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General Category => Gustav Mahler and Related Discussions => Topic started by: john haueisen on August 24, 2008, 09:09:49 AM

Title: Which M6 has the best hammer blows?
Post by: john haueisen on August 24, 2008, 09:09:49 AM
This is similar to my question of a month or two ago, when I asked which M6 has the best cowbells.  (My personal preference is for hammer blows that sound crushingly devastating rather than sharp.)

I got such good suggestions about M6s with good cowbells, that I just have to ask if you have an M6 where you think the hammerschlag is particularly effective, or at least above average.

John H
Title: Re: Which M6 has the best hammer blows?
Post by: Seán on August 24, 2008, 11:31:01 AM
I am a liistener new to Mahler and so I am one who is not familiar with a great deal of M6 recordings.  My first M6 CD was Abbado/BPO.  When I listened to it for the very first time I nearly "jumped out of my seat" when I heard the hammer blows as I wasn't expecting it, you I can say it moved me  ;D.   So from a novice it's Abbado/BPO for me.

Interesting question.
Title: Re: Which M6 has the best hammer blows?
Post by: Leo K on August 24, 2008, 11:44:16 AM
The recording that quickly comes to mind is the Haitink/LSO live broadcast from 2004...I really love the hammerblows there.  Since this is a broadcast the sonics are limited, but the blows are still felt...one of my favorite M6 finales overall.  This performance beats the pants off Haitink's M6 from Chicago, recently released on Resound.

The hammerblows on the Abbado/Lucerne M6 DVD are quite good I believe, and it's great to see the actual hammer coming down visually.

--Todd




Title: Re: Which M6 has the best hammer blows?
Post by: John Kim on August 24, 2008, 01:29:47 PM
Levine/LSO/RCA
Zander/BPO (Boston Philharmonic Orch.)
Levi/ASO/Telarc
Title: Re: Which M6 has the best hammer blows?
Post by: Ben on August 24, 2008, 01:55:29 PM
I'd have to say the Chailly/Royal Concertgebouw recording on Decca has the best hammerstrokes.  They are huge!  And certainly not sharp sounding at all, definitely crushing.

Ben
Title: Re: Which M6 has the best hammer blows?
Post by: Seán on August 24, 2008, 03:58:23 PM

The hammerblows on the Abbado/Lucerne M6 DVD are quite good I believe, and it's great to see the actual hammer coming down visually.

--Todd



It's great, but when you see it you are expecting it, so it's more of a visual than a listening experience.
Title: Re: Which M6 has the best hammer blows?
Post by: Leo K on August 24, 2008, 05:20:05 PM

The hammerblows on the Abbado/Lucerne M6 DVD are quite good I believe, and it's great to see the actual hammer coming down visually.

--Todd



It's great, but when you see it you are expecting it, so it's more of a visual than a listening experience.

This reminds me of a music instructer of mine...she said music is just as visual as it is aural...especially at a live concert!

--Todd
Title: Re: Which M6 has the best hammer blows?
Post by: john haueisen on August 25, 2008, 02:13:49 PM
The DVD recording of Bernstein and the VPO also allow us to see a huge wooden hammer drop with a thud.
I wonder what others think of the hammerblows.  Whether looking or listening for the hammerblow, I feel it inevitably approaching.  Although it's a fearsome, destructive blow, anticipation of it becomes unbearable, and I almost can't wait for its arrival.
Psychologically, I wonder if this is a recognition of the inexorable approach of mortality, and a final surrender to it.
I do hope a few readers will be brave enough to advance some thoughts about the hammerblows in M6.

John H
Title: Re: Which M6 has the best hammer blows?
Post by: Damfino on August 25, 2008, 07:52:21 PM
Quote
The hammerblows on the Abbado/Lucerne M6 DVD are quite good I believe, and it's great to see the actual hammer coming down visually.

I quite like the Abbado Lucerne DVD version as well. I agree that seeing the hammerblow helps put it over the top. Though I think it would sound good even without the visuals. On many recordings, I just hear the drum. A downside to the Abbado DVD: you see a harpist playing away but cannot actually hear the harp. A bit of a disappointment considering it is a multichannel DVD.
Title: Re: Which M6 has the best hammer blows?
Post by: Polarius T on August 26, 2008, 07:51:24 AM
I haven't heard the Abbado DVD from Lucerne (even if I now badly want to), but my overwhelming favorite is Abbado's Berlin recording on DG. At least on SACD stereo the image specificity, spatial presentation, and tonal accuracy of the recording are in a class of its own among the recordings I've heard (so you hear the 'blows really in the best possible way), and the interpretation on the whole I find the most successful one among those that I've heard -- well-nigh perfect in the sense that I cannot imagine what could be done differently to improve upon it. The hammerblows also seem to be better integrated into the work's natural progression or "flow" than in most cases I've heard, withouth giving up anything of their devastating force (on the contrary). For me however a more critical variable is how the march rhythms in the opening movement are handled; this sets the tone for the whole work for me and it's quite hard to get them right, it seems (not too militaristic, neurotic, obsessive, "sharp" in the edges, but not soft and lumpy either).

What I havent' heard, though, but would like to is Eschenbach in this work; he's a real and honest artist and could be, I think, a very good fit for M6 precisely.

-PT
Title: Re: Which M6 has the best hammer blows?
Post by: Dave H on August 27, 2008, 05:34:01 AM
For those who are curious we have reviews of both Abbado (DG):

http://www.classicstoday.com/review.asp?ReviewNum=9062

and Eschenbach (Ondine):

http://www.classicstoday.com/review.asp?ReviewNum=10408

The two are utterly different; in general, the Abbado has not been received with much enthusiasm that I have seen. The Eschenbach also has generated some controversy, owing to his very free handling of tempo and darkness of texture, but in my opinion it's one of the Mahler symphonies he does best, and the performance is not afflicted by that "slow" disease that seems to infect so many conductors these days--heaven only knows why. Indeed, this is also one of the virtues of Abbado's performance. While I don't especially like it, I give him credit at least for speading up rather than slowing down. The problem is simply that, looking at the situation comparatively in terms of the work's discography, others have done it better.

Dave H
Title: Re: Which M6 has the best hammer blows?
Post by: Polarius T on August 27, 2008, 08:26:52 AM
This first is off topic and I'm aware of it:

...the Abbado has not been received with much enthusiasm that I have seen.

It seems to me you are spreading misinformation again. Or maybe you really don't look around much. In Europe the recording garnered almost every possible praise from all directions; mention only the Gramophone magazine's 2006 "Record of the Year" and "Best Orchestral Recording" awards ("The BPO play like gods . . . ": http://www.gramophone.co.uk/awardstemplate.asp?id=955&award_year=2006). But let's forget for a moment your distaste for things European and your apparent inability to get past the promotional stickers when it comes to Abbado, and look at a few responses this recording received in the U.S.:

"The conductor virtually owns the work, and an adoring band of Berliners gave him their all . . . it shares all the virtues of his Lucerne Fifth: the supreme command of both detail and line, the unsurpassed rhythmic flexibility and expressivity, and the sensitivity to period-appropriate touches such as telling use of portamento. Its growth over those 25 years emerges in both surprising and unsurprising ways. Despite the identifying and savoring of details, there is no stopping to smell the roses in an interpretation unrelentingly urgent yet never driven. Only an orchestra as fine as the Berliners, and as attuned to his ways, could sustain Abbado's brisk tempos. They express the urgency of death that stalks this music. They're the engine of powerful, explicit, and precise feeling."
Bay Area Reporter, July 28 & December 1, 2005

