Gustav mahler's ninth symphony : a window on a composer's soul

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  • Publié le : 6 octobre 2010
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Very few composers are able to give to their music such humanity and emotional content that it can completely transform their listeners' perspectives about the importance and the meaning of such things as life and death or love. This is not something any school could teach one or any book could help one with, for the essence of music and art resides in the heart and soul of human beings and istheir reflection. Any kind of artwork is very often the concrete projection of the artist's own emotions, feelings and perceptions of the outer world, which is what makes any piece of art unique. The Ninth Symphony of Gustav Mahler is one of those masterpieces that combines both amazing craftsmanship and emotional content. Composed in 1908-09 in the last years of his life, it is the last work hecompleted and in many ways, his musical testament. In this symphony Mahler bids farewell to life in the most beautiful and sensitive way. But he also expresses strongly his fear about the fatality of death. Leonard Bernstein, who had a very close affinity to Mahler's personality and music, conducts the Amsterdam Philharmonic Orchestra in a magnificent and soulful interpretation of the symphony.The work is divided in four movements as always in the German and Austrian symphonic tradition. Each of this movements is meant to be a farewell to specifics aspects of life. The first to tenderness and human passion, the second and the third to simple and urban pleasures and the fourth one to life itself. Throughout the all symphony Mahler dramatically oscillates between optimism, hope and darkerstatements, and refuses to let go of life and hope, as if he was negotiating through his music with death itself, for the right to stay alive.
The first movement starts with a premonition of death in the form of an irregular rhythm played by the low strings and the french horns. When he started composing this symphony, Mahler was aware and very concerned about the heart condition he had. Theirregular rhythm played at the very beginning represents the irregular beating of his own heart. Superposed to this first element is a descending motive of two notes representing the two syllables of the word “Adieu”, goodbye. This motive develops it self in a very melancholic theme played by the violins. This melody is sweet but very nostalgic and represents Mahler's love for life, love, tendernessand human relations, and his frustration and sadness to have to leave them behind. This moment of apparent peace is followed by an enormous climax where the orchestra delivers its full power. The first movement is constructed on the alternation of quiet, melancholic sections and loud and dramatic ones as if he was depicting all the different emotions he experienced in his relationships, andwishing with much strength that love could be stronger than death. However those climax don't always “succeed” and it sometimes feels like Mahler, after an attempt to triumph over death, retreats and falls back into resignation and melancholy. Later in the movement, and as a reminder of the inevitable conclusion, the irregular rhythm of the heartbeats resounds. Mahler 's obsession with those heartbeatscomes to a climax when he asks to the orchestra on the score to play the motive “ with the greatest possible violence.” After quoting the original melody one last time the movement ends with a slow and soft dialogue between the first violin and the orchestra almost as in a Concerto. The orchestration becomes very bare featuring only the high woodwinds and strings, maybe as a sign of acceptanceand resignation.
The second movement is a farewell to the simple pleasures of the country life. It is based on the Ländler, a traditional form of dance in Germany and Austria, that became popular during the XVIIIth century. It is the ancestor of the Viennese Waltz and a style of music Mahler was particularly fond of. He chooses to use only woodwinds and french horns to introduce the theme as a...