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Hello Russ,

'Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen' is indeed a very personal statement! (High on my list as well)

In my message I said that 'Mahler couldn't feel by halves', but I confused it with Schoenberg's reply to one of Mahler's works  :-[
I believe all of Mahler's music is personal, obviously to various degrees and emotions, but perhaps the single composition that strikes me as most poignantly "personal Mahler" is "Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen".
Gustav Mahler and Related Discussions / Mahler's most personal statement in music
« Last post by shawn on June 27, 2019, 03:58:40 PM »
Hello everyone,

I've wondered what the board members consider Mahler's most personal statement in music. This probably is a silly question, because we may find things very personal whilst Mahler felt he was more personal in other instances. And what is the definition of 'personal'? In the end, Mahler was ALWAYS personal, there weren't that many composers that poured so much of themselves in music. His music is highly subjective and is perceived as such. I'm still going to ask the question. Based on our own perceptions (which are, indeed, very 'personal'  :D), which Mahler composition ranks highly in that regard?

An excerpt from Classical Notes (

'Bruno Walter called Das Lied von der Erde "Mahler's most personal work, perhaps the most personal work in music." I've never heard it in concert, and frankly I never want to – it's far too personal and intimate, and thus ideally suited to recordings and the privacy they afford. Indeed, Mahler had told Walter that he feared Das Lied was too intense for an audience, and after completing the orchestration he stashed the score and never sought a performance.'

Now, whether or not the writer is completely accurate, this description of DLVDE is kind of a rough consensus of how the work is perceived. I wouldn't object to hearing it in concerts, but it's definitely one of Mahler's works that should not be 'corrupted' by an outbreak of applause at the end. Perhaps the orchestra and audience should leave the hall without further ado (of course, being as quiet as possible  :)) It will never happen. A concert performance without applause? Unthinkable! (Talk about being 'personal'  ;D)

In every way, Mahler was very personal and very direct. He never concealed his views, he never compromised his feelings, and we hear it as it is. This has naturally polarized critics and music lovers alike. Mahler, in that respect, is quite different from Brahms, a composer that almost always kept his feelings close to the chest (which is no crime!). Some even go as far as characterizing Brahms as too much of a compromise, some kind of 'no man's land' between Classicism and Romanticism. It's all relative, of course. And again, where Brahms did himself find he was being 'personal', our perceptions may be different.

But more on topic: If people ask me the question which Mahler composition strikes me as his most personal, they are often surprised by the answer: Mahler's Tenth. It's a controversial choice, because the work is not complete. It has been reconstructed quite a few times, and several of them are convincing, but they will always remain Mahler through the eyes of another composer. But, was a Mahler composition at any time definite? Had he heard his latter works in concert, they might as well be different than how we know them today. His Fifth, for example, was never a completed process, with Mahler making alterations even in his last years.

But what I DO hear in the Mahler Tenth, to my view, is the equivalent of open heart surgery. While the Mahler Sixth is fatalistic and nihilistic, it was reportedly written during one of Mahler's most happier years, and has tremendous elan. It is purposely balanced, the grim moments countered by moments of optimism, a tremendous ebb and flow. It's 'Tragic' on a heroic scale.

Now, I will never apply the term 'heroic' to his Tenth. It's a work of great desolation, even despair, a composer at war with himself. The opening Adagio enters the scene like nothing we have heard before in Mahler's output. My reaction to this music is extremely subjective. It is almost as if the music has a major problem trusting itself (I hope you know what I mean by that). There are many efforts on Mahler's behalf to counter the feeling of desolation, but it's rather forced, as if he knew darn well this is what he HAD to say at that time, without trying to compensate for its 'honesty'. Of course, the cataclysmic dissonant chords are much discussed. I find they are the equivalent of a spine chilling 'emotional auto mutilation'. Mahler is punishing himself, at least that's how I perceive it, and I agree that's VERY subjective on my behalf. The mood is somehow more consoling at the Adagio's end, but again in a rather forced way. In essence, this is a consistently desolate movement, and what we do encounter as 'relief' does very little to lighten the mood.

The middle movements are a tour de force of vigor. But as I appreciate their vitality, they again strike me as a willful sort of a distraction. Maybe I should accept them for what they are: exhilarating and buoyant. I just feel that, in the overall mood, they do not quite fit in. I think it's Mahler providing contrast first and foremost (and there's nothing wrong with that).

