Sunday, September 15, 2013

The First Symphony sets out the modus operandi for Mahler's symphonic career

MAHLER: Songs of a Wayfarer:
No. 4, "Die zwei blauen Augen" ("The two blue eyes")

Thomas Allen sings the last of Mahler's Wayfarer Songs, "Die zwei blauen Augen" ("The two blue eyes"), with Václav Neumann conducting the Mahler Youth Orchestra, in Frankfurt's Alte Oper, 1991.

Christa Ludwig, mezzo-soprano; Philharmonia Orchestra, Sir Adrian Boult, cond. EMI, recorded Oct. 18, 1958

Maureen Forrester, contralto; Boston Symphony Orchestra, Charles Munch, cond. RCA-BMG, recorded Dec. 28, 1958

Thomas Quasthoff, baritone; Vienna Philharmonic, Pierre Boulez, cond. DG, recorded June 2003

by Ken

In Friday night's preview, preparing for today's assault on the Mahler First Symphony, we heard, or rather reheard, the transformation Mahler wrought to transform the second of his four Songs of a Wayfarer into the exposition of the symphony's first movement, something we first heard in the March 2012 preview post "From song to symphony -- the journey of Mahler's lonely wayfarer," when we were tackling the Wayfarer Songs. In another preview post a couple of weeks later we listened to the transformation of the second section of the final Wayfarer Song, "Die zwei blauen Augen" ("The two blue eyes"), which we just hear complete, into the haunting central section of the third movement of the First Symphony. As I also mentioned, we've also heard the second movement of the First, meaning that the only thing that will be (mostly) new for us is the Finale.


LET'S DIG RIGHT IN WITH THE FIRST MOVEMENT

i. Langsam. Schleppend (Slow. Dragging)

The first thing to note in the Mahler First is the first thing we hear: the way Mahler grabs our attention: first with those string harmonics, most of them at the top of their ranges -- perhaps eerie, perhaps shimmery; then those falling fourths from piccolo-oboe-clarinets, answered by falling fourths from flutes-English horn-bass clarinet, answered in turn by oboe-bassoons; descending to a fanfare-like figure for low-range clarinets (eventually we'll hear this taken up by actual trumpets, but we have to be patient); and so on, including those cuckoo-like descending figures --  eventually building up into . . . well, something.



Vienna Philharmonic, Lorin Maazel, cond. CBS-Sony, recorded Oct. 3-4, 1985

What it's all building up into is the outbreak of the surprisingly congenial -- surprising given the kinds of musical materials we've been hearing -- exposition, which is where we encounter the Wayfarer song "Ging heut' Morgen übers Feld," as we heard in Friday night's preview, and now hear again in two different performances.

MAHLER: Songs of a Wayfarer:
No. 2, "Ging heut' Morgen übers Feld"
("Went this morning across the field")


Yvonne Minton, mezzo-soprano; Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Sir Georg Solti, cond. Decca, recorded Mar.-Apr. 1970

Andreas Schmidt, baritone; Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Jesus Lopez-Cobos, cond. Teldec, recorded Apr. 30-May 1, 1991

Now let's hear the rest of the first movement of the First Symphony:


Vienna Philharmonic, Lorin Maazel, cond. CBS-Sony, recorded Oct. 3-4, 1985

And now here's the whole movement, played first by the Solti-Chicago team we just heard in the song, and then in a later Chicago Symphony performance conducted by Klaus Tennstedt, considerably broader than the other Tennstedt performances I'm familiar with.

MAHLER: Symphony No. 1 in D:
i. Langsam. Schleppend



Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Sir Georg Solti, cond. Decca, recorded October 1983

Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Klaus Tennstedt, cond. EMI, recorded live, May-June 1990


ii. Kräftig bewegt, doch nicht zu schnell
(Powerfully animated, but not too fast)

We first heard the Ländler movement of the Mahler first in the preview post, "Do I hear a Ländler?," that set the stage for the December 2012 post on the Mahler Ninth Symphopny, "Parting, though not without a struggle -- with 'an increasingly calm acceptance of fate' ," which also contains a Ländler movement.
Before we continue, perhaps we ought to make sure we know what a Ländler is.
The ländler is a folk dance in 3/4 time which was popular in Austria, south Germany, German Switzerland, and Slovenia at the end of the 18th century.

It is a dance for couples which strongly features hopping and stamping. It was sometimes purely instrumental and sometimes had a vocal part, sometimes featuring yodeling. -- Wikipedia
There is a Ländler, as it happens, in Mahler's First Symphony. Here it is in the recording the 84-year-old Bruno Walter made during the same time period -- late January and early February of 1961 -- as [his] recording of the Ninth Symphony . . . .
Here's the Bruno Walter performance again, and a very different one, significantly broader, from Leonard Bernstein's last recording of the symphony.

