Listening Guide – Symphony No. 9 Intro


With the Ninth Mahler returns to a purely orchestral Symphony, after having succeeded in integrating chorus and orchestra in his Eighth, and the genres of the song cycle and Symphony and Das Lied von der Erde, Mahler turns his attention to the purely abstract orchestral music of his middle period symphonies to express the dark thoughts of death that enveloped him during his last years.
Still an active conductor, Mahler made ambitious plans for the future, yet he must have realized that his health was waning. Although mortality was a burning issue for Mahler throughout most of his life with Das Lied, his manner of expression became more intensely personal and deeply philosophical thoughts of his own death motivated greater desperation in his obsessive search for meaning and value in human existence as a justification for having to endure unwarranted suffering, which leads only to the grave. Although the manner of musical expression remains deeply subjective, Mahler seems to reach a new level of abstraction in the ninth as he surveys the world of human pathos, as if from a distant plane. Most commentators see the ninth as Mahler’s farewell to life, and recognize that like Das Lied it focuses upon death, but in the ninth Mahler seems more intent on expressing the negative side of the issue, representing the problem of human mortality from a new perspective. -Musical references to Das Lied that appear in the ninth are by no means a concession that the problem had been definitely resolved in the previous work. So in the ninth, Mahler begins yet again, to explore both the positive and negative sides of human life in order to find sustainable meaning and value in the face of inevitable death.

– Did Derek Cook called the symphony Mahler’s dark night of the soul, adding that it marks Mahler’s furthermost descent into the hell of despair? According to cook, “death is confronted on a naked existential plane and is seen as omnipotent“.
– Hans Redlich believed “that Mahler’s attitude toward his final three symphonies was morbid, contradictory, and at times almost pathological”. He did much to perpetuate the myth that Mahler instinctively felt his last music was his own death warrant.
– Paul Becker suggested that the ninth could be called “what death tells me”. After the fashion of the titles, Mahler initially gave to the movements of his Third Symphony.
– Gartenberg and Barford consider the ninth Mahler’s death and transfiguration Symphony.
– Carl H. Verner likens it to Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique Symphony in both its overall form and substance, a comparison Mahler probably would have found disturbing since he thought Tchaikovsky’s music shallow for the most part.
– Donald Mitchell explored the symphony’s close relationship to another death-oriented work, Kindertotenlieder.
– Bernt Schopenhauer refers to a vague Death Mystique that he believes permeates the symphony.
– Leonard Bernstein in his Norton lectures delivered at Harvard College went so far as to suggest that Mahler’s ninth was a prophetic vision of the horrors of the 20th century, ending in fervent prayer for salvation from the terrible destruction that could soon be visited upon humankind.
– Considered in this context, Constantine Floros’ viewpoint seems overly positive, in which he said, “in spite of the underlying mood of farewell and mourning, the work displays magnificent constructive to tonic strength, which justifies referring to it as the first example of new music”, unquote.

Those who interpret the ninth as a symphony about death in one manifestation or another, usually support their position by suggesting that in the finale, Mahler becomes resigned to his fate, just as he did at the end of Das Lied. I believe that the ninth is neither merely about death, nor does it end in tragic resignation to fate. Being a Nietzschean in temperament, Mahler had a profound love of life, as Das Lied makes evident, but he was haunted by the paradox of humanity’s endless suffering and incessant striving for goals that were then without fulfillment. As an existential artist, he felt the absurdity of this paradox acutely during the last years of his life. As he became more aware of his own imminent death, Mahler continued to grapple with the life death paradox in his music until the very end. He did not fear death as the conveyor of endless tortures in eternal hellfire, but as the end of living, the total loss of the consciousness of life’s wonder, and the thrill of the creative drive is raised on death row, he desperately needed to reconcile death as finality with the trials and tribulations he suffered in order to find meaning and value in his own life, and thereby redeem its true worth. In this respect, he was modern man writ large, caught up in life’s senseless turmoil, subjected to endless suffering, and living without ground, without ultimate meaning or purpose.

In Das Lied, Mahler does not merely resign himself to death as a tragic conclusion to a meaningless life, but accepts human mortality as part of life that will continue as the words in Das Lied put it to blossom forth in spring, eternally.

In the ninth, Mahler again confronts the terrible visions of the graveyard scene described in the Trinklied movement of Das Lied. This time he conjures up such angst ridden thoughts, not in an idealized time and place, but in his own world, which itself was dying from its own decadence, in an orgy of senseless self indulgence, found a Sacred Vienna and the European musical tradition, both of which he loved dealing with showing visible signs of impending demise. Radical sociological, psychological and artistic ideas began to take hold around the turn of the last century, Mahler was well aware of them, even if he did not accept them completely. Yet his wayward treatment of traditional musical principles could be said to have fostered the development of modern music that was soon to overthrow much of the established standards of composition he still accepted. Although Mahler gave a nod to these developments, as release of the creative urge, the thought for example, of the end of tonality would probably have troubled him.

Thus Mahler witnessed with great concern what could be a prophetic vision of the impending demise of both civilization and musical tradition, both of which he loved, and this too became a source for the drama that unfolds in the ninth. It may be more worthy of Mahler’s deep love of life to approach the ninth not as a symphony about death as much as a farewell to life.
For Mahler’s creative life is infused in the symphony, which summarizes much of his output, both stylistically and through the use of numerous references to his previous works. As in most of his purely orchestral symphonies, the outer movements contain the principal musical arguments:

– The first movement establishes the basic issues to be resolved in the finale.
– The second movement opposes traditional European, particularly Austrian dances against each other, as symbolic of conflicting societal characteristics.
– In the third movement, the sting of Mahler’s sarcasm in the bite of his para distinct width is most apparent.