The Finale starts in essentially the same desolate mood as the Adagio, but it all changes (at least for a while) when the flute enters the scene. Now, has Mahler ever penned a more beautiful melody? Or, indeed, has any composer? Its melody cannot possible be described as desolate, it somehow may be called sad, a lament, and at the same time I cannot escape a feeling of a beginning of acceptance. That is, for the moment. Because after that, Mahler essentially conjures up the same forced episodes, again full of vigor. The last dissonant climax appears, but from there on the consoling mood reappears for the final time. Mahler has finally ceased protesting. There is acceptance, this time a little more convincing than in the last part of the Adagio. The music remains passionate (the composer hasn't quite given up his pleads), and dies out in a reluctant sort of way. The following major string glissando is EXTREMELY subjective, but I cannot remember any other symphony ending on such a deeply personal statement. Of course it's willfully subjective! But that's how we know Mahler, who 'couldn't feel by halves'. The last notes resemble those of the conclusion of the Adagio of Bruckner's Ninth.

This may not be Mahler's most inspired symphony. It's not finished, and therefore we may never know how it ended if Mahler lived to complete it. But I do feel, this symphony is about raw emotions, about reality, the journey towards acceptance. It's not a story about the love for nature, for life, for redemption. It's a story about coming to terms with yourself. I'm aware this is a very subjective assessment on my part, it's certainly not a fact  :)

Essentially, I think of M10 as another 'darkness to light' symphony. It's a deeply tragic work without the intended theatricality of, say, the Sixth. Other listeners may find that the Tenth is just as theatrical. Maybe it is. I just feel it's Mahler in his most Mahlerian form, without offering a clear concept symphony, or a specific theme. There is no poetical context. It's just Mahler offering a 'realistic' slice of himself and the last troubled period of his life. I find it a spine chilling symphony, and indeed I identify myself with many of its elements. That's what makes it personal for ME.
Gustav Mahler and Related Discussions / Re: What has happened to the Concertgebouw?
« Last post by shawn on June 26, 2019, 03:50:12 PM »
Hello Vehemence,

The New York brass by the likes of Smith, Alessi and co... now THAT was a sound!  :D I totally agree! In fact, when I started listening to Mahler recordings (at approximately age 13), I came across Bernstein's DG Live NYP outings. The New York brass were immensely 'present', at full throttle (while still being faithful to nuances). I remember to this day the opening of the M7 Rondo-Finale from Lenny/DG... Okay, maybe the horns were 'all over the place' in those opening measures, but who cares when those trumpets shine through with complete confidence? And what to think of those trombones! That swagger, some might even call it 'a sledge hammer quality' (which isn't necessarily a bad thing). It sounded great, exhilarating, mad, maybe even decadent (aspects of the M7 Rondo I don't think too many conductors notice at all). Why do so many conductors 'sanitize' this kind of music, which was intended not only as a parody, but also a willful 'collage' of musical episodes, with all stitches shown? Too many conductors present this finale as logical and sensible. There's nothing sensible about it, in fact: it doesn't make sense! But it's a great ride, like being on a roller coaster. Recently, a friend of mine gave me a copy of a recent biography of Mahler. In it, the writer claims that the M7 Finale was a mistake (or something to that effect). I don't get it. It's Mahler being Mahler, like in every other symphony! Why does Mahler have to be grim, pessimistic or fatalistic every time? Let them man enjoy himself when he wants to. The Rondo Finale is a celebration of life in full glory! I like it. Indeed, if I had my way, this music would be appropriate at my funeral, but I guess the mourners would find it rather... 'carnavalesque'  ;D

Just my two cents... Indeed, what an era in New York. I totally agree, Vehemence. Too bad Lenny had to perform these works in the Avery Fisher Hall, with dry and hard acoustics and shoe box perspectives (at least on recordings, I don't know how it sounded in the hall). Come to think of it, I have never heard San Francisco in the hall itself, I can only judge by recordings, and I stand corrected if 'in real life' they sound notably different.
When discussing things like this, we still need to take in consideration that this is a recording! Everything has been altered in some way. To my mind, you can't really use a recording to 'hear' what one of these orchestras sounds like live. In the case of San Fran, I have attended a master class with Mark Inouye, and his sound is very large and far from thin. I also have taken a lesson from Glenn Fischtal, the previous lead trumpet in San Fran, and he sounds nothing like on the recordings made with Blomstedt, especially up close. I enjoyed my time with him so much, that I almost went to school there.

