Posts Tagged ‘Gustav Mahler’

Happy birthday, Mahler

July 7, 2017

Mahler turns 157 years old today. To celebrate, let’s listen to the epic final movement of his Symphony No.6, here played by the London Symphony Orchestra under Simon Rattle:

Heavy metal Mahler

July 7, 2012

Today, being Mahler’s birthday, offers a good opportunity to ponder a vexing question: why is Mahler’s music not played by heavy metal bands?

You might think that I am joking, but you are only partly right. The truth is that certain passages in Mahler’s symphonies would translate splendidly into a head-banging idiom, and the appeal of such high-class, ready-made music ought to be irresistible to serious metalheads, who, after all, often pride themselves on the harmonic and rhythmic adventurousness, architectural complexity, and philosophical profundity of their music. But I have looked, and I have been unable to find even a single instance of a metal band covering Mahler. The situation is really very perplexing.

Consider, for instance, the opening of his Symphony No.6. If this was not actually conceived for a consort of razor-sharp electric guitars and a gargantuan drum kit, I’ll eat my Metallica hat:

Another excellent example of shreddable Mahler is the opening of the Symphony No.2. This is for a more ambitious band, one that doesn’t mind taking the time to build something monumental — luckily, we know that pretentiousness of that sort is endemic in metal circles. But seriously, just listen to this, translating it mentally into the timbres of crunchy rhythm guitars, blazing fingerwork, and Viking battle cries. This could really work:

Happy birthday, Herr Mahler.


Update: In the comments, 236factorial suggests the finale of Symphony No.1 as another good candidate:

Happy birthday, Kathleen Ferrier

April 22, 2012

Today would have been the 100th birthday of the wonderful English contralto Kathleen Ferrier. She had one of the most distinctive and affecting, if not most conventionally beautiful, voices of the century.

Her singing career, which lasted only just over a decade, was curtailed by her untimely death, from cancer, in 1953.  Her recorded legacy is of small compass, but highly treasurable. She is perhaps best known for her (to my ears, somewhat lumbering) renditions of English folk songs, but in Mahler she was, if not quite unequaled, at least unsurpassed.

One really should spend the entire day listening to her, but, as a start, here are two short songs. The first is “O Waly, Waly”, which shows off her appeal in the homespun English repertoire, and the second is her heart-breaking version of Mahler’s “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen”. This last, especially, is what used to be called a “classic of the gramophone” — one of the finest treasures from a century of recorded sound.

Happy birthday, Kathleen Ferrier.

Remembering Mahler

May 18, 2011

Today is the 100th anniversary of the untimely death of Gustav Mahler. If someone had told me ten years ago that I would be marking this day with real sadness I would have denied it, but Mahler’s music, which at one time I dismissed as bloated and hysterical past toleration, finally won me over, and I now confess myself a devotee.

One of his most touching songs, heartbreaking in its melancholic beauty, is Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen. Given its theme, hearing it today is most fitting. Here is Janet Baker, from a famous 1969 recording with John Barbirolli leading the Hallé Orchestra.

Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen,
Mit der ich sonst viele Zeit verdorben,
Sie hat so lange von mir nichts vernommen,
Sie mag wohl glauben, ich sei gestorben.

Es ist mir auch gar nichts daran gelegen,
Ob sie mich für gestorben hält,
Ich kann auch gar nichts sagen dagegen,
Denn wirklich bin ich gestorben der Welt.

Ich bin gestorben dem Weltgewimmel,
Und ruh’ in einem stillen Gebiet.
Ich leb’ allein in mir und meinem Himmel,
In meinem Lieben, in meinem Lied.


I am lost to the world
with which I used to waste so much time,
It has heard nothing from me for so long
that it may very well believe that I am dead!

It is of no consequence to me
Whether it thinks me dead;
I cannot deny it,
for I really am dead to the world.

I am dead to the world’s tumult,
And I rest in a quiet realm!
I live alone in my heaven,
In my love and in my song!
(Translation: Emily Ezust)

(Thanks to Alex Ross for the picture above.)

Mahler mania

September 24, 2010

Tomorrow I will be attending a performance of Mahler’s mighty Symphony No.2, the ‘Resurrection’ symphony.  It will be a repeat of last night’s opening concert in the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s 2010-11 season.  This symphony is among my favourite pieces of music, and for years I have wanted to hear it performed live. I can hardly wait.