"The excellence of the sound is even more obvious when the whole orchestra makes its presence felt after the enigmatic opening measures of the finale: this orchestra has power to burn . . . this is a very impressive performance, which has grown in my estimation in the short time I've known it . . . one can easily apprehend the intimate knowledge of Mahler's music at work here, and it joins the other recent Abbado recordings (from Berlin and elsewhere) on my short list of Mahler performances that are worth revisiting often."
Fanfare, November 2005

"The excitement of the concert performance can be felt in every minute of this live recording . . . You will be hard pressed to find a Mahler Sixth with more warmth, breadth and dignity."
The New York Times, December 16, 2005

"[This is] a live recording that Mahlerians will want for its forwarding-moving flow . . . Abbado is especially fine in the Andante, here placed before the Scherzo, unlike his first, 1970s recording with the Chicago Symphony . . . one of the best available recordings of this section of the massive work. The Berlin strings shine here, as they do throughout the Symphony . . . the famous hammer blows in the last movement have tremendous impact . . . In fact, that last movement is one of the set's highlights, well-played and abundantly detailed. In sum, one of the better Sixths in the catalogue."
Dan Davis, staff review for Amazon.com

"[Abbado's Sixth] is inexpressibly touching in the same way his Ninth was, not least for the luminous sound the orchestra musters – at its most beautiful almost translucent – without stinting on power or tragic passion in a reading that darkens into “Tragic” as the work progresses. This is Abbado’s third, surely valedictory, recording of the work (first there was Chicago, then Vienna, now Berlin), and it inhabits a spirit world beyond the expressive poignance of the previous two, fine though moments were in both . . . Abbado plays [the 2nd mvt.] with a tenderness that verges on the unearthly, then follows with a scherzo that finds Mahler vacillating emotionally between gruff agony and memories of gentler times. The contrast is almost painful to hear as Mahler’s sense of loss is overcome by outbursts of anger, only to end in quiet despair . . . [In the finale] Abbado builds from sadness verging at moments on madness . . . to levels of agony that include the two famous “hammerblows” (Mahler wisely removed a third). What instrument was employed we’re not told in Donald Mitchell’s otherwise superbly argued program note, but it has the sound of doom no other performances I know come close to . . . Having been so moved by Gielen’s version, I replayed it between auditions of Abbado’s Berlin insights, and was startled to find him altogether heavier – unleavened emotionally, even in the “Alma” Andante – as if Mahler had sequestered himself in a dark room from which he refused to emerge. Now it may be that Gielen has a grasp of the Mahlerian Angst that Abbado tempers with his own survival of rather worse than a faithless wife. Remember, it was not until 1907 that Mahler learned of his heart condition, which he survived for four more years. But the further bonus of the Berlin Philharmonic’s superlative playing – their sheer range of tonal and dynamic expression – makes Abbado’s newest Sixth transcendental in his own canon, and one of the glories in DGG’s pantheon."
Classical CD Review, classicalcdreview.com (http://classicalcdreview.com), July 2005

"This new Sixth was worth the wait. Abbado's Mahler is objective but not cold. It rests neatly between Boulez's clinical interpretation and the twisted hysteria of Bernstein. . . Abbado builds the symphony's edifice masterfully. The tension ratchets upwards a notch in each successive movement . . . Architecture within movements is handled finely too. Abbado does not bludgeon the listener with one shattering climax after another, but rather leads the listener to each movement's unique crisis. Another glory of this recording is the playing of the Berlin Philharmonic, and the clarity that Abbado achieves within and between its sections. This is gorgeous playing, and exquisitely balanced. At the same time, this is not sound for sound's sake (as one sometimes finds in Karajan), but a successful attempt to realize everything that Mahler imagined an orchestra could do. At the symphony's end, there are a few moments of silence, and then comes the applause – and soon after, cheers. One can appreciate both the audience's initial stillness – in Abbado's hands especially, the end of this symphony is shattering – and their subsequent enthusiasm. DG's engineering team has captured the music and the space that it lives in remarkably."
Classical Net, www.classical.net (http://www.classical.net) 2005

"Abbado maintains a stoic approach to this most death-obsessed of Mahler symphonies, yet every detail registers with extraordinary playing by the Berlin Philharmonic . . . "
South Florida Sun-Sentinel, November 18, 2005

"The man has proved himself a modern master of things Mahlerian, and this performance has certainly the touch of mastery about it. Above all is the sense of forward drive supreme. From beginning to end, the piece seems of a whole, everything in it rushing toward that final culmination of fate, tragedy, and death."
Sensible Sound, December 2005

* * *

So it seems that the more grandiose if also quite contradictory role (in view of your first statement) you have adopted for yourself is more in line with reality, proclaiming as you elsewhere do that, besides you yourself, "there doesn't seem to be anyone out there with the guts to tell him that [this performance] isn't worthy of preserving [and that] the Berlin Philharmonic . . . has no business playing Mahler." Interesting, I guess; first no one likes it and then everyone but you is bowled over by it. Though coming from a source perhaps best known for its fierce promotion of "Joyce Hatto" over the originals copied I take such statements, too, with a grain of salt.

And if I may point out, what you are doing in your post is being a businessman advertising his product (commercial venture) on a non-commercial music site.

* * *

Now, back to the OP's request: I'm not sure I understand what you mean by it -- what we personally feel about, our subjective reactions, or what we think are the justifications of including such an extraordinary sound device in the composition's plan? Could you quickly clarify and then hopefully more. First I thought you were asking about different recordings and how the hammerblows are realized in them (talked about quite a lot in the above quotations by the way) but let me re-read what you said.

Thanks,

-PT


Title: Re: Which M6 has the best hammer blows?
Post by: sperlsco on August 27, 2008, 09:43:38 AM
PT:

If you like the Abbado/BPO SACD (I do too), you may like the Lucerne DVD even more.  Here is a thread on this subject from a while ago. 

http://gustavmahlerboard.com/forum/index.php?topic=276.0 (http://gustavmahlerboard.com/forum/index.php?topic=276.0)

The Lucerne performance is longer in the outer movements by about a minute each and also by about 30 seconds in the Andante.  All of this makes the performance a bit weightier (and better) in my view.  And the very end of the symphony is done perfectly (it is similar to Chailly). 

I can hear many of the things that DH complaints about in Abbado's BPO Mahler, but they bother me much less than they do him.  There can be a smoothness of playing that others may find off-putting.  However, I still like his flexibility and overall tempi choices, and the whole seems to work very well for me (at least for the recent BPO M3, M6, M7, and M9, and also the LFO M5, M6, M7). 
Title: Re: Which M6 has the best hammer blows?
Post by: sperlsco on August 27, 2008, 09:55:03 AM
Though coming from a source perhaps best known for its fierce promotion of "Joyce Hatto" over the originals copied I take such statements, too, with a grain of salt.

And if I may point out, what you are doing in your post is being a businessman advertising his product (commercial venture) on a non-commercial music site.
-PT

PT:

While the rest of your post is an appropriate retort to Dave's commments on Abbado's BPO M6, this part is just a personal attack and is inappropriate.   Please refrain. 
Title: Re: Which M6 has the best hammer blows?
Post by: Polarius T on August 27, 2008, 11:12:44 AM
Though coming from a source perhaps best known for its fierce promotion of "Joyce Hatto" over the originals copied I take such statements, too, with a grain of salt.

And if I may point out, what you are doing in your post is being a businessman advertising his product (commercial venture) on a non-commercial music site.
-PT
this part is just a personal attack and is inappropriate.

Hi,

I think you are wrong. Did DH's site promote the recordings issued under the actual artists' name? No. Copies of the same re-issued under Joyce Hatto's name? More than anyone else except perhaps one publication over in the U.K. This is a matter of public record: you can go check the reviews they gave to the authentic issues and compare them to the reviews of the "Joyce Hatto" versions of same. (Provided these haven't been altered or deleted since the scandal; in fact, at least one does seem to have disappeared.) Broad outline if someone is interested at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joyce_Hatto (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joyce_Hatto). Of course, DH seems to have his own story against the rest of the world's, once again.