Also, a big part of this could be the standardization of teaching musical instruments. It used to be, at least in the US, there were different schools and methodologies of playing. My 2 main trumpet teachers were both of the Cleveland school, having studied with Bernard Adelstein. There used to be New York school of Vachianno and all of his disciples, a Boston school of Ghitallas of students etc... Now everyone studies the same stuff, the same way. I also think, because of this, all the newer players are growing up playing this difficult music. 30 or 40 years ago, high school student were not performing Mahler 5, now they do at certain camps, and high schools like Interlochen or Colburn. The level of playing right now is so damned high. This could give you the generic feeling. That's why I always really enjoyed the old New York Phil brass section with Phil Smith, Joe Alessi, Warren Deck, and Philip Myers. They had a sound, and it was distinct, live or on record.
There's nothing you've said that I disagree with. You have very good ears and insight. A thought came to me this morning.

At some point during the Haitink era, the Concertgebouw hired a woman principal horn who had come from Chicago. She undoubtedly played a different horn than would have been traditional during the van Beinum years (which probably would have been a mix). It may be at that point that the horn sound began to change significantly. In the early Haitink M3 recording, you do hear more of that old Concertgebouw horn sound. Someone who is both a horn player and a Concergebouw maven could probably shed some insight.
Gustav Mahler and Related Discussions / Re: What has happened to the Concertgebouw?
« Last post by shawn on June 26, 2019, 01:46:36 AM »
Hello Barry,

I think you offer some pretty darn good insights on the practice of brass playing! I kinda felt bad of 'preaching' about the brass sound  :-[ As I said, I love music, and notice a 'decline' in the presence (and character?) of today's brass playing. I think it's perfectly natural that brass players 'don't want to wear themselves out' during a performance. I'm just not sure this is adding anything special to a performance. You mention San Francisco, and I agree. Undernourished strings. But I also have a problem with its brass. They sound very 'American', but also in a very 'generic' way. They could just have well come from any other American orchestra, there isn't anything particular San Francisco about it. In that regard, RCO's brass, at least, has a more unique sound, more noble sounding (the SFS trumpets are rather 'thin' sounding, in Amsterdam they are more 'rounded').

I also agree on Rotterdam. It's a quite different orchestra than Amsterdam. Of course, Amsterdam is much more famous. But in the end, good playing and interpretation is what counts. I may be scorned for what I will say now: I like the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic even more than Rotterdam. The NRP has had an impressive roster of conductors who really made a difference. And of course, De Waart's Mahler cycle is a winner. Gorgeous sound from RCA, too. In fact, I always refer to that cycle as 'the most unknown, consistently great Mahler cycle'. It doesn't even need remastering! Just reissue it  8)

Jansons sounds markedly different in Munich! I will also state Jansons wasn't a bore in his early years. The RCO collaboration was frustrating. It's almost as if his tenure 'didn't happen' (for all the impact it had). I also have grave problems about the RCO's programming in those days. Who needs another Brahms 2, another Rachmaninoff 2, another Bruckner 9 if you haven't anything interesting to say? (all these recordings have been sold as SACD's, and I could mention many more that are so inferior to RCO's earlier discography. It's like fouling one's own nest.) Why don't they give a shot to more unfamiliar territory? More Dutch music? I really like Hendrik Andriessen's suites and symphonies (his 4th is a scorcher)! And just because Jansons didn't care for them very much, they were never heard. In that respect: Jansons was never a special Mahler conductor, and even less impressive as a Brucknerian. But of course, he did record them, just because the RCO feels obliged to do so, and the results are quite underwhelming.

Don't get me wrong, there's is nothing bad about performing the same old standard repertoire. But it needs to be balanced by lesser known works to keep things interesting.
It's a complicated question, because THAT sound will probably never reappear. Some of it may have to do with how the orchestra was miked in those days.  I do know what you mean. As a brass player, these are difficult questions. Many conductors try to control the brass in rehearsals - wanting to hear all kinds of inner detail - only to encourage them to play louder and louder in concert. As you know, Richard Strauss warned against doing that.

