Mahler, or the Hard Way to Enlightenment

06.12.2009

Predominating in the repertoire of Maestro Sinasky are the works of the 19th and 20th century Russian composers, including composers who are rarely heard today (Balakirev, Arensky, Lyapunov, Gliere, Kabalevsky); the music of the French Impressionists and also works by English composers. However his choice of Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 for the program of this concert is in no way fortuitous. For it is with this symphony that, for Muscovites, the maestro’s most memorable conducting achievements are linked: his appearance with the Moscow State Academic Philharmonia Orchestra (MGAF) in 1992 ("one of the most memorable concerts of the season’’ was the critics’ assessment of this concert) and with the State Academic Symphony Orchestra (GASO) in 2001.

The career of the young singer Yekaterina Godovanets, who studied in France and some years ago won an impressive victory at the Wilhelm Stenhammar International Music Competition, in Sweden, is developing successfully on the international arena.The Swedish singer Katerina Karneus won a name for herself on this arena long ago. And in Miss Karneus’s unusually varied repertoire, Mahler occupies a special place. It was largely to him that she owed her victory at the prestigious BBC CardiffSinger of the World Competition which guaranteed her access to the world’s major opera houses and concert halls. And Katerina Karneus also has a following in Moscow. In 2007, she closed the Moscow State Philharmonia season at a Stars of World Opera in Moscow subscription concert, and met with great praise both from public and critics.

Mahler composed his Symphony No. 2 in the years when his personality and individuality as a composer were in the process of being formed. These were years when he read and thought a lot (“Many books made an indelible impression on me and were even responsible for a sudden change in my understanding and perception of life”, we read in one of the composer’s letters of the time). Together with his symphony, he also wrote the song cycle Das Knaben Wunderhorn (The Youth’s Magic Horn) based on German folk poems. From now on the word was to become an inherent part of the Mahler symphony.

“Why did you live? Why did you suffer? Surely all this is not just a huge, terrifying joke?” (quote from letter) — this is the ’vital question’ that Mahler poses at the very beginning of the symphony. While Symphony No. 1 confirms the victory of radiant forces, Symphony No. 2 starts with tragic negation. However death in this case is not the end but the beginning, the departure point for solving the ’vital question’. “We have to somehow solve it, if we are to live and even if we are just to die! He who once in his life has faced this challenge has to come up with some sort of answer”.

Mahler heard this challenge. Never before had his music risen to such a profound grasp of Death, to such awareness of its inevitability and, at the same time, acquired such meaning even in the face of this inevitability.

We follow the composer through the sinister atmosphere of Part l, the aloof serenity of Part 2 where a graceful minuet sounds like a pleasant recollection of the past, and a malevolent sarcastic Scherzo. And in Part 4 we hear the alto solo O Roschen rot (O, red rose!),the Urlicht (Primeval Light) song from The Youth’s Magic Horn, an ingenuous tale about a child’s desire to “rise to heaven”, to God — here is the key to the long-awaited answer.

The composer answers the question: is there, beyond this life full of want and pain, another eternal life? — in the affirmative. And, as if it were an epigraph, he prefaces the gigantic finale with this small part. “After a short sleep, you will rise again, my ashes!” — the first line of one of Friedrich Klopstock’s hymns becomes a key of a sort to the finale and provides an answer to the question raised throughout the symphony.

In Mahler’s work song and symphony are closely interwoven: the song parts are organically weaved into his large-scale symphonic canvases, while the song cycles acquire genuine symphonic depth and philosophical content. Also in the concert program is the Ruckert Lieder — Friedrich Rьckert was a German romantic poet of the early 19th century, very close to Mahler in terms of spirit and outlook. These songs were published after the composer’s death, together with two songs from The Youth’s Magic Horn cycle, under the title Seven Songs of Last Years.

 

 
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