MAHLER: Symphony No. 1 in D
ii. Kräftig bewegt, doch nicht zu schnell
(Powerfully animated, but not too fast)


Columbia Symphony Orchestra, Bruno Walter, cond. Columbia-CBS-Sony, recorded Jan.-Feb. 1961

Concertgebouw Orchestra (Amsterdam), Leonard Bernstein, cond. DG, recorded live, October 1987


iii. Feierlich und gemessen, ohne zu schleppen
(Solemn and measured, without dragging)

Mahler shows his flair for mockery with the opening of the third movement, with the double basses' minor-key rendering of "Frère Jacques." But then comes the transformation I mentioned earlier -- of the second section of the Wayfarer song "Die zwei blauen Augen" into the movement's central section. As I also mentioned, we first heard this transformation and this movement when we were listening our way through the Wayfarer Songs, in this case in the April 2012 preview post ""By the street stands a linden tree" -- Mahler's Wayfarer Songs, part 2," which I described as "still more remarkable" than the recycling of "Ging heut' Morgen übers Feld" into the first-movement exposition theme. I also called it "surpassingly beautiful," and "a life-changing moment, at least for the narrator" of the song.

So let's listen again to this chunk of the song in the piano-accompanied original, in the orchestral version, and then the symphonic rendering.

Piano-accompanied version of the song section

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone; Leonard Bernstein, piano. CBS/Sony, recorded in New York, 1968
Orchestral version of the song section

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone; Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Rafael Kubelik, cond. DG, recorded December 1968
Symphonic rendering of the song section

Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Rafael Kubelik, cond. DG, recorded October 1967

Boston Symphony Orchestra, Erich Leinsdorf, cond. RCA/BMG, recorded Oct. 10-11, 1962

Now here's the complete third movement:

MAHLER: Symphony No. 1 in D:
iii. Feierlich und gemessen, ohne zu schleppen
(Solemn and measured, without dragging)



Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Rafael Kubelik, cond. DG, recorded October 1967

Boston Symphony Orchestra, Erich Leinsdorf, cond. RCA/BMG, recorded Oct. 10-11, 1962


iv. Stürmisch bewegt
(Stormily animated)

The Finale of the First Symphony is the prototype for most of Mahler's vastly encompassing symphonic finales. Here's a quick summary by Michael Kennedy:
The Finale begins with a cymbal clash and a rending cry from woodwind and brass. Themes from the first movement return, particularly the march, and precipitate a fierce struggle which is calmed by a long and romantic melody. The march becomes a processional melody and the storm and stress return. So, with a startling reversion to D major, does the first-movement introduction. Gradually all tensions are swept away by a triumphal chorale for the horns and an emphatic reaffirmation of the binding power of the fourth.
We're going to hear two recordings made by the Boston Symphony, 25 years apart. As I've mentioned, not only was the Leinsdorf my first recording of the Mahler First, and probably still my favorite, but the performances that preceded it (specifically the one at the old unimproved Brooklyn Academy of Music) gave me my first hearing of any music by Mahler. Leinsdorf's Mahler recordings (of the First, Third, Fifth, and Sixth Symphonies) seem to me much underrated, and so too the complete cycle recorded by Seiji Ozawa.

MAHLER: Symphony No. 1 in D:
iv. Stürmisch bewegt (Stormily animated)



Boston Symphony Orchestra, Erich Leinsdorf, cond. RCA-BMG, recorded Oct. 21-22, 1962

Boston Symphony Orchestra, Seiji Ozawa, cond. Philips, recorded October 1987


An All-Tennstedt Mahler First Symphony

Naturally we want to hear the symphony put back together, and I thought we'd do it in the form of an "all-Tennstedt" Mahler First, starting with his 1977 EMI studio recording (as I've said a number of times, I think his studio Mahler recordings are widely underrated), and then a movement each from three live performances.

MAHLER: Symphony No. 1 in D

i. Langsam. Schleppend (Slow. Dragging)


London Philharmonic Orchestra. EMI, recorded October 1977

ii. Kräftig bewegt, doch nicht zu schnell
(Powerfully animated, but not too fast)

NDR (North German Radio) Symphony Orchestra. Live performance, Nov. 14, 1977

iii. Feierlich und gemessen, ohne zu schleppen
(Solemn and measured, without dragging)

London Philharmonic Orchestra. LPO, recorded live, Feb. 12, 1985

iv. Stürmisch bewegt (Stormily animated)

Chicago Symphony Orchestra. EMI, recorded live, May-June 1990

All conducted by Klaus Tennstedt


The Mahler First's dangling
musical participle: "Blumine"

It's tempting to say that the First was Mahler's first and only "normal" four-movement symphony, and by the time he finished with it, it was, but it didn't start that way. The original conception was for a grander nature poem in two parts to be called Titan, with elaborate titles for each part and catchy movement headings like "Spring and no end" for the first. Mahler had second thoughts, though, and threw out all the fancy verbiage and left the piece in the four-movement form we know. (He even stripped away the title Titan, though it's ritually reattached to the symphony.)

For all that, though, all we lost was about seven or eight minutes of music, in the form of an Andante movement called "Blumine: A chapter of flowers," which appeared between the opening movement and the Ländler movement. It is, as you'll hear, a beautiful little memory-nostalgia set piece, but if you hear any kinship between it and anything else in the symphony, please tell me about it.

Naturally "Blumine" has by now been recorded a bunch of times. Most often it's heard in place between the first and second movements, as is done in the Wyn Morris recording below, which attempts to re-create the original 1893 form of the piece. In the Chandos recording, though, it's offered on its own as an appendix.


Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Neeme Järvi, cond. Chandos, recorded Nov. 15-16, 1993

New Philharmonia Orchestra, Wyn Morris, cond. Pye-EMI, Sept. 7-8, 1970

(For the record, Morris's broad "Blumine" is followed by a bat-out-of-hell Ländler.)
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