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April 13, 1971 - Image 2

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1971-04-13

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Poge Two


Tuesday, April 13, 1971


Iahler on Columbia: Listening experience

Gustav M a h i e r (1860-1911)
dreaded writing a ninth sym-
pathy. Aware that he was the
heir of the Viennese symphonic
tradition, and that his prede'.
cessors Beethoven, Schubert and
Bruckner died just before or just
after writing their ninth sym-
phonies, Mahler was not about
to take any chances. It did not
faze him that Mozart completed
41 symphonies, or Haydn well
over 100. Nope, his hang-up was
Number Nine. After he had fin-
ished -his Eighth, threrefore,
poor Mahler had to find some
way to stave off his fate. The
question was, how could be write
a ninth symphony without writ-
ing a ninth symphony?
Mahler's solution was curious.
He had begun work on a sym-
phonic song cycle which at first
he called "Symphony No. 9."
But one day, feeling superstiti-

ous, he crossed this number out
and instead called the cycle Das
Lied von der Erde (Song of the
Earth). When he was working
on his next symphonic compo-
sition, which we know today as
his Ninth Symphony, he an-
nounced almost confidently to
his wife Alma, "Actually, of
course,- it's the Tenth, because
Das Lied von der Erde was real-
ly the Ninth." Finally when he
was in the process of composing
his Tenth Symphony (or, to
Mahler's thinking, the Eleventh)
he breathed a sigh of relief.
"Now the danger is past!"
Unfortunately, the fates were
not quite so favorably impressed
w i t h Mahler's nomenclatural
connivings. He collapsed after
conducting the newly founded
New York Philharmonic in a
performance of Beethoven's Sev-
enth on Feb. 21, 1911. His illness
was diagnosed as a streptococ-

Gustav swings at Hill

The University Symphony Or-
chestra, under Theo Alcantara,
gave its last major concert of
the year Saturday night in Hill
Auditorium. Warming up with
Mozart's Impresario overture,
which could have been handled
more lightly, both in the play-
ing and through the reduction
of forces, the orchestra quickly
came to the heart of the pro-
gram-, the Symphony No. 1 in
D by Gustav Mahler.
It was exciting to hear, fin-
ally, the kind of playing that
the orchestra proved capable of
back in September,with Tschai-
kowsky's 4th, but for one reason
or another failed to produce for
most of its other concerts. Here,
though, everything Jelled into a
sensitive and crisp performance
that was never lacking in inter-
The tempos taken by Alcan-
tara were frequently exaggerat-
ed, however; which often work-
ed to the detriment of the per-
formance. The first movement
started out well enough, but as
the end approached, such a
breakneck speed had been
reached that there was real-
ly nowhere left to go, and what
could have been a dramatic fin-
ish went by in a blur of sound
before one could tell w h a t
had happened.
The second movement suf-
fered similarly from going over
the speed limit clearly indicated
by Mahler - "nicht zu schnell."
His 3/4 movements should n o
sound like Beethoven scherzos,
they are laendlers, and Mahler
has orchestrated them heavily
as well. The trio, consequently,

seemed slower than it otherwise
would have. On the other hand,
ritards 'in the slow movement
were taken to almost a complete
standstill, and'while this did not
actually disturb the flow of the
line, which was sustained and
controlled, the effect was not to
this listener's taste. One also
wished that the high point of
this movement, the marvelous
glissandi in the violins, had been
played with more abandon and
gypsy flavor; it would have giv-
en some contrast to the tongue-
in-cheek funeral mrch quality
that pervades the rest o fthe
The gigantic, tempestuous fin-
ale was, on the whole, excel-
lent, and one found little to take
issue with. Alcantara let inner
voices come through, and solo
lines were clear and well exe-
cuted, as they were throughout
the symphony. The trumpets de-
serve special mention for their
uncanny precision and accuracy
of pitch. The horns, for whom
Mahler has written virtuoso pas-
sages, should also be commend-
ed; in fortissimo sections the ef-
fect was quite stunning.
In all, despite the liberties of
tempo, it was a thrilling per-
formance of a work whose qual-
ities have long been praised.
One may find the movement too
lengthy, perhaps, but the sym-
phony is actually short for Mah-
ler - only an hour.
* * *
Two more orchestra concerts
will be presented this week:
the University Philharmonia will
play Wednesday, and the Sym-
phony will be back on Friday
along with the Contemporary
Directions Ensehmble for a pro-
gram of new music.

