Author Topic: I am having a hard time understanding Mahler  (Read 7483 times)

Offline afon

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I am having a hard time understanding Mahler
« on: February 05, 2011, 02:54:46 PM »
This is more of a desperate scream than a question, but I really have no other place to vent. So I thought I might even get some help.
My dad loves Mahler. He LOVES it. He cries at the Adagietto from the 5th. He writes me long e-mails about the friday concerts that he attends back home in an Eastern Europe capital.
I am not an educated listener as he is (he plays the piano, I don't anymore, since childhood). But I really enjoy other romantic works. I love Verdi and Rahmaninov (sic!).
I tried to give it some time and went back to the symphonies. They still don't tickle me at all. I forced myself to sit through them, one at a time, a movement at a time and I still don't find anything exciting about them. They are maybe just OK.
What am I doing wrong?  ???  I hear only music with no beginning and no end, taken in small parts it sounds fine, but when you put it together it just doesn't link into a full round piece. Waltzes and funeral marches blended together with interminable bland passages and then a bunch of "joking" here and there.
I feel like I am letting them down, both of them, this dude who is so acclaimed by all of you and my father too. People are ready to pay thousands for a box set and I can't stand it. Tons of paper and ink flow all over the world about his music and I just can't hear what others do.
What's wrong with me?
Thanks for reading my post.

a-fon

Offline barry guerrero

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Re: I am having a hard time understanding Mahler
« Reply #1 on: February 05, 2011, 10:15:36 PM »
It sounds like you're not doing anything wrong. It's absurd to think that EVERYBODY should love Mahler's music, any more than it's  expected that everybody should be in love with Shakespeare's plays. It may simply be that Mahler is not for you, and that's OK. Don't fret over it. Conversely, I don't care the slightest bit for Verdi's works, except for his very last operas. Those differences make the world go round.
« Last Edit: February 05, 2011, 10:17:11 PM by barry guerrero »

Offline Seán

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Re: I am having a hard time understanding Mahler
« Reply #2 on: February 06, 2011, 12:38:17 AM »
Hi, I think that the older you get the easier it becomes to understand Mahler's Marvelous Music.  Give yourself a chance, wash away the guilt.  Several conductors like Reiner & von Karajan came to Mahler's music late in life too.  Have you tried just listening to snippets, like say the Scherzo from the First Symphony, or a selection from the Third or the Fourth Symphony?  Please do not torture yourself with Mahler's music, it's there to be enjoyed and if you don't enjoy it just move on.
« Last Edit: February 06, 2011, 12:39:56 AM by Seán »

Offline Roffe

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Re: I am having a hard time understanding Mahler
« Reply #3 on: February 06, 2011, 06:57:42 AM »
Hi afon,

Don't just give up yet. In the late 70's (when I was a very young man), I loved the Vienna classicists (Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert) and the 19 century romantics (Schumann, Brahms, etc), but the music of Mahler left me cold. Then I saw Ken Russel's movie "Mahler" (it's available on YouTube) and thougt that a lot of the background music was very good (only Mahler music was used). So, I went to the record shop and bought me a Mahler symphony (M5, BRSO/Kubelik) and listened to a full Mahler symphony for the 1st time. And the reaction was: WHAT A BUNCH OF CRAP. Really shit. $15 in the bin; I'll never play these records again. Then som time passed and I really don't remember what happened (I think I attended a concert with a Mahler symphony), and, alas, in the beginning of the 80's I loved Mahler's music. And now, it's more like an obsession, lol. So my advice is, don't try to push it, go to a concert with one of his "easy" symphonies (like the 1st or the 4th); if the love for M's music comes, it comes (but it may take some time). But NEVER NEVER NEVER feel guilt because you don't like things that others like. Good luck to you.