As with any other players, brass players are looking for improvements in their equipment that will help them to play well in-tune without having to pull slides all over the place. They're also looking for a 'centered' sound that's pleasing, as well as comfort (good ergonomics) and endurance. Players today are expected to go an entire concert without making 'clams' (hitting a wrong note or 'splitting' a note). That expectation wasn't so drastic in earlier times. Also, brass players try not to 'stand out' these days. As a result of all this, there is, indeed, a certain 'homogenization' of the brass sound. I'm not sure how to combat that. Many players are not willing to 'take risks', so they tend to play their parts in a safe manner. I recently had a conversation on that very point with an old (French) horn player friend of mine. Many people praise my local big-name symphony, San Francisco. But I think their strings aren't competitive with the best (Philly, Cleveland, Boston, etc.), and that their horn section tends to 'play it safe'. They are thoroughly professional in the sense that they make very few mistakes. I'm not happy with the sound that MTT has encouraged over his 25 year rein and Davies Hall is quickly falling behind other big halls in the country. Disney in L.A., for example, is far better. Anyway, I'm willing to bet that brass players in the Concertgebouw are not playing on the same brands or types of instruments that they would have in Van Beinum's day. At one point, they were using a lot of Yamaha equipment (I don't think that would be nearly so true today). That may very well NOT be the case with their woodwinds, which have had a long tradition of excellence. Brass instruments have evolved tremendously in 50 years time, and I believe very few players would be willing to go back to old equipment. The exception to that point, of course, is within the period instrument community. But even there, the players are generally using modern copies of ancient instruments.

I too share your enthusiasm for the Dresden Staatskapelle. At times, I feel they're Germany's best as well. Are you at all familiar with recordings made with the Rotterdam Phil.?   .    .   .  That's an interesting case, because here's another great Dutch orchestra that sounds entirely different than the Concertgebouw. Their brass are, indeed, much more 'in your face'. There's a heavier, more powerful 'Slavic' sound to that orchestra. Again, I think at least some of that has to do with the difference in acoustics and lay out. I've very much enjoyed a recent DG box set with Nezet-Seguin/Rotterdam Phil. It has an outstanding Shostakovich 4th - very 'in your face' - and a truly solid Bruckner 8th (among other things). The Youtube video of Nezet-Seguin doing Mahler 8 in Rotterdam is quite good as well.

I'll again state that I find Jansons a puzzling case. He sounds much more alive and involved in his Munich recordings (Bavarian Radio Symphony). I have a Mahler 3 with him and the BRSO that is quite excellent. A 'pirate' I have with Jansons/Pittsburgh doing Mahler 5 is also really good. That, of course, goes back a few decades.
Gustav Mahler and Related Discussions / Re: What has happened to the Concertgebouw?
« Last post by shawn on June 25, 2019, 02:52:56 PM »
Hello Barry, thanks for the reply,

First of all I'm a music lover  ;D My knowledge of acoustics may be poor. Your explanation on that field is probably the cause for much of the timid brass sound.

But something's still puzzling me. Even in Chailly's latter days with the orchestra (2004), the RCO was using the kind of instruments far removed from the Van Beinum days. It is also the same hall as it is today, as you describe, with the same acoustic peculiarities. I find it puzzling, that in 2004, Chailly's orchestra had a brass section that was able to offer the oomph required, especially in Mahler. Not only in studio conditions, but also concerts. As an example: Chailly's farewell concert Mahler 9th. A great concert, by the way, to match his studio outing for Decca. There the entire orchestra delivered the goods, including the brass. Maybe this was one of those moments where everything went magically. But at least it proves they can do it when they want to.

I think you have a good point on acoustics and different mouthpieces, and I am encouraged to read more about it.

Maybe a stupid question: is great brass playing always marred by acoustics, or is it, as in the Chailly example of 2004, also a question of 'gusto' and commitment? Not being a brass player myself I am wondering how much 'involvement' matters in the course. Jansons can be quite relaxed, while Chailly strikes me as more of a perfectionist wanting and asking total commitment. Was he pushing the brass to leave its comfort zone? (And if so, does that trump acoustic problems?) Come to think of it, in Gatti's recent RCO performances, I did find the brass less reserved, horns especially... Interesting discussion.

I think Gatti would be a major improvement over Jansons. Berlioz SF aside (weird performance!), his RCO outings were always interesting. And 'interesting' alone is a word that doesn't apply to Jansons. For the life of me, I can't understand why they wanted Jansons. Yes, he was dear to the orchestra, but that simply implies that the orchestra didn't want to be pushed out of their comfort zone, and guess what: Jansons never did that. When you think of it, it's the most classical example of 'slovenliness'. Gatti was a conductor who indeed DID push them out of their comfort zone, and I'll bet the orchestra got annoyed. They weren't used to that after decades of Haitink and Jansons. So, as we will never hear the complete truth about Gatti's dismissal, I wouldn't be at all surprised there's more to it than simply 'me-too'. It's Amsterdam's loss.