But unlike nearly all of his previous symphonies, with the sole exception of the third, Mahler ends the ninth with a slow movement, neither a triumphant conclusion, nor an apotheosis, but a fervent prayer for the survival of the human spirit, subjected to the destructive power of negative forces within it. That prayer will conclude not in hopeless resignation, but with an acceptance of life that encompasses its negative as well as positive aspects, and thereby recalls the underlying philosophy of Das Lied.

It is not that Mahler concludes the ninth with a slow movement that makes this Symphony so structurally advanced, but that he also begins it with a slow movement. Thus, the two outer movements that contain the main existential argument of the work are set an uncharacteristically slow pace. The two middle movements are more typically Mahlerian in approach, functioning as diversions from the intensity of the opening movement, and containing thematic and motivic material that will be transformed in the finale. Mahler even relates the ninth to its immediate predecessor, Das Lied von der Erde through several melodic and multivac references. He also recalls earlier works with identifiable musical material that connects them to what is happening in the ninth at a given moment.
The opening measures of the third movement present a catalog of fragments from earlier Mahler symphonies. In the second movement, popular dances from country and city life, are set against each other, much as they were in the scherzos of the fourth and fifth symphonies.

Mahler’s pension for marches is not absent here either. Rather a tepid March that skips a beat forms the first subject of the opening movement. A wild scherzo recalls the corresponding movements of the fifth and seventh symphonies. Even the prayer-like finale harkens back to the finale of the Third Symphony, as in the Fifth, Mahler attempts to connect the last two movements dramatically by applying the technique of dramatic transformation, so as to completely re characterize the connecting theme. In all these respects the ninth could be considered a musical retrospective on Mahler’s compositional history that looks back to stylegicly get sometimes bitterly upon his all too short career. hastily written scrolls on his manuscripts indicate his state of mind during the composition, “all vanished days of youth, all scattered love”, he writes.
Yet the objective side of his compositional style is increasing interest in Wagnerian polyphony with its fascinating into woven textures is also apparent in this simple, particularly in the third movement. Over that movements, title page Mahler wrote meine Brüder in Apollo, my brothers in Apollo with this Nietzschean dedication, Mahler undoubtedly intended to convey the importance of the Apollonian or objective aspect of music apparent in its complex polyphony.

On another level, the ninth might be considered a farewell to tonality. Mahler had already experimented with such modernisms as by tonality in Das Lied. Of course from the first he was attracted to Wagnerian principles that sought to break the constraints of traditional tonality. But his compositional style remained firmly grounded in traditional tonal concepts, even if he frequently broke free from them to achieve a particular dramatic effect, and parted with them completely in terms of his overall ground plan, when it suited his purposes. The tonal overview of the ninth might be described as progressive tonality, or perhaps more aptly regressive tonality.
The ninth begins in D major, and ends in D flat major, a half step lower. Does for example, the tonal progress here is the converse of the Fifth Symphony that moves upward by half a step one progresses, if you will, from C sharp minor to D major.

Although in the ninth traditional tonality continues to break down, some have suggested that Mahler would not have wished its complete demise, as some of his younger Viennese colleagues, such as Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern were already contemplating at the end of Mahler’s life.
Mahler experienced with utter amazement, the music of Schoenberg, a new music, he called, that appeared to carry tonal dissolution to its limits. Probably against his instincts, Mahler withheld negative criticism, merely admitting that he simply could not understand this music at all.
After all, Mahler was firmly entrenched in the Austro Germanic Symphonic tradition, even if he did not adhere consistently to its principles. There is a strong tonal pool in the ninth that identifies it, as within that tradition, while still deviating from it. Perhaps Mahler foresaw the end of tonality as an inevitable result of Wagnerian chromaticism. If so, he may well have intended to pay homage to the time-honored principles of composition that he both applied and strayed from in an unending search for the right means by which to convey his dramatic conceptions.

Many other aspects of the ninth recall the 19th century rather than look forward to the 20th, discarding the chamber ensemble he used in Das Lied, Mahler returns in the ninth to the large scale romantic orchestra of this middle period, he uses traditional symphonic forms such as sonata, rondo and variations form, as he did in most of his middle periods symphonies, fusing their elements together to provide a more workable format, within which to present his complex musical ideas. Enormous 2D passages are juxtaposed against chamber like segments, while complex polyphony contrasts with lean, transparent musical textures. The intricate cross rhythms and heavy oehlers of Das Lied are absent to the ninth. Mahler leaves the ethereal world of their ob she’d far behind and reestablishes a firm rhythmic pulse. The valgum shown of the ninth is too earthbound to dwell on rhythms that create a sense of eternal timelessness. Yet Mahler even juxtaposes two contrasting rhythmic mottos in the first movement that might be said in this respect to represent the earthly plane and a world beyond.

One motto set on an even rhythmic keel, the other in unsteady syncopation. Occasional passages of sustained tones seem to be suspended in time, as if trying to hold back the inevitable end, of course, there is much in the ninth that looks forward as well as backward beside the extension of tradition. tonal principles. symphonic forms are expanded and interrelated, and chamber ensembles look forward to the second Vienna schools emphasis on small instrumental groupings.

Mahler continues to stretch tonal principles beyond classical confines, and to develop his keen sense of instrumental color with creative use of diverse ensembles, dissonances become cruder and sharper than any of the symphonies since the sixth. The ninth might be said to have one foot planted firmly in the 19th century, and the other hesitantly placed in the 20th

By Lew Smoley

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