I have posted excerpts from it before: the beginning and the ending, for instance. Here is a segment from near the middle: the wonderful interlude Urlicht, sung by Janet Baker, with Leonard Bernstein conducting:

O Röschen rot,
Der Mensch liegt in größter Not,
Der Mensch liegt in größter Pein,
Je lieber möcht’ ich im Himmel sein.
Da kam ich auf einem breiten Weg,
Da kam ein Engelein und wollt’ mich abweisen.
Ach nein, ich ließ mich nicht abweisen!
Ich bin von Gott und will wieder zu Gott,
Der liebe Gott wird mir ein Lichtchen geben,
Wird leuchten mir bis in das ewig selig’ Leben!

O little red rose,
Man lies in greatest need,
Man lies in greatest pain.
Ever would I prefer to be in heaven.
Once I came upon a wide road,
There stood an Angel who wanted to turn me away.
But no, I will not be turned away!
I came from God, and will return to God,
The loving God who will give me a little light,
To lighten my way up to eternal, blessed life!

At the concert tomorrow the soprano part will be sung by a local gal who made good: Isabel Bayrakdarian. I haven’t heard her on the stage for many years, since she sang Zerlina in Don Giovanni with the Canadian Opera Company. It must have been ten years ago now. I am looking forward to hearing her again. She grew up in Toronto, and learned to sing in her Armenian church choir. Here is a short video of her singing the Armenian Sanctus:

She has a great voice. This is going to be wonderful.

Mahler anniversary goings-on

May 10, 2010

I have noted before that this year (and next) is a major Mahler anniversary year.  I have been trying to keep an eye out for celebratory goings-on, and recently I learned of two:

  • Universal Edition (the music publishers, I believe) have put together a Mahler blog, the most interesting part of which is a set of interviews about Mahler’s music with leading (and, it must be said, some less-than-leading) Mahler conductors.  Among those interviewed are Pierre Boulez, Michael Tilson Thomas, Michael Gielen, and Christoph Eschenbach.  I’ve watched a few (and one must watch, not just listen, because, rather irritatingly, the questions to which the interview subjects respond are printed on the screen, not spoken), and found them quite interesting.
  • Speaking of Christoph Eschenbach, performances of him conducting the Orchestre de Paris in the full cycle of Mahler symphonies are being made available online through streaming video.  The project began in February, and one new symphony is being added each month. The video is said to be available in both high and low bandwidth versions, although I cannot get the low bandwidth stream to work.  I have also found that the video and audio are slightly un-synchronized, which is irritating — though no worse, I suppose, than what one experiences when sitting at the back of a large hall at a live performance, which is where I usually sit.

Sunday night Mahler march

February 21, 2010

Our local jug band has announced that they will be opening their 2010-11 season with a performance of Mahler’s mighty Symphony No.2, the “Resurrection” symphony.   I have just bought tickets.  This is my favourite symphony, and for years I have wanted to hear it played live.  The pity is that I have to wait until September for the concert to actually happen.

In the meantime, I have a few recordings of the symphony with which I can content myself, and, for visual stimulation, there are some good performances on YouTube.  Here, for example, is the opening section of the massive first movement, played by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and conducted by Simon Rattle.  (This same orchestra and conductor produced my favourite recording of the symphony.)  This clip introduces most of the musical raw material that makes up the first movement, especially the ominous and majestic funeral march that we hear at the beginning.  At about 6:40 the march yields to a beautiful quiet section in which a set of counter-themes are introduced.

The whole first movement lasts about 20-25 minutes; the rest of it can be found here and here.

Musical anniversaries in 2010

January 4, 2010

I’ve been poking around in my music collection to discover which composers have major anniversaries in 2010.  I have discovered the following:


100: Samuel Barber (1910-1981): March 9



250: Luigi Cherubini (1760-1842): September 8


500 (approx.):

550 (approx.): Antoine Brumel (c.1460-1512)

600 (approx.):

850 (approx.): Gace Brulé (c.1160-after 1213)


50: Hugo Alfvén (1872-1960): May 8

100: Mily Balakirev (1837-1910): May 29

450 (approx.): Nicholas Gombert (c.1495-c.1560)

550 (approx.): Gilles Binchois (c.1400-1460): September 20


The really major anniversaries this year are the birthdays of Ockeghem, Schumann, Chopin, and Mahler.  (This is actually the first of two consecutive anniversary years for Mahler, the centenary of whose death will be marked in 2011.)    I will do my best to remember them when the time comes.

It is also worth remembering that this year is the 400th anniversary for Monteverdi’s great Vespro della Beata Vergine, first published in Venice in 1610.

It’s going to be a great year!