cus blood infection, which to-
gether with his grave valvular
heart defect, proved to be over-
whelming. He went to Paris for
serum treatment, and then to
Vienna, where he died May 18.
Although the first movement of
his Tenth Symphony was scored
and the rest recently has been
constructed from sketches, the
Ninth is the last completed
Mahler symphony.
Superstitiousness, such as fear
of writing a ninth symphony, is
really atypical of Mahler, who
was not only a brilliant, level-
headed intellect in music, but
held his own in other fields as
well (Physicists of his day were
impressed how well he could
talk shop with them). Concern
with death, on the other hand,
was not only typical of Mahler,
it was a neurotic obsession with
him. Even as a little kid, when
he was asked what lie wanted
to be when he grew up he re-
plied, "I want to be a martyr!"
There are good reasons why he
should have felt this way which
I will not go into here. Suffice
it to say that suffering and
death permeated his whole life
and personality, and what's
m o r e important, it permeated
his music. Recognizing this is
important f o r understanding
Mahler's music.
All the symphonies-perhaps
excepting the popular First and
Fourth, the most graceful, fresh,
and harmless ones - confront
the problem of death. The open-
ing movements of the Second,
Third, Fifth, and Seventh are
funeral marches to varying de-
grees. They are "solved" by up-
swinging final movements (in
the Second there is even a resur-
rection). The Sixth Symphony,
on the other hand, is one of n-
creasing and culminating trag-
edy. In the Eighth (the famous
Symphony of a Thousand)
Mahler counts his blessings and
we are innundated by a joyous,
frenetic torrent of sound. Here
he chooses to solve death by
affirming life.
Now we can set the stage for
the Ninth. In 1907 Mahler was
dealt two tragic blows. First,
his young daughter Marie died,
of scarlet fever. Afterwards a
doctor was summoned for his
distraught wife Alma, and Mah-
ler jokingly asked that he be
examined too. The verdict: ser-
ious heart disease. Mahler had
to give up his cherished swim-
ming and bicycling, though he
continued to conduct. Wife
Alma relates, ". . . he had a
pedometer in his pocket. His
steps were numbered and his
life a torment. The summer
(1908) was the saddest we ever
spent, or were to spend together.
Every excursion, every attempt
at distraction was a failure.
Grief and anxiety pursued us
wherever we went." Against this
8-1 1p.m.
GUYS $1.00

backdrop Mahler composed his
Symphony No. 9.
Columbia r e c e n t 1 y reissued
Bruno Walter's second reading
of the Mahler Ninth Symphony
with the Columbia Symphony
Orchestra on the budget Odyssey
label (Odyssey Y2-30308). Mah-
ler's Ninth is a member of the
so-called "Farewell Trilogy" of
symphonic works (Das Lied von
der Erde, Symphony No. 9, and
the unfinished Symphony No.
10). Mahler wrote all three
knowing he was living on bor-
rowed time. In the Ninth there
is a special air of resignation,
somewhat akin to the late Bee-
thoven quartets. For those who
see Mahler as grandiloquent,
let's say that this symphony is
less grand and more eloquent
than most of his other works.
The orchestra palette is rich and
flashy as those of any of his
contemporaries. The 'symphony
is a fountain of brilliant and
bursting sound, yet paradoxical-
ly a quality of intense intro-
spection is maintained. The or-
chestral texture is transparent
throughout (1 a r g e orchestras
don't have to sound muddy).
Mahler even dispenses with a
large orchestra as he employs
solo horns, violin, viola, oboe,
flute and picollo for an ethereal
effect toward the end of the
first movement.
This movement opens with a
rhythmic death motif which is
played in alternation with a
soaring, lyric "life" melody.
Shostakovitch (Symphony No.
8) and Berg use this motif in
their own music. Berg himself
has said that this movement
... is the most heavenly thing
Mahler ever wrote. It is an ex-
pression of an exceptional fond-
ness for this earth, the longing
to live in peace on it, to enjoy
nature to its depths - before
D'eath comes. . . The whole

movement is permeated by pre-
monitions of death. Again and
again it crops up; all the ele-
ments of terrestrial dreaming
culminate in it."
Bruno Walter first recorded
the Ninth in Vienna in 1938,
but, dissatisfied with it, he re-
recorded it for Columbia (Col.
D3L-344) in January, 1961, when
he was 84 (This was one of his
last recordings, for he died the
next year). Walter's more gen-
eral role in Mahler's Ninth de-
serves special mention here. He
was Mahler's very close friend
and confidant; their association
began in 1894 when the 18-
year-old Walter became Mah-
ler's understudy in conducting
at the Hamburg Opera. Later he
joined his mentor in Vienna at
the Imperial Opera and stayed
on after Mahler left for New
York in 1907. Mahler had high
regard for Walter's talent, and
it was Walter to whom Alma
Mahler entrusted her late hus-
band's Ninth Symphony. It was
premiered posthumously in Vi-
enna in June, 1912, with Walter
conducting. Because of Walter's
intimate association with Mah-
ler and this symphony, the Co-
lumbia/Odyssey release assumes
a significance beyond that of
the fine musical material etched
on the discs. These recordings
are the next best things to hav-
ing Mahler conducting the work
This is not to minimize other
recordings of the Ninth. For the
last 15 years Mahler has been
rising, and is still rising, to his
rightful place in music history.
Accompanying a n d promoting
this rise has been a deluge of
recordings. For example, there
are now available at least eight
other readings of the Ninth
alone (Abravanel, Barbarolli,
Bernstein, Horenstein, Klem-
perer, Kondraskin, Kubelik, and

Solti) whereas in 1962 there
were only three. The Horenstein
is rather romantic and has es-
pecially clear texture. Solti is
excellent, and the Bernstein is
flashy and glamorous with the
precision New York Philhar-
Walter's discs feature soft
lines, common in a lot of his
other work. He is especially
good in the second (Laendler)
movement, where there is good,
vigorous string playing (Colum-
bia relates that at recording
sessions Walter was so enthrall-
ed by the rhythm in this move-
ment that he kept inadventently
stomping his foot, forcing them
to do many retakes). Unfor-
tunately the recorded interview
with Walter and the rehearsal
of the Ninth (from which comes
the anecdote) are not included
with the Odyssey, but you can't
have everything.
I recommend Walter's Ninth
Symphony on Odyssey, especial-
ly to those' of you who don't
yet have the Ninth and don't
enjoy cleaning out your entire
wallet every time you buy a rec-
ord (especially a Mahler sym-
phony). At $2.98 a disc (two
discs), it is half the price of the
original Columbia, and the re-
cording and performance are
good. Furthermore, you have a
great a r t i s t conducting his
friend's finest work, a work
which is one of the culminating
achievements of Western music.

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