music always lag behind the related movements in literature and painting, because Hoffmann was both an author and a composer.  

    (For example, I recently appeared in a play as Van Gogh, and was interested to find that while you would think impressionistic music most captures the feeling of his paintings, it actually hadn't been invented yet.  While he was alive, Van Gogh would have known Wagner and Liszt.)

    I recently started reading through Hoffmann's stories -- (the best known of which, is of course The Nutcracker) -- and they are clearly German Romanticism:  weird, emotional, irrational, psychological, dark, experimental ...

    That made me curious about his music, so I ordered a CD ... and he sounds like late Mozart/early Beethoven:  very ordered, formal, "intellectual" ...  It seems the polar opposite of his story-writing.

    In fact, Hoffmann has been described as being the last German Romantic author, and the first German Romantic composer ... at the same time.  (He lived roughly the same period as Schubert: 1776-1822.)  It's hard for us to grasp now, but apparently he was one of the first to start inserting "Romantic" elements into music, such as musical "sound effects" in programmatic music.  Now they seem so tame and standard that it's hard to grasp what might have been experimental in his music.

    I really, really, like his music and have been playing it over and over, but it seems it took the later "Romantic" composers like Tchaikovsky and Offenbach to do musical justice to Hoffmann's strange stories.

    •  That's an interesting subject. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      niemann

      I can't find Hoffman's music very easily on Youtube.  It would take some more clever searching on my part.  All the other Hoffman-derived works come up first and drown it out.

      But the subject of "movements in music always lag behind the related movements in literature and painting" is an interesting one.  

      For example, I would never have associated Van Gogh with the Impressionists, even though he may be lumped with them as a movement.  Debussy and Ravel have a shimmering mystical otherworldly character to them.  They lose a little bit of their intimacy from that.  Van Gogh, however, is very personal.  It's the world, good and bad, seen through his own prism.  Van Gogh's prism.  It's not objective and universal, like Debussy and Ravel.

      Likewise, we could talk about Mahler.  He gets lumped in with the Romantics, and his musical language is mostly that of the Romantics, taken to a new extreme.  But what he was COMPOSING about, the existential issues, have little in common with the cute obsessions of the Romantics which almost seem adolescent at times.  Bernstein called Mahler the prophet of the twentieth century.  In literary terms, I'd put him closer to Kafka or Thomas Mann or Herman Hesse than any of the Romantics writers.

      Interesting... I just googled up Kafka on wiki.  A quote.  I'm going to bold the relevant terms for my comparison.

      The hopelessness and absurdity populating his works are seen as emblematic of existentialism.[citation needed] Some see a Marxist influence in his satirizing of bureaucracy as in The Castle, The Trial and In the Penal Colony;[39] others point to anarchism as inspiring his skewering of bureaucracy.[citation needed] Still others interpret his works through the lens of Judaism, especially Freudianism; (Borges made remarks in this regard).[39] Or, as allegory of a metaphysical quest for God; (Thomas Mann was a proponent of this thesis).[40]
      All of those things I bolded are central to any critique I could make of Mahler.

      I took a real battering on here one time for a sarcastic throw-away comment I made about Mahler's Sixth, saying that it could have been subtitled the Nazi Marching Song Symphony.  That's one reason I'm very reluctant to talk about Mahler on here anymore.  Even though I love Mahler, love the Sixth, love talking about him.  Mahler fans tend to be very defensive.  However, I still stand by what I said, because there is, TO ME, a very deliberate military satire element to the Sixth Symphony first movement.  Was that his intent?  I don't know, don't really think it matters definitively, either.  It's what I hear.  I hear a great deal of satire -- bitter sarcasm might be a better term -- in Mahler.  Just as there was, by the way, in the finale of Symphonie Fantastique.  Berlioz and Mahler share that distinction.

  •  o/t - Saw Hilary Hahn last night with SF Symphony (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dumbo

    She played Prokofiev Concerto 1... and then favored us with two encores.  Wow.  I've liked her recordings but her awesomeness came through so much more in person.  What a wonderful performance.

  •  When I first heard this work (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dumbo

    years ago - on a cd - I was so stunned by the opening chords and ensuing  minute or two that I had to stop and listen to them again - several times!  I had never had such an immediate, emotional  reaction to any other work before - or since.

    Better beans and bacon in peace than cakes and ale in fear... Aesop

    by mr crabby on Sat May 26, 2012 at 04:05:43 PM PDT

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site