Roffe

Offline waderice

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Re: I am having a hard time understanding Mahler
« Reply #4 on: February 06, 2011, 12:35:25 PM »
Hi, I think that the older you get the easier it becomes to understand Mahler's Marvelous Music.  Give yourself a chance, wash away the guilt.  Several conductors like Reiner & von Karajan came to Mahler's music late in life too.  Have you tried just listening to snippets, like say the Scherzo from the First Symphony, or a selection from the Third or the Fourth Symphony?  Please do not torture yourself with Mahler's music, it's there to be enjoyed and if you don't enjoy it just move on.

Clarification:  Reiner didn't come to Mahler late in life.  He performed M7 and M2 (the latter, I think, without going to dig through his American concert programs) while music director in Cincinnati in the 1920's, but never performed these works again.  We know of his Chicago M4 and DLvdE recordings, and it is documented that he studied the score of M1 while in Chicago, but decided not to perform it.

Wade

Offline John Kim

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Re: I am having a hard time understanding Mahler
« Reply #5 on: February 06, 2011, 07:33:28 PM »
Hi, I think that the older you get the easier it becomes to understand Mahler's Marvelous Music.  Give yourself a chance, wash away the guilt.  Several conductors like Reiner & von Karajan came to Mahler's music late in life too.  Have you tried just listening to snippets, like say the Scherzo from the First Symphony, or a selection from the Third or the Fourth Symphony?  Please do not torture yourself with Mahler's music, it's there to be enjoyed and if you don't enjoy it just move on.
Agreed. But I began enjoying Mahler's music at the age of 12!! :D ;).

The impact and shock I got upon listening to his Resurrection for the first time (Klemperer/PO/EMI) was so immense that I ran into my mom's room and exclaimed, "Mom, I just heard the greatest music on Earth!"

John,

Offline Damfino

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Re: I am having a hard time understanding Mahler
« Reply #6 on: February 07, 2011, 05:11:20 PM »
a-fon, I could have written your post back when I was exposed to Mahler in college in the late 70's. I felt exactly the same way. Some of the works are sooo long, and just when you think Mahler is on a good tragic sort of vibe, he brings in mocking laughing sounds. Mahler liked to have a lot going on at once. He called his use of several melodies at once polyphony. I thought it sounded like cacophony.

However, I eventually came to appreciate what Mahler was doing. Sounds that used to remind me of fingernails on a blackboard eventually made sense. Mahler is an acquired taste. And like many acquired tastes, he can become one of your favorites once his music clicks with you (if it does). 

I would start with Symphony # 1. It has a sort of programme to it. The first movement is very pastoral and nature-like to me. I always imagine a meadow shrouded in mist, and then the sun burns it off and a beautiful day begins. I also like horn calls, and it features some great horn sections.

The other movements have a programme described by Mahler which you can follow or not. All in all, I think the First symphony will be a great intro to Mahler (but the last movement is rather long).

If you never do get into Mahler; don't sweat it. There are lots of composers for whom I do not care, either (mainly modern ones like Ives, Messiaen, Berg, and others).

Dave

Offline afon

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Re: I am having a hard time understanding Mahler
« Reply #7 on: February 09, 2011, 06:47:50 PM »
Thank you much to all who spent time and tried to help me come out of this. I came to the conclusion that I just need more time. And it really feels good to know that I am not the only one who feels the way I do and that in time this may change, Maybe I just need a different state of mind, maybe I just need to get older (I am 36 now, so do I need to be 50 to be called mature? maybe...). I strongly believe that (most) men never really mature. I can't imagine doing now things that I used to do only 10 years ago, so people really change with age and maybe my "ear" will change too.

Again thanks much and happy auditions, be it Mahler or not!

Offline barry guerrero

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Re: I am having a hard time understanding Mahler
« Reply #8 on: February 10, 2011, 07:12:25 AM »
A-fan,

If you're going to continue trying with Mahler, then I want to leave you with the same advice I give most everybody. Don't just tackle the symphonies alone. Be sure to listen to the various song cycles as well. AND, be certain to follow the text. That - almost more than anything else - will give you great insight into the symphonies themselves.

