May 5, 2022
It's easy to forget that Mahler, for all of his ubiquitous success nowadays, was much better known as a conductor during his life than as a composer. He had basically one major success in his compositional career: a performance of his 8th symphony in Munich in 1910 that finally seemed to give him the approval he craved from the audience. But for much of his compositional life, Mahler was misunderstood. His symphonies were either too long, too dense, too confusing, too esoteric, too vulgar, too banal, lacking in sophistication, or had too MUCH sophistication - the list goes on and on. Mahler famously said in regards to his music that “my time will come” and it certainly has come, with regular performances of his music all around the world. But as we discuss the third movement of Mahler’s 9th symphony today, I want to keep reminding you that Mahler was really not a popular man. Even as a conductor, he had bitter enemies that drove him out of his position as the Director of the Vienna Court Opera in 1907. As a person, he could charitably be described as difficult, with moments of kindness followed by bouts of stony silence or fierce rages. Mahler was a complicated man, and it's perhaps in this third movement that we can learn so much about this side of Mahler that doesn’t get talked about as much - that bitter, sarcastic, nasty side of him that many choose to ignore, preferring to focus on the love and warmth that he instills into much of his music. In the third movement of his 9th symphony, Mahler seems to be letting out some of his rage and anger at the Viennese public, concerned in his mind only with intrigue and gossip, and those critics who trafficked in open Anti-Semitism in order to bring him down from his lofty perch. But amidst all of this, Mahler continually grasps for order throughout the movement, only to find it ripped away from him. This is the shortest movement of Mahler’s 9th symphony, but it is also the most dense. So today, we’ll talk about that bitter pill that is this movement, a movement that is nevertheless relentless in its search for beauty, form, and order. Join us!