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ClassicsOnline Home » MAHLER, G.: Symphony No. 2, "Resurrection" (Lisowska, Rappe, Cracow Radio and Television Choir, Polish National Radio Symphony, Wit)
Gustav Mahler (1860–1911)
Symphony No. 2 in C Minor “Resurrection”
The music of Gustav Mahler has won an unassailable place in modern symphonic repertoire, meeting, in its comprehensive expression of the sorrows and joys of the world, the needs of the present century. Born in Bohemia in 1860, the son of a Jewish pedlar who prospered well enough to establish his own taverns and distillery in Iglau (Jihlava), he later described himself as three times an outsider, a native of Bohemia in Austria, an Austrian among Germans and a Jew throughout the world. His childhood brought a variety of musical experiences, on which he later drew, with a brief and unfruitful period at school in Prague in 1870 and five years later admission to the Vienna Conservatory, where his teachers included Robert Fuchs. In Vienna he was also able to attend lectures at the University, including the lectures given by Bruckner, also broadening his range of interests by his study of philosophy and history.
Mahler’s public career was primarily as a conductor, although at the Conservatory he had concentrated on composition rather than the piano, his earlier subject of study. A series of engagements in the smaller opera houses of Bad Hall, Laibach (Ljubljana) and Olmütz (Olornouc) was followed by two years at Kassel and a season as co- conductor at the Deutsches Landestheater in Prague. There followed a period in Leipzig and in 1888 appointment to the RoyalOpera in Budapest, where he made important reforms. In 1891 he moved to Hamburg, where he completed in 1894 his Second Symphony. From there came in 1897, after his necessary conversion to Catholicism, the final and most important step, appointment as Kapellmeister at the Vienna Court Opera, the summit of achievement. In Vienna Mahler was able to make a marked impression on the Court Opera and in 1898 took over from Hans Richter the direction of the Philharmonic concerts. His personal life underwent change with his not completely untroubled marriage in 1901 to the young Alma Schihdler, daughter of a well known painter and pupil of Zernlinsky, and later the wife of Walther Gropius and then of Franz Werfel.
In 1907 Mahler was forced to resign from the Court Opera. This was in part owing to an anti-semitic campaign of some virulence, coupled with varying degrees of animosity that had been aroused in musical circles by his refusal to compromise in artistic matters. The summer following his resignation brought further troubles. The elder of his two daughters, Maria, caught scarlet fever and died, while his own health now gave cause for concern, with the diagnosis of heart trouble. He now undertook a tiring series of engagements as a conductor abroad, notably in New York, where, in February 1911, he fell ill. In May he returned to Vienna, where he died on 18th May, six days after his arrival in the city.
Much of Mahler’s activity as a composer took place during summer holidays, when he could for a time put on one side the administrative and artistic concerns of the opera house. He brings to an end and in a sense summarises the Austro-German symphonic tradition, extending still further the form by his use of song and his incorporation in the symphony of material that earlier composers would have found inappropriate. It is this comprehensiveness, the inclusion of life in all its aspects, his understanding of the pain of living and his expressed yearning for a serene peace that seems within his grasp, that has fascinated later generations.
Mahler began his Second Symphony in 1888 and completed it in 1894, revising the work in 1903. It was first performed in Berlin the following year, at first without the vocal movements and then, in December 1895, in its complete form. Mahler later provided a programme for the symphony. In the first movement we stand by the coffin of a beloved person and recall his struggles, feelings and ambitions. This leads us to speculate on the nature of life and death andthe possibility of a future life, questions that must be answered. The second, third and fourth movements provide Intermezzi. In the Andante a moment of happiness in the life of the dead man is recalled and a sad memory of his younger days and lost innocence. The Scherzo brings uncertainty and despair, disgust for everything, but Urlicht, the fourth movement, provides the answer of faith. The last movement again raises doubts and questions, as the end of the world is at hand: the earth quakes and the dead arise, seeking the mercy of God. The last trumpet summons the dead to judgement, the terror finally dispelled by the serenity of the closing chorus, with its message of love and forgiveness in a world where all are one.
The Second Symphony is scored for a large orchestra. In addition to the usual string section Mahler calls for four flutes and piccolos, four oboes, two doubling cor anglais, three clarinets in B flat, A and C, and bass clarinet, two E flat clarinets, four bassoons, including a double bassoon, six French horns, with four more horns to be placed at a distance, six trumpets, with four more to be placed as the additional horns, four trombones, bass tuba, organ, two harps and a large percussion section. These forces are deployed with the greatest subtlety and variety in a score that, as always with Mahler, contains meticulous instructions to conductors and players. The texts used in the fourth and fifth movements are Urlicht from the seminal collection of folk-poems Des Knaben Wunderhorn and Klopstock’s Auferstehung (Resurrection). The third movement Scherzo is associated with another Wunderhorn text set by Mahler, Des Antonius von Padua Fischpredigt.
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MAHLER, G.: Symphony No. 2, "Resurrection" (Lisows...