Friday, October 20, 2006

Also Sprach Mahler

Marc Geelhoed has a review of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's performance of Mahler's Third Symphony. First, I get such a kick out of seeing Chris Martin's name as the new principal trumpet. Chris was in the very first aural skills class I taught at Eastman, played lead trumpet in the same jazz ensemble with me that same year (including a probably illegal midnight performance on Fred Sturm's front lawn), and was a great inspiration in studio class for two years. It is no surprise that he has risen so high, given his natural talent and immense work ethic. At every studio class he was taking notes, in aural skills he was always attentive and well prepared, and he approached everything with the right combination of dedication and good humor.

Second, I take exception with Marc's description of the Third Symphony as being made of "lesser stuff." I spent a term at Lawrence University learning the details of this symphony from Alan Gimbel, learning about the connections to Nietzsche. The obvious link is with the lyrics in the fourth movement, the "Drunken Song" from Thus Spoke Zarathustra. But Gimbel entwined references to Wagner's Siegfried, Greek mythology, and earlier Mahler songs and symphonies with Schenkerian analysis to show that the whole symphony was a commentary on Zarathustra. This commentary is more deep than Strauss' tone poem, even if a major solo is given to the humble trombone.

1 comment:

Marc Geelhoed said...

I'd be curious to see the Zarathustra analysis. I spent some time reading about how the symphony is a grand statement about Mahler's devotion to Schopenhaurien theory, and how the violin solos echoing the mezzo relate back to specific themes Mahler had given the instrument.

But to my mind the work adds up to less of an overwhelming achievement than the Sixth and Ninth. Maybe with the tighter forms Mahler uses in those has something to do with that. I love the work for different reasons than I do those, which strike me as more profound. Tomato, tomahto.