Friday, June 8, 2012

Mahler's Tenth

Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) close to the end.
The subject of this post is Deryck Cooke's original 1960 Radio Programme describing Mahler's Unfinished Tenth Symphony. It would be very difficult for me to estimate the personal impact this programme made on a mere lad of 9 years old who was interested in finding out about music and especially about composition and to discover a composer whose music from this last unfinished work has dazzled ever since. It was rebroadcast in my area a few weeks after it was first aired.

It's been over 50 years now. This unfinished symphony of Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) is a composition that I return to from time to time to assess my bearings in a world that has since changed so dramatically. This music now strikes one as perhaps loaded with antique longings and nostalgia for a different time; a longing for that which cannot possibly be reclaimed. One easily forgets that about the time this work was written (1911) the world was teetering on the brink of the Great War that Mahler would thankfully not live to see, and this final symphony is filled with the atonality that would affect music for the next hundred years.

Combined with all that caused tragedy and regret, all the pains and poisons of life, the final triumphant recapture of the original key (F Sharp Major) in which this very difficult symphony was written, written against time, impending death and not completed, it's amazing that enough of it was there to make the best completion possible under the circumstances. These days we are treated to the best possible renditions of this work by the likes of Simon Rattle and the Berliner Philharmoniker. Someone I have known for many years once out of the blue, not knowing I had any interest in Mahler, said he had acquired one of the only original manuscripts to this symphony. Did he know this work? How could he have possibly known the special place this music holds in my heart?

I've known this music now for most of my life: it's so familiar to me that I can easily call to mind most of it and some of it recurs at particular times, like the opening enigmatic theme or the beautiful ländler theme in the 2nd movement, the tortured romanticism of the 4th movement or the final climax of the finale. Have a listen to the first widely circulated presentation of this remarkable music as it was put together by Deryck Cooke, a true champion of art, music which I have loved dearly for most of my life.

Deryck Cooke in 1960
UPDATE 8 December 2012:

For those who might prefer an even more detailed description of this stupendous symphony which helps explain much of what's really going on within it, I suggest this page from Classical Podcasts:  Symphony #10 in F Sharp Major (1911)   You may find much else on this website to like, or not.    


1 comment:

  1. Your post really helped me to understand about this. It has great details and yet it is easy to understand.That's what i was looking for. I will definitely share it with others.Thanks for sharing.

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