Daniel Goode

Composer & Performer

Category: Mahler

Two Observations

TWO OBSERVATIONS together only because I wrote them in pencil in the end-papers of a book. (Middlemarch by George Eliot):

These wispy things—clouds—gathering around the hard geometry of the city buildings and their silhouettes. (As seen from my roof.)

***

Mahler 9th, first movement: The simplicity of the surface-level melody forces the increasing intensities of the orchestra counterpoint. That is, the surface melody is Mahler’s “earworm? Did he have (suffer from) them? How would we know? Just what is an earworm? If he had them, were they vernacular borrowings or original , possibly, or not (interesting—this) inspired by vernacular.

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Gustav Mahler: After Nine

Two young composers influenced by Mahler’s 9th Symphony were performed:  by the Argento Chamber Ensemble, playing Matthew Ricketts’s After Nine: Fantasia on Mahler; and by the JACK Quartet, playing Taylor Brook’s Arrithmia——as a prelude to the Argento’s September 15th performance of the Mahler Symphony No. 9 (see my Thumb Nail Review #39.)

The latter of the two scarcely seemed serious. The composer wrote: “What does Mahler have to do with a string quartet written in 2012? It may be the result of an ‘anything goes’ attitude on my part.” Yes, anything goes; and anything went…He claims the “melodic quotations promote a clear connection to Mahler’s symphony…” I couldn’t hear them, though maybe the recurring mi-re-do stood in for that (if you remember that the first movement is mostly mi-re, and very little do till the the last note). In any case the JACK Quartet hacked through the piece with great vigor, though it seemed to very little artistic effect from the composer.

The Ricketts piece was a sensitive timbral study that moved from pitch level to pitch level, staying, expanding, then moving on. I’m thinking that there is newish style of creating tonal puddles based on this format. Each puddle gives way to the next. Then the piece ends. In Mr. Ricketts’s case, the penultimate moment was a passionate, but quickly disappearing climactic moment, re-orchestrated, from the Mahler first movement. It couldn’t stay long, or it would have been Mahler. Just a swipe at it.

I’m ambivalent about putting these two young composers with short pieces before the gigantic Mahler symphony. A little unfair. At the end of the evening my head was filled to overflowing with “ear worms” from its four movements. Usually it’s days, if not weeks for these ear worms to subside. Not much room for anything else. These things rise up from the unconscious, or someplace in there, just to the level of singability, but of course can’t be sung, because the underlying pulsing harmony can only be thought. I’m not sure I like this ear worm thing, but I know I can’t control it. It has to die down at its own rate, and something else must replace it.

Now a little poem on varied repetition: Iterative, re-iterative, iteravia, via, vi…. Another meaning to repetition in music is this continuous varied-repetition of long, well-formed melodic sentences. (One of my mentors in composition idly mentioned, the great length of a musical sentence in Mahler, which surprised me coming from a indomitable modernist.) Well-formed, by the way, includes ellipses, contractions, interruptions as part of a whole sentence, not some abstract symmetrical balancing.

Did Mahler have (“suffer” from) ear worms? How would we know?The simplicity of the melodic phrases—the parts of his long melodies— seems to force him into a paroxysm of increasing intensities of varied repetitions in the melodies and their orchestral counterpoints. Because of the simplicity of the original, and the obsessional nature of the composer? Were his putative ear worms vernacular borrowings or originals that sound inspired by vernacularities? Whatever you think about this, you have to create a special category of the archetype Repetition to account for Mahler’s underlying insistence on a musical gesture—call them themes, melodies, motives, or sentences. It’s not like Bruckner’s or Wagner’s iterative-ness. Nor Terry Riley’s nor Steve Reich’s, nor my own. Something special! It digs into you. It’s another kind of trance. I can imagine hating it because you believe that restraint is an essential part of art. But the only restraint necessary is that required by the instruments playing, and, historically, this has changed, partly because of Mahler’s composing. And every new generation of composers.

(Just to correct: the Argento string section: was 4,4,3,2,1)

Thumbnail Review #40

Mahler’s 9th Rules – Even in a Chamber Version!

So, it was reduced forces like 2 horns instead of 4, 1 trumpet, 2 clarinets, 1 flute, etc., no lower brass, and strings: 3,3,3,2,1. No harp? It’s impossible without harp to do the 9th! But so cleverly, the piano and yes, that was an accordion, did amazing things to sound like all those missing instruments—the piano as harp was my favorite, but also its “lower brass” explosions were tasty. It was the Argento Chamber Ensemble conducted by Michel Galante. My friend and collaborator, Stephanie Griffin led the viola section and tipped me off to this September 15th New York premiere (of the chamber version)—seems to me it was a first—at the Advent Lutheran Church, Broadway and 93rd where they have a free Monday music series.