Offline Stürmisch Bewegt

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Re: I am having a hard time understanding Mahler
« Reply #9 on: February 10, 2011, 08:41:30 AM »
Another advice to understand Mahler: read a detailed biography, read german and russian litterature, be receptive to nature, get older and wait.
I came to Mahler only two years ago and i'm not a teenager! I knew i would explore one day  this work but i really thing that unconsciously i was not ready before and now i understant why according to the emotional shock it was.
i hope you can undertand me in spite of my difficulties to express in english!
Mathilde

Offline mahler09

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Re: I am having a hard time understanding Mahler
« Reply #10 on: February 11, 2011, 01:37:49 AM »
I completely agree with the statement about Mahler being an acquired taste... I've been trying to turn my friends onto him for the longest time, but when you force something, it won't happen.  I had never even heard of him or his music until I went to a concert as a freshman in high school... now he is my favorite composer.  So try going to a concert (because live music is a completely different experience) and give it space!  Listen to the Songs of a Wayfarer.  But don't feel pressured to like something or at least right away if it doesn't click.  I personally cannot fully grasp some of Mahler's works yet, notably M8.

(Not sure about the whole maturity thing... but I guess I've always been old at heart. :) )

Offline John Kim

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Re: I am having a hard time understanding Mahler
« Reply #11 on: February 11, 2011, 04:46:24 AM »
I completely agree with the statement about Mahler being an acquired taste... I've been trying to turn my friends onto him for the longest time, but when you force something, it won't happen.  I had never even heard of him or his music until I went to a concert as a freshman in high school... now he is my favorite composer.  So try going to a concert (because live music is a completely different experience) and give it space!  Listen to the Songs of a Wayfarer.  But don't feel pressured to like something or at least right away if it doesn't click.  I personally cannot fully grasp some of Mahler's works yet, notably M8.

(Not sure about the whole maturity thing... but I guess I've always been old at heart. :) )
But for me M1st, M2nd  & M4th were instant taste!! :o :D

However, I admit the other symphonies took months, if not years, to get my teeth into. ;)

What's interesting is that once I got familiar with one or two of the more 'difficult' pieces it didn't take all that long to digest the rest.

Thus, my order was something like,

M1 ->  M4 -> M2 -> M8 -> M5 -> M3 -> M6 -> M7 -> M9 -> DLVDE -> M10

John,

Offline Roland Flessner

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Re: I am having a hard time understanding Mahler
« Reply #12 on: February 13, 2011, 06:17:38 AM »
As others have stated, you can't force yourself to like it. If you don't enjoy it, just give it a rest.

I became a Mahler enthusiast when I was 14. I saw M1 on a PBS broadcast, and immediately took to the slow movement's irony. I was hooked and that was over 40 years ago.

Follow your heart and listen to the music you enjoy. Here's my approach: No judgement is ever final. You can't force yourself to like something, but if you keep an open mind, one day it might click. Schoenberg's "Pelleas und Melisande" made no sense to me until after I stopped trying to understand it. On a whim, I put it on one day when I was doing the dishes, and everything fell into place.

Offline Prospero

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Re: I am having a hard time understanding Mahler
« Reply #13 on: February 13, 2011, 02:14:46 PM »
While I have loved Mahler most of my life, when young it was the songs that first caught my imagination. And the 4th Symphony with its exquisite song finale was the first of the symphonies to speak to me. So I agree with the comment about listening to the songs. I would say Songs of a Wayfarer and the Rükert songs, maybe some of Knaben Wunderhorn songs, but most important  finding some way of approaching  Das Lied von der Erde. Also, as the previous poster suggested follow the texts for a couple of times, then maybe listening to the interplay of voice and instruments even in the simplest songs. 

Good luck, If you find a piece you like, revisit it now and again.

Best,

Tom in Vermont

Offline Prospero

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Re: I am having a hard time understanding Mahler
« Reply #14 on: February 13, 2011, 02:18:46 PM »
For conductors who came to Mahler late in life--we might also remember Barbirolli.

 

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