Mahler's "Resurrection"

Saturday, May 21, 2016 - 7:30 p.m.
Jim Rouse Theatre

Concert sponsored by Dr. John Steinberg and Joyce Cox

Sean Kim Andrew Zhang Kyle Engler Marlissa Hudson Columbia Pro Cantare - Frances Dawson, Director

Pieces

Franz Joseph Haydn - Cello Concerto No. 1 in C
Program Notes

FRANZ JOSEPH HAYDN (1732-1809)

CELLO CONCERTO No. 1 in C

COMPOSED: c.1763
PREMIERED: 1765, Eisenstadt, Austria

The very idea of the concerto arose from some players being more expert than others in the aristocratic orchestras of the late seventeenth century. Composers like Arcangelo Corelli found their section leaders demanding ever longer and more elaborate solos; these expanded to the point where a whole new form was born. Joseph Haydn spent much of his career at the Esterhazy estate in a little-visited corner of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, where he acted as a one-man laboratory for the future of music; however, he still had the usual duties of a Kapellmeister to cope with, thrashing out occasional music for his patrons. The (only!) cellist in his gallery band was one Josef Weigl, who became a close friend; it was almost inevitable that Haydn would write a concerto for his friend, and this is it.

The piece’s origins in the daily music of Esterhaz can be seen in the fact that there is only one cello line, marked “solo” or “tutti” as appropriate; it looks like poor Weigl may have had to play his own accompaniment’s bass line until another cellist was added later. There is also a good old-fashioned continuo line – a custom which died out far later than is usually believed. The piece as a whole hangs in the balance between the old Baroque concerto grosso and the Classical solo concerto. As so often in Haydn, however, it is the music’s form that shows his astonishing originality. The unmistakably Baroque sound world conceals three sonata form movements in succession – a wholly unique structure for a concerto that was never repeated. After the soloist’s opening four-note chords (Herr Weigl must have been quite a player), we are confronted with a form that Haydn would only attempt again much later – a single-subject sonata movement, with the subject split into tiny motifs that are developed separately. Here are the origins of Beethoven, and even Wagner.

The second movement (rather obviously re-fashioned from a quartet, as there are no winds) has the soloist enter repeatedly on a long-held note, defying the dubious tuning of the standard 1777 cello, though no great challenge to the modern player – unlike the closing cadenza. This idea returns in the finale, where the solo part grows to a complexity that would not disgrace the Bach Cello Suites before giving us a final held note, this time on an alarming, inch-of-string G.

Gustav Mahler - Symphony No. 2, "Resurrection"
Program Notes

GUSTAV MAHLER (1860-1911)

SYMPHONY No. 2 in C minor, Auferstehung (Resurrection)

Composed: 1888-1894
Premiered: Berlin, Germany, 1895

  • Allegro maestoso. Mit durchaus ernstem und feierlichem Ausdruck (With complete gravity and solemnity of expression)
  • Andante moderato. Sehr gemächlich. Nie eilen. (Very leisurely. Never rush.)
  • In ruhig fließender Bewegung (With quietly flowing movement)
  • Urlicht (Primeval Light). Sehr feierlich, aber schlicht (Very solemn, but simple)
  • Im Tempo des Scherzos (In the tempo of the scherzo)

Gustav Mahler would tell the world that the gigantic funerary wreath that is the Second Symphony was inspired by the death of his friend and colleague Hans von Bülow in 1894, but this was at best a half-truth. Three years earlier, Mahler had shown von Bülow his tone poem Totenfeier (Funeral), only for the great man to dismiss it with the comment that it made Tristan sound like Haydn. Much altered, Totenfeier eventually became the first movement of the Second Symphony. So who, or what, is really being commemorated in this immense symphony?

Mahler wrote Totenfeier three years before meeting von Bülow, in 1888, the year in which he staged his own funeral after conducting the premiere of Weber’s Die drei Pintos in Leipzig. He surrounded his bed with candles and flowers, then lay down and tried to will himself dead. When Mahler later recounted the scene to Sigmund Freud while undergoing psychoanalysis, Freud slightly dented the mood by laughing out loud. However absurd, this was the inspiration for Totenfeier. That, and a catastrophic affair with the wife of Weber’s grandson.

Mahler’s work on the Weber opera had been much slowed by the fact that the surviving sketches were written in a code that he had to break before proceeding; the music concealed all sorts of ulterior meanings that the composer had wished to hide from (mainly) his wife. Mahler obviously found a fellow spirit here. Certainly, Mahler’s music has a lot to hide, and he is least to be trusted when he actually tells us what it all “means.” Mahler’s program for the first performance (later withdrawn – he did this with all but one of his symphonies) tells us everything – and nothing.

The first movement, says Mahler, is “a dirge in which the hero of my First Symphony is borne to the grave.” It also, apparently, asks whether there is life after death. Whatever the truth of this, it is in orthodox sonata form, down to the repeated (but varied) exposition. The second subject is in the very distant key of E major. That old calling card of the seriously morbid, the Dies Irae, makes an appearance in the development. The symphony will eventually end in a radiant E flat (the relative major of C minor), and so does this movement.

The second movement, says Mahler, recalls the happier times in the life of the departed – an almost sure sign that the movement was written earlier than the rest of the symphony. And, sure enough, it has no material in common with the rest of the work. The movement is a slow major-key Ländler with a couple of contrasting sections. Curiously, this movement was a great favorite of Arnold Schoenberg, who even conducted a recording of it.

