MAHLER: Symphony No. 1, 'Titan' (Beata Jankowska/ Michael Halasz/ Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra) (Naxos: 8.550522)
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Gustav Mahler (1860 - 1911 )
Symphony No.1 in D Major "Titan"
Feierlich und gemessen, ohne zu schleppen
Blumine (original 2nd movement)
The great Viennese symphonic tradition found worthy successorsin two composers of very different temperament and background, Anton Bruckner and GustavMahler. The latter, indeed, extended the form in an extraordinary way that has had afar-reaching effect on the course of Western music.
Mahler was to express succinctly enough his position in theworld. He saw himself as three times homeless, a native of Bohemia in Austria, an Austrianamong Germans and a Jew throughout the whole world. The second child, and the first offourteen to survive, he was born in Kaliste in Bohemia. Soon after his birth his familymoved to Jihlava, where his father, by his own very considerable efforts, had raisedhimself from being little more than a pedlar, with a desire for intellectualself-improvement, to the running of a tavern and distillery. Mahler's musical abilitieswere developed first in Jihlava, before a brief period of schooling in Prague, which endedunhappily, and a later course of study at the Conservatory in Vienna, where he turned fromthe piano to composition and, as a necessary corollary, conducting.
It was as a conductor that Mahler made his career, at first ata series of provincial opera-houses, and later in the position of the highest distinctionof all, when, in 1897, he became Kapellmeister of the Vienna Hofoper, two months after hisbaptism as a Catholic, a necessary preliminary. In Vienna he made significant reforms inthe Court Opera, but made enough enemies, particularly represented in the anti-semiticpress, to lead to his resignation in 1907, followed by a final period conducting inAmerica and elsewhere, in a vain attempt to secure his family's future before his ownimminent death, which took place on 18th May, 1911.
Although his career as a conductor involved him most closelywith opera, Mahler attempted little composition in this field. His work as a composerconsists chiefly of his songs and of his ten symphonies, the last left unfinished at hisdeath, and his monumental setting of poems from the Chinese in Das Lied von der Erde.
Mahler's Symphony No.1 in D
Major was completed, in its first version, in 1888, incredibly enough five years beforeDvorak's Symphony From the New World and only five years after the last symphony ofBrahms. It was first performed the following year in Budapest, where Mahler had beenappointed director of the Hungarian opera, before an audience that became increasinglyrestive as the work proceeded.
For the symphony Mahler had drawn up a programme, although hestrongly believed that, whatever literary programme might lie behind a composition, themusic should be able to stand on its own, without verbal explanation. No narrative elementwas given to the first audience in Budapest, but later performances were at first helpedby a sketched description of the work:
From the days of youth - Flower, Fruit and Thorn-pieces
(Blumen, Fr??chte und Dornenst??cke)
1. Spring and no end to it.
The introduction describes the awakening of nature and earliestdawn.
2. Bluminenkapitel (Andante)
3. In full sail (Scherzo)
4. Shipwrecked. A dead march in the manner of Callot. Thefollowing explanation may be given, if required: The composer found the externalinspiration for this piece in a satirical picture well known to all children in SouthGermany, The Huntsman's Funeral, from an old book of children's stories. The animals ofthe forest escort the body of the dead forester to the grave. Hares carry a little flag,with a band of Bohemian village musicians in front, accompanied by cats, toads, crows, andso on, playing, and by stags, does, foxes and other four-footed and feathered denizens ofthe forest, in comic guise. Here the music is intended to express ironic jestingalternating with mysterious brooding. This is followed immediately by:
5. Dall'inferno al Paradiso (Allegro furioso), the suddenexpression of the feelings of a deeply wounded heart.
The symphony, originally a symphonic poem, although withouttitle, has a more explicit literary source in the work of Jean Paul, an early Romanticwriter whose Flegeljahre had had a strong influence on the young Schumann. Theprogrammatic titles of the first two movements are taken from Jean Paul, whose connectionwith the seventeenth century French artist Jacques Callot is seen in his preface to E. T.
A. Hoffmann's Phantasiest??cke in Callots Manier. In short the symphony, in common withMahler's early songs, has its literary inspiration in writing of the earliest romantics,in the curiously grotesque ironical world of Jean Paul and in the evocative Des KnabenWunderhorn of Brentano and von Arnim. The later title of the work, Titan, refers not tothe struggle between the ancient gods of Greece so much as to the novel of that name byJean Paul, in which two "titans" or Himmelsst??rmer, struggle for their aims ofintellectual freedom or pleasure.
The first movement opens with a slow section in which fanfarespierce the summer morning mists, suggesting pictorially the ideas of Mahler's earlier songGing heut' Morgen ??ber's Feld, the melody of which provides the firstsubject. The slower music returns, but nothing is done to dispel the mood of happyserenity, although, as the movement hurries forward again, we may be aware of more tragicimplications, Dornenst??cke. A scherzofollows, with a Schubertian trio, completing the first section.
After a pause the second part of the symphony opens with asolemn funeral march, making satirical use of a minor version of the children's song FrereJacques, and easily intelligible in terms of the composer's explanation. Use is also madeof Mahler's song Die zwei blaue Augen in music of bitter contrast andheartfelt anguish.
The last movement, to which the Italian explanatory title waslater added, is one of great dramatic intensity. Audiences unfamiliar with the work mightwell be warned by the example of the first performance in Budapest, when a woman jumpedout of her seat in alarm as the movement began, an incident that caused the composer someamusement. A march leads to a more lyrical melody, before a renewed storm of sound, inmusic that is, as Mahler was to claim, a world in itself.
For the first three performances of his first symphony Mahlerincluded a second movement Andante, later tobe discarded. The modern re-discovery of this Bluminemovement in 1966 by the Mahler scholar Donald Mitchell led to a performance thefollowing year at Aldeburgh under the direction of Benjamin Britten. For various reasonsDonald Mitchell was able to identify this lyrical and romantic movement with its extendedtrumpet melody with music that Mahler had written in 1884 as part of his now lostincidental music for performances at Cassel of Joseph Scheffel's popular Der Trompeter von Sakkingen, a work that in itsmetre must suggest the verse of Longfellow to an English-speaking reader. The hero blowsthe trumpet, the sound of which is heard through the night, heard by the Rhine and thespirits of the river, carried by the wind to the castle of his master.