And I consider bringing this up as nothing more than calling his site's credentials into question the same way he has seen fit to call into question the credentials of other posters on this site.

On the second point: Do they sell advertisements? Then it's a commercial venture, and normally in non-commercial discussion sites a participating business entrepreneur is not allowed to make direct references to the products he sells (in this case the recording reviews and the website housing them) or discuss them unless specifically asked. It's simply to avoid conflict of interests type of situations and to prevent indirect marketing to unsuspecting readers.

But sure, if you say so.

-PT
Title: Re: Which M6 has the best hammer blows?
Post by: Polarius T on August 27, 2008, 11:22:37 AM
PT:

If you like the Abbado/BPO SACD (I do too), you may like the Lucerne DVD even more.  Here is a thread on this subject from a while ago. 

http://gustavmahlerboard.com/forum/index.php?topic=276.0 (http://gustavmahlerboard.com/forum/index.php?topic=276.0)

Thanks for the link. I'm quite sure I would enjoy watching and listening to that performance, but that may have to wait a little as I have other priorities as well.

We should find time to do more searches around here -- it's a veritable treasure trove open to all.

-PT
Title: Re: Which M6 has the best hammer blows?
Post by: Dave H on August 27, 2008, 12:21:29 PM
John:

Why "hammer blows?" I think you probably know part of what my answer will be since you have read my book and (from your prior communications with me) understood it quite well. Mahler often used "noise" the way other composers use themes--as ideas that serve both a formal and dynamic role in creating his large symphonic structures. I think it's important in this connection not to get fixated on the notion of "hammer" specifically. Mahler seemed to have had in mind more a type of sound (as described in the score and in this group many times) rather than the instrument that actually produced it. Failing anything else, he said "hammer," but as we know he himself was never satisfied in actual performance, and the device that Alma describes that he constructed (and which failed so miserably) was not in fact a hammer--the emphasis was on what was being struck, as opposed to what was doing the striking, and this returns us to Mahler's biggest concern, namely, the quality of the sound itself. The dramatic function of the hammer blows is pretty self-evident--to "interrupt" the music's triumphant progress and derail it, ultimately back to the introduction. The fact that Mahler deleted the third hammer blow (which has no such function and occurs in a very odd place, after the music of the introduction has already started) tends to support this view.

Dave H
Title: Re: Which M6 has the best hammer blows?
Post by: sperlsco on August 27, 2008, 03:03:48 PM
Two thoughts on hammer blows:

I always found Ben Zander's discussion discs to be very interesting for a classical newbie like myself.  In his discussion of the M6 hammer blows, he explained why he preferred 3 of them (or perhaps, why he felt that Mahler incorrectly removed the third one).  I did not agree with his reasoning, but his explanation actually helped me conclude that the third stroke was not musically necessary; essentially, that the journey and the first two hammerstrokes really take all of the strength from the Hero.  That said, I still enjoy three-hammer-stroke performances just fine. 

Which brings me to my second thought.  I always considered the Boulez/VPO M6 to be one of my favorites, despite the fact that it has the weakest hammerblows among my dozens of M6's.  Since Mahler was so concerned about the sound made by these critical hammerblows, should we dismiss the Boulez M6 for such an oversight?  Put another way, someone familiar with M6 already knows what these hammerblows represent, and can perhaps look past the deficiency.  However, if someone's only exposure is from the Boulez M6, they may completely miss the point. 
Title: Re: Which M6 has the best hammer blows?
Post by: Dave H on August 27, 2008, 05:42:31 PM
Scott:

I think you make an excellent point. I don't think that the hammer blows matter a great deal--they are, after all, only two loud thuds (or three), and all other things being excellent the music has more than enough other things going for it to make its point. The Boulez, accordingly, I also think is a very fine performance. Certainly it's better to have powerful hammer blows than weak ones, but no performance, and certainly not one of a large, complex, and emotionally huge work like Mahler's Sixth depends for its success on whether there are two or three hammer blows, or whether they go "thud" or "plink," or how loud they are in absolute terms. After all, Mahler doubles them with timpani, bass drum, and also cymbals and tam-tam. So even he was hedging his bets. And as I pointed out in an article I wrote taking issue with Zander's approach, the revisions that Mahler made in the score from the first performance to the published version are infinitely deeper and more far-reaching that the mere deletion of a hammer stroke, or the question of how loud it turns out to be. I mean, the symphony even works perfectly well with its inner movements in a different order! That being the case, then the whole hammer blow business strikes me as something of a red herring. The Boulez, incidentally, is a perfect example of a swift, lithe, at times somewhat restrained performance that delivers the goods in a way that Abbado's somewhat similar approach does not.

Dave H

Title: Re: Which M6 has the best hammer blows?
Post by: barry guerrero on August 28, 2008, 09:58:40 AM
The ONLY recording of M6 where the reinstated third hammer stroke sounds somewhat convincing to me, is on the Segerstam one from Chandos. Segerstam scales down the volume of the third stroke, so that it matches the softer dynamic level of everything else that's going on around it. Perhaps just as important, Segerstam also greatly protracts the bar before the third stroke - greatly lengthening the ascending harp glissando before it. Otherwise, I find the third stroke to be extra-musical baggage that doesn't fit into what's happening at that particular moment (everything's sort of dissolving at that point). I'm certain that that was Mahler's true reason for deleating it (and not the, "three strikes, you're out" boogeyman-of-fate conspiracy theory).

Truthfully, the effect of a mini-hammerstroke - one that fits into the dynamic profile of that moment  - can be achieved simply by placing an accent at the start of the snare drum roll there, but with the snares switched off (obviously). I know, because I've done it myself in performance.

Barry
Title: Re: Which M6 has the best hammer blows?
Post by: Dave H on August 28, 2008, 11:10:00 AM
Exactly! Segerstam makes it work but only, ironically, by diminishing the impact of the last hammer blow to the point where, in a sense, it really doesn't make any difference. The problem that Mahler had was that his programmatic concept (the steadilly diminishing "three hammer blows of fate") didnt' fit with the musical structure he actually created, in which the second blow HAD to be more cataclysmic than the first (witness the more violent musical response to it and that fact that it knocks the finale all the way back to the introduction). It simply took him a while, and some practical performance experience, to realize that he had to abandon his programmatic intentions and follow the path outlined by the music itself. This, by the way, is entirely consistent with his life-long struggle with "program" vs. "absolute" music, and his habit of denying the programmatic basis for his works once they reached their final form and had justified themselves (at least in his own mind) as viable independent musical creations that speak for themselves.

Dave H
Title: Re: Which M6 has the best hammer blows?
Post by: stillivor on August 28, 2008, 12:31:09 PM
Fascinating discussion.

The psychology of listening in relation to the 'blows' is interesting. And 'blow' seems to me the point. The music leading up to them is of gaining strength and peace, shattered by the blow, like knock-downs in a boxing match, halting the progress, bringing the hero down.

I do experience an excitement as each approaches - they are thrilling moments, as well as being devastating ones. I get sort of more anxious as the blow is arriving. And I wait to see how the conductor will time the moment; will it be a stopper, an axe or a wall? How will the conductor respond, how will it sound after - desperate?, struggling?, nearly impossible? Not to mention how they will lead up to them - surprise? flagged up? speeding to it? and so on.

I think I get the point about the third being musically wrong. I like the third because it feels psychologically right. Perhaps M. put it in for that reason in the heat of composition, and took it out when musical rationality kicked in (I don't know what I'm talking abour, you understand). The third, when done , ends a passage of wonderful heart-easing music, as tho we will have an optimistic end. Which is why, for me, the third blow is so dreadful - I mean , evokes dread.

