An Outline of Mahler

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  An Outline of MahlerAuthor(s): Gerald AbrahamSource: Music & Letters, Vol. 13, No. 4 (Oct., 1932), pp. 391-400Published by: Oxford University PressStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/728263 Accessed: 28/07/2010 14:51 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available athttp://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp. JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unlessyou have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and youmay use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use.Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained athttp://www.jstor.org/action/showPublisher?publisherCode=oup.Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printedpage of such transmission.JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org. Oxford University Press  is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to  Music & Letters. http://www.jstor.org  AN OUTLINE OF MAHLER GUSTAV MAHLER s still, more than twenty years after his death, an unsolved enigma for the greater part of the musical world. His position is comparable with Berlioz's in that musicians who know his work thoroughly are divided into two camps, those who consider him a very great master and those who deny him any creative gift at all. The same sort of complete contradiction exists in Mahler's own personality. He was a Jew, with all the Jew's lack of restraint and his susceptibility to outside influences; yet he must be given a fore- most place among Austrian nationalists, for no composer has been more deeply influenced by folk-music-the music of both the races that meet on the Bohemian-Moravian border where he was born and where he spent the first fifteen years of his life. His child- like, almost childish, naivete of spirit was at war with a profoundly philosophical mind continually worrying at the eternal problems that trouble the soul of man. His musical style seems a thing of shreds and patches, made up of borrowings from Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms and Bruckner, and yet it is unmistakably his own. A master of the orchestra, he often seems to score with wilful perversity. One is never sure whether he is a pessimist pretending to be an optimist, a weary Faust trying to comfort himself with the illusion that, unlike Brahms, he has actually found ' den Weg zuriick zum Kinderland,' or whether he is merely another Schopenhauer, quietly enjoying the pleasant things of life, while preaching a purely theoretical pessimism and enjoying a purely poetic luxury of melancholy. He indulges in irony and parody as freely as any Satie or Berners, and yet he expressly directs that the soprano soloist is to take the child's heaven of the finale of the Fourth Symphony quite seriously, ohne Parodie. The whole man and his music are one great paradox. We must take into account, too, his peculiar theories-that the symphonic art of the future must be 'popular' in the broadest sense of the word,(l) that each symphony must be 'the building up of a world,' must be long enough to occupy a whole programme, as an opera does, without the intrusion of other music, and must, like the real world, contain the (1) Again one thinks of Berlioz and his 'Symphonie funebre et triomphale,' of which Wagner said that, though it is 'big and noble,' 'any little street boy would understand it perfectly.' Hindemith and some of the other younger Germans seem to be following, in their own fashion, the trail blazed by Mahler.  MUSIC AND LETTERS everyday, the homely commonplace. Is it surprising that English musicians who know him only through one or two performances of five out of his ten big works (the nine symphonies and ' The Song of the Earth ') a year or two ago, plus a few of his songs, have failed to understand his music? There is another hindrance to the understanding of Mahler. He needs to be known as a whole, not piecemeal. Just as each of his symphonies, except perhaps the First, is a ' world,' so his work as a whole is a sort of planetary system of inter-related worlds. Each work matters for its own sake-and also because of its connection with another in mood or point of view, often even thematically. The First Symphony is connected with the ' Lieder eines Fahrenden Gesellen ' (which we are beginning to know fairly well) of five years earlier; the second of the ' Lieder,' ' Ging heut Morgens ibers Feld,' appears n three of the movements, and the trio of the funeral march is based on another quotation from the cycle. In the third move- ment of the Second Symphony there is a similar quotation of his setting of ' Die Fischpredigt des Heiligen Antonius ' from ' Des Knaben Wunderhorn,' and in the next movement an alto soloist is introduced o sing another of the lyrics from Arnim and Brentano's anthology. Another of the ' Wunderhorn ' songs (not in his set of twelve so-called ' Wunderhorn-Lieder,' but No. 11 of the ' Lieder aus der Jugendzeit'), ' AblSsung m Sommer,' is the basis of the third movement of the Third Symphony. The chorus (fifth movement) of the Third Symphony and the soprano solo (last movement) of the Fourth are both settings of verses about heaven from the ' Wunder- horn ' and are thematically related. And so this knitting of work to work goes on. The Seventh is full of references o earlier works. The Ninth is not only connected with the ' Song of the Earth,' composed at the same time, but looks back to the Fifth Symphony and the Kindertotenlieder,' wo other contemporaneous works written about seven years earlier. A composer who writes in this lordly way, taking it for granted that we know everything he has written pre- viously, and at such unheavenly lengths, is asking for trouble. Many people will naturally feel that if they cannot understand a not very attractive composer without knowing the wllole of him they would rather leave him alone altogether. It is for people who feel like this about Mahler that I want to offer a sort of bird's-eye view of his work as a whole, to map out the planetary system I have spoken of, so that when they come across a single ' world ' they may have some understanding of its relation to the others. And I should like to do this as far as possible without obtruding my personal opinions. In laying out this 'map' we have the authority of the composer 392  AN OUTLINE OF MAHLER as regards the main outlines, the ' periods ' beloved of every musical biographer since Wilhelm von Lenz. Not long before his death Mahler told Alfredo Casella that he considered his first four symphonies to constitute his ' first period ' and the next four his 'second,' while he regarded the Ninth as the beginning of a third period. Mahler's friend, Guido Adler, in his monograph on the composer, accepts this classification broadly, but dates the first period of ripe creative activity from 1883, when Mahler was twenty-three, and is unable to see any fresh elements in the Ninth. Let us see how this works out. We may neglect everything written before 1883; the young Mahler ranged over a wide field-chamber music, operas, orchestral pieces- before he found his true sphere. Of these early productions only five songs, the first book of the ' Lieder aus der Jugendzeit,' have survived. A fairy opera, ' Das Klagende Lied ' (based on the familiar folk-tale of the murdered man's bone made into a flute which, when played, betrays the murderer), written about 1878-80, survives as a cantata for soloists, chorus and orchestra. But its present form dates from eighteen years later and is the result of drastic revision. The first period proper begins, then, with the composition n 1884 of the four ' Lieder eines Fahrenden Gesellen,' for which Maller wrote the words as well as the music, and the first sketches of the First Symphony. But these were not fruitful years. Mahler the composer was to the end hampered by Mahler the conductor. He had time to write only in the holidays. As his enemies sneered, he was a 'summer composer.' (And has not the same fate overtaken the later Strauss?) In the 'eighties lie was still a nonentity trying to establish himself, forced to content himself with assistant-conductor- ships at Prague and Leipzig. From this period dates his completion of Weber's unfinished comic opera, ' The Three Pintos.' Late in 1888, just' after he took up his first important post, the directorship of the Royal Opera at Budapest, he finished his First Symphony in D major. Nothing could be more typical of Mahler's mentality, for it is linked with his own work, the ' Lieder eines Fahrenden Gesellen,' as we have already seen, and reflects his love of nature, his affection for folk-music and his literary leanings-in this case toward the favourites lie shared with Schumtann, Jean Paul Richter and E. T. A. Hoffumain, particularly the former. The symphony was srcinally entitled ' Titan,' after the greatest of Jean Paul's novels; the second movement, a typical Austrian Lindler, is connected with another of Jean Paul's books, ' Siebenkas '; while the third, ' The Hunter's Funeral Procession' (with the animals marching behind and- apparently--singing the old student canon, ' Bruder Martin, schlafst 393
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