The Scherzo is perhaps the strangest movement of the symphony. The music is based on Mahler’s art song Des Antonius von Padua Fischpredigt – “St. Anthony of Padua’s Sermon to the Fish,” from his Des Knaben Wunderhorn settings. For many years, Mahler was much preoccupied with Brentano and von Arnim’s collection of folk poems, Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Young Man’s Magic Horn), setting nearly thirty of them for a variety of voice and instrumental combinations. The “folk” who produced these poems were suspiciously literary yokels who may very well have been the “editors” themselves. The Saint who finds the church empty and goes and preaches to the fish instead is a very odd subject for a folk poem, but nothing at all unusual for German Romanticism. Passing off one’s own work as folklore was a well-known route around the censors, and Mahler, ever the conjurer, would have known and appreciated this. Here, the music ambles around the song like a curiously personable zombie, dancing to the lackadaisical taps on the tambourine that act as the clock on this very unfunny “joke”. Mahler himself suggested that St. Anthony might be drunk; the music itself suggests something far darker when, near the end, it erupts into what Mahler calls the “death scream.” This shriek of agony will be back. As Mahler himself said, “This piece is really as if nature were pulling faces and sticking its tongue out at you, but it contains such a spine-chilling panic-like humor that one is overcome more by dismay than laughter.” Almost more spine-chilling is his remark that the music represents life without meaning.

The fourth movement, Urlicht, is also based on a Des Knaben Wunderhorn song. Throwing conventional symphonic key relationships entirely to the wind, the music is in D flat. It represents, says Mahler, a plea for release from life without meaning, presumably via a candlelit, wreath-stacked bed in Leipzig. It is essentially a curtain-raiser for the finale.

The finale begins with the unprepared, panic-stricken return of the Scherzo’s “death scream.” The music, says the composer, passes through the doubts of the first movement and the bad dreams of the third into a vision of eternal renewal – actually, on close inspection, a highly unstable blend of Judgment Day and Nietzsche’s Eternal Return. Mahler found the words (by Friedrich Gottlob Klopstock) in the order of service of his friend von Bülow’s funeral. For the symphony, however, he added twenty-one lines of his own, turning Klopstock’s simple piety into a vast (if poetically dubious – Mahler is no poet) panorama of the Beyond. To convince us with this vision (and he does), Mahler brings in the full panoply of post-Wagnerian romanticism – offstage horns and a faint echo of Parsifal’s Dresden Amen to let us know we’re looking into Paradise, plus a recurrence of the first movement’s Dies Irae to remind us of the alternative – before finally bringing in the chorus. The last minutes before the chorus come to save us are taken up with what Mahler calls the “March of the Dead,” a forced trek through all the horrors of the first and third movements before landing in the tonal wilderness of G flat major.

It will be the job of the chorus and the two soloists to haul us from the pit of G flat major into the sunlight of the symphony’s relative major key, E flat, at which Mahler throws in an organ and church bells (real ones at the first performance) to slam home the very Parsifal-ish “Resurrection” theme. The church’s orthodoxy has been supplanted by the Romantic one.

In 1907, Mahler went for a walk in the woods with Jan Sibelius after a very large lunch that left Sibelius visibly staggering and slurring his words. Their topic of conversation, the story goes, was the future of the symphony. Sibelius said that a symphony should be all “profound logic and inner connection,” while Mahler objected that the symphony should be, quite simply, “a world.” This laid the foundation for the division of the musical universe into post-Romantic and structuralist. The paradox of the Second Symphony is that achieves one ideal through the other.

More prosaically, it laid the foundation for Mahler’s bad back. Sibelius keeled over, and Mahler had to carry him home. Sibelius lived another 50 years; Mahler was dead in three.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Flute Concerto No. 2 in D
Program Notes

WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART (1756-1791)

FLUTE CONCERTO No2 in D, K.314

COMPOSED: 1777
PREMIERED: 1777, Salzburg, Austria

“You know that I become quite powerless whenever I am obliged to write for an instrument which I cannot bear.” Thus Mozart to his father, writing about the commission that led to the creation of this concerto. On closer inspection, his distaste was more for the patron who ordered three flute concertos from him - Ferdinand Dejean, a surgeon and amateur musician who worked for the East India Company. Mozart only ever handed over two concerti (including this one), and had his fee docked as a result. On closer inspection, the situation seems to be even stranger, as the D major Flute Concerto turns out to be a reworking of an earlier Oboe Concerto grudgingly written for another musician Mozart didn’t like – Giuseppe Ferlendis, oboist with the Archbishop of Salzburg’s private orchestra.

So how does a work with such a strange history come to be a masterpiece? The original flute concerto was in C. Mozart did far more than merely transpose it up a step, however; he completely rewrote the part. As Beethoven learned the hard way in several works, the eighteenth-century oboe was a very difficult instrument to write for, and the transformation into a work for flute allowed Mozart to open out a lot of passage work that had to be written more sedately for the oboe, leading to a concerto that is entirely suited to its (new) instrument. Whether Dr. Dejean could actually play it is lost to history, perhaps mercifully.

The piece is in the usual three movements. The first is the usual sonata edifice, with the subjects hacked into small fragments and thrown about à la Haydn, leaving much room for acrobatics from the soloist. A reserved, even mournful slow movement (with eulogy from the flute) gives way to the usual Rondo, another excursion to Haydn land, particularly obvious in the unexpected leap into fugato roughly halfway through.

About the Concert

SOLD OUT! The “Resurrection” Symphony is truly a live concert experience like no other! No one explores the themes of life and death in music quite like Mahler, so when over 150 musicians take the stage, it promises to be one of the biggest events in the Orchestra’s history. Columbia Pro Cantare joins us in the work Jason Love calls, “a true heir to Beethoven’s Ninth.” Plus, the incredibly talented winners of our Young Artist Competition will amaze you with their performances..

Young Artist Competition sponsored by