Despite the cymbals, if I remember aright, the effect he was after was of a dull, specifically non-metallic, thud. Two ways I've seen it done are a wooden hammer on a wooden box; and simply lifting one end of a wooden box and dropping it on cue. Both seemed good ways to do it.

Maybe the way to do with predicability of seeing when at a concert, a thing to do would be to close your eyes.


    Ivor
Title: Re: Which M6 has the best hammer blows?
Post by: barry guerrero on August 28, 2008, 01:27:41 PM
See, I think just the opposite. To me, the two hammer strokes don't signify so much an end to something, but rather the beginning of a huge cataclysm. It's like huge amounts of water pushing against a dam that can no longer hold back the mounting pressure. In this regard, the sixth Mahler makes me think of Stravinsky's "Rite Of "Spring" - an unleashing of vasts amounts of energy. In fact, combine the huge walls of sound from the finale, with the continuous mixed meters that happen in each of the trio sections from the scherzo movement (constant interchange between 2 and 3 beat patterns), and you'll get - voila!!! - "Le Sacre du Printemps". No doubt, though, that the imagined protagonist of the symphony gets caught up in these whirlpools - or vortexes - of violent energy.

Just to be clear what happens at the hammerstrokes, in the revised version - the one that's ALWAYS performed - both strokes are doubled with the bass drum. Mahler specifies that the hammerstroke itself be of a non-metallic material and sound. The second hammerstroke calls for OPTIONAL doubling with the cymbals and tam-tam (along with the bass drum). On most recordings, you'll hear the cymbal and tam-tam added to the second crash. Weirdly enough, Abbado seems to have added the tam-tam on the first hammerstroke as well, on his latest Berlin remake from DG. The third stroke is not indicated as being an option in the revised version.

Therefore, when conductors reinstate the third stroke, they're doing so on their own accord. The orchestration surrounding the third stroke is a bit different in the original, first version. Zander tried to make that point, but he failed to use the first version throughout the finale on his second performance of it (included on the second disc). That made the claims of an "original version" on the cover, something of a false statement (and thus, false advertising).

For my money, the best hammer strokes - as well as cowbells - are on the Chailly/RCOA recording. However, the Concertgebouw no longer use the optional doublings on the second stroke (in other words, they didn't on the Jansons recording either). Chailly was a percussionist first, and takes great care with his percussion parts when conducting (for the most part).
Title: Re: Which M6 has the best hammer blows?
Post by: john haueisen on August 28, 2008, 04:34:41 PM
After all the elucidating discussion we've had so far on the M6 hammer blows, my personal fascination with biographical information prompts me to tease:  Could it possibly have entered Mahler's magnificent musical mind, to insert yet another bit of his wit and humor, with a play on the name of his financial and legal adviser at the time, Paul Hammershlag?
John H
Title: Re: Which M6 has the best hammer blows?
Post by: barry guerrero on August 28, 2008, 06:18:39 PM
Ah, man, that's great! - either way.

Barry
Title: Re: Which M6 has the best hammer blows?
Post by: stillivor on August 29, 2008, 02:03:50 AM
Brilliant.

Being a fellow-Cancerian, I could well believe that it worked unconsciously; that the name went into the depths, and prompted the idea in the Sixth - well p'raps better, 'contributed' to the idea.

If only we had all Mahler's conversations on tape, not to mention a continuous recording on tape of everything that ever went on in his unconscious.  :-) I can hear him joking about the hammerblows with his adviser (Eng. sp.)

Reminds me of a cartoon in the UK satirical mag Private Eye a long time ago.

A man in the street is being followed by a cameraman and a sound recordist. The latter is saying to a passer-by, "We're filming his entire life in case he becomes famous."


   Ivor
Title: Re: Which M6 has the best hammer blows?
Post by: Polarius T on August 29, 2008, 03:23:11 AM
Hi John,

I think maybe originally you aimed at something like what Ivor so eloquently talks about in his response, but I guess I probably listen to this music more like Barry here. After all, the Finale is very much a form-driven creation, meaning that behind Mahler's inspiration for it there was probably the idea of its form, not some dramatic conception predicated on themes. (This much I think has been convincingly demonstrated by Adorno.) The results were all pretty novel (at least on this large a scale) and the variation technique answering for the movement's unfolding (making the retrogrades now a property of the structure and not simply a procedure for treating detail) made possible a complete integration of details into a totality more powerful and imposing than anything Mahler had previously accomplished, yet more carefully calibrated down to the smallest of its elements. But at the same time it also resulted in a new way tension was built up (and moderated) in the movement. The drastic undulation of the tension curve here (again unlike anything Mahler had composed up to that point) is really produced by the proportions of the parts and has nothing to do with mere intensification of the music's flow. (And even less to do with intensification as an "interpretative" approach for that matter, as the "turning up of the heat" favored by those loosely wielding the "Mahler Lite" label that in fact only makes sense as a reaction of those conditioned to being fast-fed their Mahler with Extra Cheese.) As Paul Bekker put it a long time ago, "this dynamic course was no longer synonymous with action toward the highest point of force." Consequently I don't see any reason to overemphasize the meaning of the hammer blows as significant dynamic factors in the work.

What the hammer blows do in the formal context is basically mark the beginnings of the second (1st stroke) and the fourth and last (2nd stroke) part of the development section (note how brief the exposition is to begin with, especially next to the now magnified development, which all matters for the way Mahler was subtly pushing the envelope in his adherence to the quasi-sonata principle).

Why Mahler so elaborately described the sound he was after was probably because no readily identifiable instrument was available for creating it (it was not possible to specify an actual instrument here).

Why the preference for the odd sound (the dull thump thing) is probably owing to the same impulse that motivated Mahler's use of other non-pitched percussion in the work: these are used in rather standard roles typical of a inherited sonata structure, as sort of ready-made elements from the composer's basic stock, which for their own part they then manage to simultaneously undermine -- transforming the "identity" of the conventional means the same way the drum roll was later taken over by the bass drum with its indefinite pitch in M9, for example. Standard devices of the era were thus deployed in the interest of recognizability but now with results that were much more ambivalent or made the impact afresh, compared to the effect of the hackneyed original belonging to the model. "What had been convention now becomes an event," describes Adorno this transformation.

So this would be a less psychological (dramatic) and a more structural (epic) way of looking at it, then, I guess (with the corresponding narrative terms).

-PT

Title: Re: Which M6 has the best hammer blows?
Post by: john haueisen on August 29, 2008, 07:42:46 AM
You did read my mind, PT.
I was hoping to find a few daring souls who might go beyond a technical description of the music, and venture into speculation about what Mahler's "message" might have been.

Yes, I know this would all be just guesses, but as the "program" of M2 illustrates, Mahler was usually doing more than merely writing down "pretty notes," or a "pretty form" as Mozart or Haydn might have done.

I realize how risky this would be:  to expose our personal philosophical take on a piece of music, but judging from anecdotes that La Grange records, Mahler seemed to have been pleased whenever people told him their philosophical reaction to his music.  It was a formal program of "this, and only this is what the music means" to which Mahler objected.

Well, those are just my thoughts, and what I was hoping for was that a few others might dare express their feelings and thoughts about M6.  Anything you say will not be held against you!

John H
Title: Re: Which M6 has the best hammer blows?
Post by: barry guerrero on August 29, 2008, 10:54:05 AM
Mahler seemed to have been pleased whenever people told him their philosophical reaction to his music

That depended greatly on who was espousing their thoughts, and just exactly what it was they were saying. Mahler dropped programmatic titles from his symphonies because folks WERE guessing all kinds of crazy things that were way off the mark. It drove him nuts.

