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Life Arts    H4'ed 4/5/20

Mahler's Symphony #1 is So Beautiful, You Might Weep. Michael Tilson Thomas Explores Its Origins in Mahler's Youth

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Keeping Score | Gustav Mahler: Origins (FULL DOCUMENTARY AND CONCERT) The first of two episodes explores the roots of Gustav Mahler's music. SFS Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas journeys to rural Bohemia to rediscover the ...
(Image by YouTube, Channel: San Francisco Symphony)
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Above is the video referenced in the article, which I hope you enjoy as much as I did.

[Beethoven will make you feel powerful; Shostakovich will make you feel the fear of War; Mozart will make you feel joy; Bach will make you feel the presence of God; Villa Lobos will bring you to the Amazon.

Mahler will make your soul soar, and, at time, strike you so deeply and lyrically, you might just weep at the absolute beauty you are hearing. When Leonard Bernstein was on his death bed, he knew he was dying and asked for only one thing to be buried with him: the score of Gustave Mahler's Fifth Symphony]

Just released on YouTube a few days ago, Video producer and conductor Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Orchestra perform with his interspersed analysis this pristine pillar of modern music. I have written here on OEN many times about classical music, in particular the first of these articles, the Adagietto of the Fifth Symphony. Here is that one, with the headline video being a performance of the piece of music written about:

Gustave Mahler's Declaration of Love in the Adagietto Movement in his Fifth Symphony--click here

Michael Tilson Thomas went deep into the countrysides of the Czech Republic, Austria and Hungary, to show us Mahler's many compelling influences on his composition: the many military bands in his hometown as they assembled and then marched away, the rural musicians, the synagogue in which he and his family were members, the Catholic church in whose choir he sang in, and rough-hewn music he heard constantly in the tavern owned by his father, one of the few businesses allowed for Jews in the Hapsburg Empire. Also, let us include the presence of death and funeral mu, with 8 of his 13 siblings dying before they reached adulthood.

Honestly, I had forgotten how magnificent is this symphony, and in this emotional time, it has hit me like a ton of bricks, as well it should, and I don't mean in any negative way. In my mind, it was always overpowered by Mahler's Fifth Symphony. I love the way Michael Tilson Thomas uses no score as he conducts, and I love the way Mahler tells all of us in this, his first symphony, the very clear existential message that, yes, everything and anything is still possible, with our intellect and our focus and our effort, even in what we will term The Pandemic Era.

Symphony No. 1 was primarily composed between late 1887 and March 1888, though it expands on music that Mahler had composed for previous works, including the vastly lyrical (and let us even say "existential") Songs from the Earth and Songs for a Wayfarer.

Some conductors and scholars have titled this piece "Titan," despite the fact that Mahler only used this label for the second and third performances, and never after the work had reached its finalized 4-movement form in 1896.

It was composed while Mahler was second conductor at the Leipzig Opera in Germany. In Mahler's letters, he always referred to the work as a symphony, but the first two performances were termed "symphonic poem." It was premièred in 1889 in Budapest.

Mahler made some revisions for the second performance, given at Hamburg in October 1893; and more changes were made in the years before the first publication, at the end of 1898.


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