We had a wonderful time with Mahler's Second Symphony, Sunday. For some people, Gustav Mahler is one of those composers who is difficult to approach. All those funeral marches, the death shrieks, the jaunty folk tunes. Not to mention the incredible length of his symphonies.
But we broke it down with musical context, the cataclysmic changes erupting during Mahler's lifetime and why his music has such a powerful effect on us. With cue sheets in hand, we listened to much of this wonderful recording by Sir Simon Rattle and the City of Birmingham Orchestra:
The key to understanding Mahler, as Leonard Bernstein said, is his duality. A composer and a conductor. Born Jewish, converted to Catholicism. Naive in some ways, sophisticated in others. Terrified of death, yearning for immortality. Music of great vulgarity and radiant beauty. Born in rural Bohemia, rising to the top musical post in Europe's music capital.
Since music director Carlos Kalmar arrived in Portland in 2003, he has conducted all but one of Mahler's 10 symphonies with the Oregon Symphony. No. 8, "Symphony of a Thousand," is the exception. The orchestra performs Symphony No. 2, "Resurrection," May 20, 21, 22, 2017. I, for sure, will be there.
Next class: "Weather Wonders," how composers respond to rain, wind, oceans and sunrises. 4 p.m. Dec. 18. Classic Pianos, 3003 SE Milwaukie & Powell Blvd., Portland. 503-546-5622. Join us!
Are you ready for some Mahler?
My next class, Nov. 13, explores Gustav Mahler and his brilliant Symphony No. 2, the “Resurrection.” Mahler fans — and it’s hard to think of another composer who arouses such devotion — this is for you.
Mahler (1860-1911) was obsessed with the Big Questions: Where are we going? What is the point of toil and sorrow? Will death reveal the meaning of life? His music reflects his doubts and anxieties on a massive scale. He saturates it with funeral marches, radiant hymns, screams, birdsong, peasant tunes, sarcastic trills, shrill humor and ecstatic triumph.
This is the kind of immersion we seek as fans: a stirring of something deeply embedded in our souls.
The “Resurrection” is Mahler at his best. It’s a mammoth thing, with a huge orchestra (10 horns, eight trumpets), full chorus, two solo singers and off-stage bands. The fourth movement is one of his loveliest songs and the fifth and final movement is a triumphant hymn of redemption and rebirth — not in the Christian sense, but for all humans. The music ascends as if to heaven, filled with hope, a vision of paradise with pealing bells and a final moment of quiet, like a deep sigh of contentment.
I hope you will join me for a deep dive into this remarkable music: 4 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 13, Classic Pianos, 3303 SE Milwaukie, next to the Aladdin Theater. Cost: $20, payable at the door. To register and save a seat: 503-546-5622 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The class should last 90 minutes.
David Stabler is a pianist, writer, dad and cyclist. He's working on a novel based on his childhood years living in Africa and rode across America with his brother in 2017.