Although it was purely fiction, a great example of what probably happened numerous times can be observed in the Ken Russell "Mahler" movie; this time regarding his 9th symphony. Mahler is riding the train to Vienna with Alma (it's supposed to be his final trip back to Wien; then he dies). Then an African woman appears; one who presumably speaks German (the movie is in English). She passes herself off as some kind of mystic or fortune teller. Anyway, she's about to tell Mahler all about his 9th symphony. Mahler likes the attention, and is interested to hear what she has to say. After a brief explanation, she tells him that the 9th is all about "death", and then Mahler suddenly goes into one of his numerous flashbacks of earlier times (the movie does this terrifically). After he exits his flashback, with almost an air of anger, he informs the woman that the symphony is not about death, but is a farewell to love.

Mahler was infamous for his wide mood-swings, and could be quite rude and distant at social gatherings. I could very well picture just that sort of thing happening when people were guessing all kinds of things that were way off the mark for him. He could also be quite content with his own claque - often times smoking cigars - when they were saying things that he liked to hear. Like a sheep dog, he would heard them in when one of them began to go astray from the point. These conversations were as much musical as philosophical. As you both implied, "philosophy" and music were pretty much interlinked for these people.
Title: Re: Which M6 has the best hammer blows?
Post by: Dave H on August 30, 2008, 01:32:17 AM
I agree with Barry here completely. Although it may be fun to speculate about what Mahler may or may not have thought, we should always be mindful of the fact that while his words, or a few anecdotes, may have come down to us, they are always filtered by the perceptions of those reporting them, and we can't ever recreate the context or intent behind them. Let me give you an example: I once had a heated exchange with a member of the NY Mahlerites about the famous line, theoretically uttered by Mahler, to the effect that "What is most important in music isn't found in the notes" (or words to that effect). This is one of the many bits of Mahleriana preserved by Natalie Bauer-Lechner in her book "Memories of Gustav Mahler."

Usually this line is quoted as a bit of deep philosophical insight into the nature of music, and as license to excuse all manner of interpretive oddities in individual performances. But there are other ways to look at it. I see it as a truism--an "off the cuff" comment that merely states the obvious. Of course the "notes" are meaningless until they are realized as living sound by the performer. DUH!! So what was the context in which the remark was uttered? It could have been as Bauer-Lechner would have us believe: questioning Mahler on the very essence of music he sagely uttered that bit of wisdom.

Or it could have been much different. He's being chased all over the Tyrol by some pushy broad with a pad and pen looking for juicy quotes. Finally, she corners him and, fed up with her pestering about the nature of music, he says sarcastically and irritably, "Well OBVIOUSLY what's most important in music cannot be found in the notes," and of course we don't get the end of the sentence--"Now piss off and leave me alone!" All of this, of course, is rampant speculation, but the remark itself is so trite and essentially meaningless that it does lead me to suspect that the circumstances in which it was uttered may not have been entirely as reported to us.

So the bottom line is that whether talking about hammer blows, or even quoting the Great Man himself, there is a lot that we don't know, and can't know. This fact should only lead us back to the music itself--the one thing we have that's always true and certain.

Dave H
Title: Re: Which M6 has the best hammer blows?
Post by: john haueisen on August 30, 2008, 06:20:23 AM
Absolutely!  It's always good to rein in our unbridled speculations (if something unbridled can be reined in).
But bearing in mind that the important thing is the music, we still must not deny ourselves the opportunity to think about what was going on in Mahler's world--things that may have helped make the man who wrote the music:  things like the development of theories of evolution, Freud and psychoanalysis, Nietzsche and the theories of evolving humans, all the new technological innovations, like telegraph and telephone, automobiles, a brave new world.

Yes, thank you for a reminder that the only thing certain is the music.  But perhaps some of us  can better appreciate it by allowing our imagination to join our intellect to aid our ears (always bearing in mind that we may be going astray).
John H 
Title: Re: Which M6 has the best hammer blows?
Post by: Polarius T on August 30, 2008, 07:48:09 AM
...we still must not deny ourselves the opportunity to think about what was going on in Mahler's world--things that may have helped make the man who wrote the music...

This rings especially true in the case of Mahler, given that if there was one composer who managed to "attain the universal through the lens of the personal," it was Mahler -- this is indeed where his greatness lies in in the annals of music. The records kept by Natalie Bauer-Lechner are therefore very valuable as they provide us with perhaps the most trustworthy access to M's personal and even private world. And she is quite reliable, as proven by research done afterwards by others; moreover, Mahler was apparently quite aware that Bauer-Lechner was so copiously recording his words and details of his life for posterity, so he may in fact have used her as a channel to explain his thinking more broadly (M always worked with the posterity in the back of his mind, as we know from other sources too). So to suspect her for having been a "pushy broad looking for juicy quotes" appears more than an overstatement. Rather, she was a close friend and a confidant and also a personal assitant working intensely with Mahler for a period. She certainly was no Alma.

So I'd say the personal you are talking about remains vital for our understanding of Mahler's music without having to necessarily dissolve itself to mere biographical trappings -- and without our having to take everything at the face value (we know Mahler was prone to getting carried away on occasion). And Bauer-Lechner's reports serve us as an important source not just of musicological and music-historical facts but also for more personal and philosophical reflection on this great music.

Methinks,

-PT
Title: Re: Which M6 has the best hammer blows?
Post by: Dave H on August 30, 2008, 10:19:01 AM
I agree that Bauer-Lechner is an important and valuable (and reliable) source--but that isn't really the issue. The issue is, even assuming that she reported everything accurately, what did Mahler MEAN by what he said--how was it uttered? In what tone of voice? Under what circumstances? How serious was he? We simply can't know.

I also agree with John--that knowing something of the composer and, more importantly, the historical context can be valuable, though I think the insights gained shed more light on the biography than on the music itself. I do think it's a big, big mistake to read into a piece of music some sort of theoretical "Zeitgeist," unless we know for a fact that the composer was aware of the "Geist of the Zeit." Again, if the desire is to put things in context, then we first must be sure that the context we see today, what we have singled out as historically significant, is also what Mahler would have recognized and acknowledged.

Music can be used as historical evidence in studying non-musical intellectual trends, but only in certain circumstances, and in a very specific and limited way. I do have some experience in this field--it's what I taught when I was a fellow in the history department at Stanford (the most memorable and productive outcome of which was my friendship with Barry!). 

One of the subjects we studied was, for example, changing attitudes toward the Orient in French music of the 19th century, from works such as Delibes' Lakme to Ravel's Chansons Madecasses. Here you can see the change in the Western view of itself from colonialist (the West representing nobility and virtue) to decadent (the West as the agent of corruption and decay). But note: the music must have a text. Otherwise there is no way to link it to any other intellectual trend (whose means of articulation necessarily is written language). Using "abolute" music in such a way is very difficult, and in both cases we are putting the music in a larger context. Going the other way--trying to put the context into the music, is virtually impossible as anything other than wishful thinking.

Dave H
Title: Re: Which M6 has the best hammer blows?
Post by: Polarius T on August 30, 2008, 11:21:30 AM
Yes, but you are talking about history of ideas; this is not what is referred to by Zeitgeist, at least not by anyone who knows his German, philosophy, or history. The concept is philosophical and sociological, and it talks about the state of the world, of Life if you wish (or even Weltlauf in a way, if you want to use another Hegelian term), and that's what John's comment was aimed at, I believe: Mahler as an index of his times. Accordingly it is perfectly relevant to state things like (I'm not quoting directly) whoever doesn't hear the victorious forward march of the bourgeoisie in Beethoven's Eroica isn't really listening to it. In a similar fashion, in the case of Mahler and his music, Zeitgeist makes itself felt in the dissolution of the received sonata form, his Weltschmerz, etc. And it's not something that the composer needs to be conscious of at all; just the opposite, this is something that can only be understood in hindsight (ever heard of Minerva's owl?). At best, a person can become one with "Zeitgeist," expressing the historical movement, like Mahler; but it's not about some ideas residing in his head. The term as cultivated in popular parlance today refers to something completely different: it's usually about fashion, trends, signs of the times, that sort of things.