I always chuckle when they announce a 'Greatest orchestra' list. It's more of a PR stunt than anything else. Of course, Rattle's BPO also got a high ranking. The British will never stop raving about their Birmingham wonder boy, never mind the fact that his 'leadership' in Berlin has contributed to the deterioration of the orchestra. These kind of lists offer yet another opportunity to put another feather in his cap. The RCO was placed at top. Well. It certainly has seen better days. Maybe we should rephrase the title, not 'Greatest orchestras', but, 'the best of the worst.' Today most orchestras sound alike, especially when taken out of their own halls. I have a fondness for Dresden (not only the city but also its orchestra). I think it's the best German orchestra (in fact, I even think they were better than Karajan's BPO, but of course, that band always got the spotlight).

I think what Amsterdam needs, is a conductor (like Gatti) exploring the capabilities of the orchestra and not simply be a caretaker. Willem Kes, Willem Mengelberg and Eduard van Beinum BUILT the orchestra, Haitink and Jansons maintained its standards without offering new insights, Chailly took them into radical new musical territories. Quite simply, they need another 'maverick' at the helm. But I have grave doubts the orchestra will stand for it.
Acoustics do play a part in what you're describing. In the Van Beinum days, the brass would be playing smaller bore instruments with generally smaller mouthpieces. The sound would be more narrow and cutting than what we're used to today. That's a generality, but it was true for pretty much all orchestras in those days. The Concertgebouw performs on much steeper tiers than in most halls. As a result, the woodwinds cut through much more than usual. To prove this point to yourself, listen to a pirate recording of Haitink doing M3 in the Concergebouw with the Vienna Phil. Their woodwinds cut through much more than they do in the Musikverein. Anyway, the trumpets and trombones are relatively high up and farther back than normal. This is one reason why they continue to avoid the darker sounding, rotary valved German trumpets. The horns don't have a wall behind them for the sound to bounce off of. As bore sizes and mouthpiece sizes have increased, so too has the 'spread' of the sound. In Chicago, one gets an entirely different result because the stage in Orchestra Hall is relatively wide and shallow. Most of the sound carries upwards.

I agree that many of Jansons' recordings are too soft edged and, sometimes, quite boring. What's strange is that he sounds like an entirely different conductor in Munich, even in Mahler. I think a lot of that may had to do with the 'mission statement' of RCO Live and Jansons' relationship with management at the Concertgebouw. It may interest you to know that the Concertgebouw just recently released its top administrator (whatever his title was). Undoubtedly, much of it must have to do with their handling of Danielle Gatti's dismissal. There has been quite a bit back-blow on that whole episode. This brings me to a question?

Have you heard any of the recordings of the Concertgebouw with Gatti?   .    .    .    I think they're quite good and much more 'intense' than what we hear with Jansons. Sexual misconduct allegations may have been at the heart of Gatti's dismissal, but I think they were also intimidated by his intense, fiery temperament. Management may have had trouble controlling him. It's always too easy for people and institutions to believe their own p.r. The Concertgebouw got named the greatest orchestra in the world by Grammophone. When that kind of mindset sets in (no pun intended), people become resistant to new input or criticism. Anyway, I own Gatti's excellent recording of M4 and a superb 'pirate' of him doing M3. I thought their Alban Berg disc was excellent as well. His M2 was maybe less successful, but very interesting.

The Concertgebouw have their 2020 Mahler Festival coming up soon. I believe all the conductors have been lined up. Of course, Gatti won't be involved. I'm sure the orchestra will pull itself together and put on quite a show. They will never sound like the Berlin Phil., Vienna Phil., Chicago Symphony or much of anyone else. The hall is, indeed, rather unique. The Concertgebouw has outstanding woodwinds and percusssion (the first orchestra in Europe to truly modernize its percussion department). If anything, they more closely resemble the Czech Phil. and, perhaps, the Dresden Staatskapelle. We can only wait and see what becomes of their future. Keep in mind that the cost of living in Amsterdam is very, very high and that public support in Holland is waning, in terms of supporting such institutions with tax money. In other words, it'll continue to be challenging times.

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