The challenge for source criticism that you mention applies to every existing historical record and is in no way limited to or more topical in the case of Bauer-Lechner's reports. In fact her notes form probably one of the more reliable Mahler testimonies we have whose veracity owes a lot not only to Bauer-Lechner's closeness to and respect of Mahler but also her unique ability to understand what the composer was after (in speaking as in writing, both personally and as a trained musician). In this sense I don't think we find many misrepresentations in the book and the questions you pose sound a bit academic and like something that appliy to any and all records of anything we ever take. I would tend to think Bauer-Lechner was herself capable of being critical already at the source to ensure that nothing less than the most truthful portrayal possible would emerge. If we are to try and gain a better insight into the very spheres inhabited by Mahler, I don't think we have a better place to start.

-PT
Title: Re: Which M6 has the best hammer blows?
Post by: Dave H on August 30, 2008, 01:53:52 PM
I am puzzled why you still feel the need to defend Bauer-Lechner. I agree that she is probably a reliable source about what Mahler said. We have no evidence to the contrary. The question, though is not what Mahler said, but what he MEANT when he said it, because the words themselves are just the beginning of subsequent discussion. You go too far in defending her ability to interpret and characterize what she heard. The truth is, neither you nor anyone else has the ability to judge her in this respect. The most we can say is that we trust the sincerity of her intentions. Beyond that, it's all guesswork, and it's perfectly reasonable to sound a caution in this respect, even if the same caution is applicable to other situations, circumstances, or sources. Unfortunately music history (and criticism) suffers from a particularly accute lack of rigor in considering the value of sources and weighing evidence, and I am merely pointing out this fact.

Dave H
Title: Re: Which M6 has the best hammer blows?
Post by: Polarius T on August 30, 2008, 02:26:05 PM
I am puzzled why you still feel the need to defend Bauer-Lechner.

Sorry if you feel like I was repeating what you had already understood, but I have no way of telling how much you know, not really having that much to go by from these debates apart from some questionable claims. At some point I did ask you to reciprocate in "playing with an open hand," as I think you put your initial request to me, but so far you've preferred not to.

The most we can say is that we trust the sincerity of her intentions. Beyond that, it's all guesswork

Sorry, but I'm not sure what are you talking about here. That's why we have musicology, music history, biography, cultural history, art history, philosophy, all the different fields of study working in tandem to figure out what he meant with different things. This research has pretty well validated the Bauer-Lechner's accuracy (which then is an indication of her sincerity). Let me counter: I'm puzzled why you would still want to debate this point. As was already stated, your point is something that applies to every single historical record existing in the world. (And some would claim to every single speech situation going on in daily life as well.) So why bring Bauer-Lechner up in this connection? The point was about whether we can access something larger through the spectre of the personal.

...the same caution is applicable to other situations, circumstances, or sources.

Indeed, so why bring any of this up? If I may return one of your compliments, that was all then but the longest truism I've seen in a while.

-PT
Title: Re: Which M6 has the best hammer blows?
Post by: Dave H on August 30, 2008, 07:29:27 PM
I don't want to belabor this further, and am not going to get into a tit-for-tat exchange of insults with you. Sticking with the topic at hand, I would conclude by simply pointing out that the fact that an observation has general applicability does not make it a truism. I raise the issue precisely because it has direct bearing on attempting to access the work "through the spectre of the personal" (as you put it). The very notion presupposes we have a reliable way of knowing what "the spectre of the personal" is--that means in this case going to a variety of sources, most of which are second-hand. There is no definitive statement on what Mahler had in mind with respect to the hammer blows--at least as John framed the original question. Too often, biographical sources (or local influences, or ideological constrocts) are given far more weight then they deserve. I used the example of Bauer-Lechner precisely because she is a good source, and so makes an apt illustration of the issues that should be considered. These may be obvious points to you. If so, then I offer them to anyone for whom they are not.

Dave H
Title: Re: Which M6 has the best hammer blows?
Post by: Polarius T on August 31, 2008, 02:02:09 AM
am not going to get into a tit-for-tat exchange of insults with you.

So that forces me to conclude that what I took for a compliment in the past you meant as an insult instead.
That would kind of confirm your own point, though; from your words I may have misread your intentions.

an observation has general applicability does not make it a truism.

You are right in that the observation that we cannot get inside another person's head has very general applicability indeed.

attempting to access the work "through the spectre of the personal" (as you put it)...

See above: of course we cannot get inside Mahler's head and start being Mahler suddenly (which we would really have to do in order to be able to know "definitively" what he "meant" exactly with this and that word of his: what thoughts and feelings were enlivening him at the time, what his general mood was, what bodily functions and external observations might have affected his judgment and reactions that very moment, were there any memories surging up in his mind or impromptu associations forming that affected those observations, what was his experience of his own health around that time, did he feel himself at ease or under pressure of, say, time constraints, etc. -- all these would have a bearing that wouldn't show on paper). But we can still learn quite a bit about the world he was inhabiting and from which his work stemmed. That world we can perhaps most directly access through Bauer-Lechner's recollections.

Your problem with this statement?

I think you were trying to argue for the argument's sake here but now don't know how to get out of it any longer. Unless initially it was your sincere intention to cast doubt on Bauer-Lechner's character or something, with your "pushy broad looking for juicy quotes" comment. I leave that for you to decide.

-PT
Title: Re: Which M6 has the best hammer blows?
Post by: stillivor on September 02, 2008, 08:02:39 AM
I would not say the way to get closest to Mahler is via Bauer-thingy; I would take the direct route, via the music.

There are a couple of total stumbling-blocks to full understanding.

One is that the person I might wish to understand fully doesn't understand themselves fully. I take that as a fact of life personally, and as true of composers as anybody.

Again, the work is often richer than the artist knows. I seem to remember it was C.Day Lewis who thanked a critic of some of his work for drawing to his attention things in the work that he (C.D.L.) hadn't realised were there.

So the work can mean more than its creator realised.

There are any number of artists who had no B-L; or even of whom we know little. There just remains the work. It's just like the story about someone asking Beethoven what one of his symphonies (the 'Eroica?') meant. His response was to sit down at the piano and start to play it.

Hope that helps.

   Ivor
Title: Re: Which M6 has the best hammer blows?
Post by: Dave H on September 02, 2008, 09:21:02 AM
Ivor--excellent points all. I couldn't agree more. Mahler and many other artists have spoken of the fact that even they do not understand the creative process fully, and often cannot comprehend the full import and richness of their creations. Recall, for example, Stravinsky's description of himself as "the vessel through which the Rite of Spring passed," (or words to that effect).

Dave H
Title: Re: Which M6 has the best hammer blows?
Post by: Polarius T on September 02, 2008, 10:23:23 AM
I would not say the way to get closest to Mahler is via Bauer-thingy; I would take the direct route, via the music.

No, not to Mahler, but perhaps to his world: the sociocultural milieu in which he moved and his psychological, philosophical, and political surroundings so to speak. That's the whole trouble in what I was trying to point out: there is no way of "getting inside Mahler's (or anyone else's) head." But we can study the circumstances surrounding the creation of his works. Understanding (the "greatness" of) the music is a totally different from figuring out the intentions or self-understanding of the composer regarding this music, and may not need to have any link to the composer's person at all, as you say:

...the person I might wish to understand fully doesn't understand themselves fully. I take that as a fact of life personally, and as true of composers as anybody.

Latest since Freud we've understood how pertinent that statement is. And not just "not understanding fully," but also "misunderstanding".

Again, the work is often richer than the artist knows. I seem to remember it was C.Day Lewis who thanked a critic of some of his work for drawing to his attention things in the work that he (C.D.L.) hadn't realised were there. ... So the work can mean more than its creator realised.

One of the most notoriously unreliable sources for art criticism, by the way, is the artist's own understanding of what she or he is doing. I know of this a little bit, first hand, too, as over the years I've contributed some pieces on the work of living artists. What they themselves thought about their own work was quite disarming at best and really pathetic or affected at worst.

...like the story about someone asking Beethoven what one of his symphonies (the 'Eroica?') meant. His response was to sit down at the piano and start to play it.

Precisely, and for this reason even trying to make an objection to the effect that no, we cannot learn much about Mahler's work since we cannot definitively establish what he himself really meant by it, is just plain silly. And almost totally irrelevant. (I know you are not saying this.)

But we can still learn something about that body of work by examining its birth context and its place in the broader canvas of musical and cultural history (or social evolution, or history of ideas even). It's important not to subjectivize the point too much: we're not so much into studying Mahler's head but have an overarching interest in his work and the by extension also the forces that brought it about.

So, the composer's own "ideas" about himself and his work are almost always irrelevant. But those are not what we are trying to get at when studying records like Bauer-Lechner's. Words like Stravinsky's (or Schoenberg's, or...) in this respect precisely serve to explain that we should not worry about the composer as much his times, so we can understand the work better.

Nice to see that at the end of the day we all found ourselves agreeing after all.  :D

-PT
Title: Re: Which M6 has the best hammer blows?
Post by: john haueisen on September 02, 2008, 01:00:50 PM
Well-said, PT!

This thread has certainly become more heated and more thought-provoking than I had imagined when I phrased the original (and inadequate!) question.
When I asked about "best hammer blows" I was actually hoping to elicit opinions as to why Mahler had sought this sound, and what it contributes to the work.  (I should have asked that.)

Dave H has stressed that we have the music, and must be wary of reading more into it.
Polarius T has reminded us that everything we can learn has relevance, and may augment our understanding and appreciation.

At the risk of being simplistic, could I say that we're trying to compare music and writing, which is akin to describing the color or taste of an orange in words. 
I would postulate that each can add to the other.  We can describe a piece of music as "sounding sad," or we can use some musical phrases to illustrate "sadness."  Like verbal and non-verbal communication, music and words can work together to enlarge each other.
That is what I find most endearing about Mahler.  More than any composer before, he used words to express some of what his music was saying, and music to soar beyond the limitations of mere language.

It was certainly daring, when Beethoven put his Ode to Joy into a traditionally instrumental symphony.  But Mahler went far beyond Beethoven, drawing on his experience "getting to the nut" of each of the many operas he conducted, AND utilizing his amazing capacity for musical invention.

Am I way off-base, in suggesting that Mahler combined the best of both worlds?
--John H 
Title: Re: Which M6 has the best hammer blows?
Post by: barry guerrero on September 03, 2008, 10:52:09 AM
No, you're not off base, John. As I consider myself a greater Mahler know-it-all than any of these folks  ;), I'd like to point out that I have often spoke of Mahler symphonies as being Opera For Orchestra, with the instruments themselves taking on the various roles of human characters (think of the trombone solo near the start of M3, or the lonely posthorn player), as well as describing the forces of nature, etc.
Title: Re: Which M6 has the best hammer blows?
Post by: stillivor on September 03, 2008, 11:32:14 AM


Again, the work is often richer than the artist knows. I seem to remember it was C.Day Lewis who thanked a critic of some of his work for drawing to his attention things in the work that he (C.D.L.) hadn't realised were there. ... So the work can mean more than its creator realised.

One of the most notoriously unreliable sources for art criticism, by the way, is the artist's own understanding of what she or he is doing. I know of this a little bit, first hand, too, as over the years I've contributed some pieces on the work of living artists. What they themselves thought about their own work was quite disarming at best and really pathetic or affected at worst.

...like the story about someone asking Beethoven what one of his symphonies (the 'Eroica?') meant. His response was to sit down at the piano and start to play it.

Precisely, and for this reason even trying to make an objection to the effect that no, we cannot learn much about Mahler's work since we cannot definitively establish what he himself really meant by it, is just plain silly. And almost totally irrelevant. (I know you are not saying this.)


Since we agree we can't Know what Mahler had in , well, in himself, then how is the accuracy of Bauer-Lechner vital? Isn't that all about trying to understand what M. meant.

I know I must be missoing something (like I doubt if I understand the right way to quote posters).(Oh, saw preview - might have got it)   :-[

    Ivor
Title: Re: Which M6 has the best hammer blows?
Post by: stillivor on September 03, 2008, 11:35:37 AM
Oh, I quoted but I didn't do the purply thing. Hm.

  Ivor
Title: Re: Which M6 has the best hammer blows?
Post by: Polarius T on September 04, 2008, 04:46:01 AM
Since we agree we can't Know what Mahler had in , well, in himself, then how is the accuracy of Bauer-Lechner vital?

Think about it in this way:

1) In his post above Dave H (immediately after questioning the meaningfulness of doing so in the case of Mahler) cites words by Stravinsky from an unattributed source describing the birth process of the "Sacre."
2) You cite an anecdote about Beethoven's reaction to a question concerning his Eroica.
3) But we shouldn't refer back to Mahler in the same way because we cannot know what he "ultimately and definitively" meant by what he said and did.

What's wrong with this logic?

Sounds to me like an equivalent of spreading hearsay from one corner of our mouths while suppressing a factbook with the other.

Bauer-Lechner is a source for precisely that type of words and descriptions, too, one moreover that has born scrutiny remarkably well (with dates, names, numbers, all that notated down often in great detail). It should be much more "vital" as a source for insights of the above kind than any undocumented, unchecked, unpublished, unverified, unattributed, unreferenced re- and paraphrasings of something we may once have heard someone tell someone else somewhere. B-L is pretty much the opposite of hearsay: a record that's highly accurate and notably careful to all that we know from double-checking it.

It's just a source of information for those willing to learn more of Mahler, his work and his world. Scholars use her to establish timelines and other facts not available from elsewhere (e.g. from Alma's unreliable diaries). That's all. Of course she doesn't tell us "the meaning" of Mahler's work; it's not musicology or philosophy, it's recollections, even if it contains reflections of both kind in which the author shows an unusual ability to understand and expound on (technical and philosophical) musical subjects (not least thanks to her own training as a musician).

I wouldn't use it to tell me what Mahler means; she's not even trying to do that. For what it matters that question, in the context of Western classical music more broadly, has been much better broached by others who were musicologists, sociologists, philosophers, cultural critics.

Remember that more knowledge is always good unless you're a charlatan who wants to become an authority owning the topic; then more knowledge is your enemy. Right?

Now I've think I've said it all (twice [thrice?] already)... But I'm still not sure what the issue is, really, underneath. :)

-PT
Title: Re: Which M6 has the best hammer blows?
Post by: Polarius T on September 04, 2008, 04:59:46 AM
Oh, I quoted but I didn't do the purply thing. Hm.

  Ivor

Took me just two months to figure it out: After you log in to start replying, you see the button QUOTE on the right hand side corner of the post you are replying to. Click that, it opens up the text box. Type after where you see "close-bracket slash quote" (I probably can't type the actual signs here as they are a programming code and thus wouldn't show). Within that and the preceding "open-bracket quote author equals" etc. code you can freely delete the superfluous parts of the quote you will not need (the "author equals name" tells you whose words you are quoting, appearing in the actual post as well).

If you want to break the quote into separate parts, copy and past those two signs plus the desired text passage pasted in between them.

The little edit icons on upper left hand corner of the text box are also great. Move your cursor above them and they tell what they do. The codes must always precede (open) and follow (close) the text segment for the feature to have effect on it.

And if you want to go back and revise you can click the MODIFY button on upper right hand corner of your post, then SAVE below it once done.

-PT
Title: Re: Which M6 has the best hammer blows?
Post by: Polarius T on September 04, 2008, 05:32:25 AM
Dave H has stressed that we have the music, and must be wary of reading more into it.
Polarius T has reminded us that everything we can learn has relevance, and may augment our understanding and appreciation.

At the risk of being simplistic, could I say that we're trying to compare music and writing, which is akin to describing the color or taste of an orange in words. 

For my own part I'd say that there is truth to the statement that "music is just music"; but then, we also have music which we (and others before us and undoubtedly others after us too) think is "art," and music which we (and others before us and undoubtedly others after us too) think is "great art."

Now, thinking positivistically that music is nothing but those ink marks on the paper and their organization into audible sounds carries the risk of not being able to comprehend anything of the latter two kinds of music. Or of not having anything to say about them.

Moreover, if in accordance with such thinking we would then consider "great" music to be simply the piece that has more detailed ink marks in it, forming a more complicated and possibly longer whole on paper that's  then more demanding to translate into coherent sounds, all we need to do to rebuke this reasoning is to note that Mahler has been surpassed in any and all such criteria by about one hundred thousand other composers already long, long ago; so why are we still here, listening and debating Mahler? (I don't think the positivists around are quite prepared yet to accept the simpler solution that "Great music is the one I happen to like the most.")

(I'm leaving aside for a moment the kind of conservative position that holds that "great" music is the stuff composed before Schoenberg [with the possible exception of a couple of Russians] and that's about it until the neoprimitivists came along.)

So what it would then mean that music is "art" and sometimes even "great"?

For that we need also other type of reflections, not just beancounting the note marks that got aurally reproduced.

I think I'm sidestepping your point, though -- sorry for that.

-PT
Title: Re: Which M6 has the best hammer blows?
Post by: barry guerrero on September 04, 2008, 10:08:34 AM
The problem is that subjectivity is just that: subjective. Of course music means more than just the printed page. If that weren't true, nobody would bother to listen to it. But as for for some kind of subtext or narrative, each person is perfectly free to make up their own. Our visions of what the music is about, are just as private as the actual experience of listening to the music. We can only dwell in our own hearts and minds; not anybody else's (or to be more precise, we can only speculate about others). The narrative or subtext that we envision may, or may not, jive with what the composer had in mind.

To me, the far relevant question - and the one that's far more difficult to tackle - is what specifically is it about the music (or IN the music) that makes us feel the way that we feel. That's what true Mahlerian "pioneers" should be grappling with.
Title: Re: Which M6 has the best hammer blows?
Post by: Polarius T on September 05, 2008, 03:20:15 PM
Yes, but "What does this music mean?" is not the same as the subtext or narrative that we project for it in our minds. You seem to be talking about some sort of programs we imagine the music might have, whether reflecting the personal vicissitudes of the composer and his life or as illustrating some sort of a story the composer made up for it.

For example you would never confuse the meaning of Beethoven -- or a Mozart or a Bach or a Gesualdo -- to consist of what they said it did or how it seemed to their contemporaries: mere trifles. (Beethoven: rage over a lost penny; Mozart: appealing to the lowest common denominator to make a buck; Bach: the glory of God; Gesualdo: bad conscience for lost love.)

Then again, I might be wrong, but...

-PT
Title: Re: Which M6 has the best hammer blows?
Post by: barry guerrero on September 05, 2008, 03:51:11 PM
.   .    .  yes, but often times, there's no way of truly knowing, "what does this music mean". And even if we did know, it might not be all that relevant to our own listening experience. And beyond that, the composer might have had several things in mind; not just one. Then again, we could go back and forth on such stuff forever.

Barry
Title: Re: Which M6 has the best hammer blows?
Post by: john haueisen on September 05, 2008, 04:54:35 PM
Most of what I've read seems to indicate that Mahler did not object to people looking for meaning in his symphonies.  An example of this would be his telling Alma she had it right, when she explained her take on M2.
I think what irritated Mahler was when people wanted a line-for-line, literal "translation" that was set in stone.  I believe that was what prompted him to discontinue providing detailed program notes.  It must certainly have been annoying to have countless people "bugging" him about the exact meaning of every musical phrase.  (Perhaps this is why Barry shies away from anything beyond the music itself.)
John H
Title: Re: Which M6 has the best hammer blows?
Post by: barry guerrero on September 05, 2008, 05:48:36 PM
It's not so much that I'm trying to shy away from "meaning" beyond the notes. It's just that I think the far more important issue - the one that requires some mental elbow grease (and really using your ears) - is deciphering what specifically it is in Mahler's music that makes us feel the way that we feel. I prefer to focus on that. Anyone can share their feelings and thoughts, interesting though they may or may not be.

Barry
Title: Re: Which M6 has the best hammer blows?
Post by: Leo K on September 06, 2008, 12:14:48 AM
For one thing...I really respond to the timbre of each instrument, and combinations of timbre...a good recording will highlight this, and if played "well" (here is where subjective really kicks in) I respond in kind.  Mahler good really orchestrate the timbre out of anything it seems.


--Todd
Title: Re: Which M6 has the best hammer blows?
Post by: john haueisen on September 06, 2008, 07:08:08 AM
Barry said: 

"deciphering what specifically it is in Mahler's music that makes us feel the way that we feel."

Yes, Barry--that's it exactly--whatever way we go about it!  But this is not at all an easy thing to accomplish.  One could spend an entire lifetime at such an endeavor.  (What a wonderful way to spend one's life!)

--John H
Title: Re: Which M6 has the best hammer blows?
Post by: Polarius T on September 09, 2008, 05:52:22 AM
...deciphering what specifically it is in Mahler's music that makes us feel the way that we feel.

For me, the way I feel about Mahler's music is more or less this (as crystallized by someone else): in it the absolute is conceived, felt and longed for, yet it does not exist.

Deciphering what it is in his music that makes me feel this way equals for me trying to understand, using all sorts of materials and analyses as an aid, the ways in which in the final analysis Mahler has extended the Jewish prohibition on making graven images so as to include hope.

Now I know that the distance between the two poles (as formulated here by Adorno), proceeding from the level of personal experience to a philosophical diagnosis of its origins, is quite big, but that's the kind of meaning I was trying to talk about: not the composer's own thoughts and ideas regarding his works, and not necessarily the personal significance his music might have for me, or the associations I might have when listening to it, but what it ultimately is all about, in the context of the cultural history of the Western world: why is it "great" and something else isn't?

I mean, that's the way I feel when listening to Mahler, and that's what I'm trying to figure out as a prompted by these feelings -- the "what" and the "why" informing my Mahler listening, then. The "why," on the other hand, can only be explained through musicological investigation assisted by various other sorts of information and insight (including also those obtained from Bauer-Lechner which we've been talking about), giving us then the "how," exactly.

Methinks.

Then again I just also LOVE those unique textures (did someone just mention sthg about them? Todd?) and the big devastating turns and catastrophic pile-ups that make my own seem like a bagatelle.  :)  Music opens up in so many ways that are so hard to pin down, and that's why I guess we're still here, arguing, and not back-patting one another in some literary forum.

-PT