What worked amazingly was the completely adequate volume in the loud sections. It was overpowering where required. I sat close to minimize excess church reverb, but the direct sound was satisfyingly loud. (An aside: the emotional climax driven, formally clinched pushing-through (Durchbruch, or breakthrough—Adorno) must, of course, leverage the sheer phenomenon of acoustic volume, Must! Mahler is all about how to do climaxes right, and then what should follow.)

What didn’t work in the chamber orchestra version was interesting. Not the missing instruments: and especially not-missing were all those piquant solos in Mahler’s full orchestra original, no problemo! No, rather it was the counterpoint—I really mean something more generic even than counterpoint, the counterbalancing of competing rhythmic channels—among the five string groups, especially the upper three. So much information, expressional verve, sheer thrill is in the way these bodies play against and with each other within the generous harmonic framework of the whole. But strings merged as one body all too often, and especially in loud tutti sections.

But the symphony as a successful artifact was all there, and wove its amazing web. And we thank Klaus Simon, a theorist commissioned by Universal Edition, Mahler’s publisher, for this brilliant feat. And for Michel Galante’s directing these fabulous musicians. A free concert on the Upper West Side is a dangerous demographic act if you want to attract people as young as these performers were. Yes, dangerous, because it was, movingly, a geriatric crowd with lots of walkers and wheelchairs in the aisles… We love our culture, and many of us, our Mahler! I’m thinking of images of those young string players biting down and into those forte attacks in those crucial places, because expression is a function of the gestures’ placement in music’s time experience, and in feeling’s time.

I loved the lilting regularity of the opening Andante, first movement. I once touted this quality of the piece to Ann as being the perfect long, long theme for “meditative walking” (yes: the meaning of the best andantes for me is meditative walking). But when I took her to a full orchestra performance, the conductor made so many stretchings, speedups and slowdowns of these opening bars and pages, that I had to look at her helpslessly and say, oh: I guess not. Anyway, Michel Galante understood the movement’s beginning in the right way for me. The unfolding of the long, long theme and its varied repetitions was hypnotic because of the regularity, and much more cumulatively affecting than those other ways of doing it.

Only the viciously contrapuntal Rondo Burleske third movement didn’t work that well. The fast clip meant that the final stretto section had to be too fast to hear much detail, becoming an exciting mess of sound, only, instead of a hilariously thrilling combining of all the ideas at once in a headlong race to the end.

Another review on the two new pieces by young composers influenced by Mahler’s 9th will come in another thumb nail review..

Thumbnail Review #39

Chou Wen-Chung in His 91st Year, at Merkin Concert Hall Last Night

February 21, 2014 10:16:31 PM EST

With only three pieces on the program it wasn’t exactly a Retrospective. Nor was it a Recital (as in ‘here’s what I do’). Better than either of these, it was an Event!

Student of Varése after he arrived from China in 1946; his copyist and editor, he completed Varése’s Nocturnal, orchestrated his Etude Pour Espace—Chou is also his literary executor and lives with his wife, Yi-an, in Varése’s house on Sullivan Street in the Village along with some of Varése s cherished instruments. And as you might expect, he was influenced by Varése’s aesthetic. But with a new self-imposed task: to make a personal synthesis of “East and West.”

Cursive for flute and piano was beautifully played by Jayn Rosenfeld (flute) and Christopher Oldfather (pianist, with coloristic inside plucks, et al). Cursive hand-writing which is no longer taught or readable by young people, was Chou’s bridge to the calligraphies of Asia. I resolved then and there to practice my own cursive which is now deficient from over-use of the computer. The piece was quite atonal on first listen.

Twilight Colors for a luscious sextet of three winds and three strings, was the first piece on the program, played vividly by Boston Musica Viva, and conducted by Richard Pittman. Right away I felt a difference in the role of rhythm. A dotted rhythm, a triplet was not a Western “authority figure” driving the music motivically. Rather, it was more like a loving receptacle of a sound, of a tone, of several tones. There was room for a breath of contemplation, time slowed down. Different from Cage’s ‘let the sounds be themselves,’ but equal in setting itself apart from the European grammar of connection. 

Echoes from the Gorge was the last piece on the program, played brilliantly by the percussion quartet,Talujon, on a large array of quite standard Western percussion instruments. A glorious noise piece in many movements. Often in the silence between movements the wooden chimes, charmingly, had a few more soft sounds left to say. I was thinking while listening: all these instruments, didn’t they come from “the East?” I watched one player repeatedly strike the giant tam-tam near its rim with three small-headed mallets, eliciting nothing but high piercing frequencies, not the low bonging we expect from a big gong. Just then there was a huge noisy climax of “ear-cleaning” zinging tutti tremolos. 

Since color was a theme of the concert, I must report that all but two of the players wore the standard ho-hum uniform of black. Only Jayn Rosenfeld in a pale purple blouse, and Christopher Oldfather in a mauve shirt, begged to differ. 

It was a small, but loving audience. Chou Wen-chung came up on stage to receive the applause and a bouquet. Small, dapper, charming, with a full head of grey-flecked hair—when I introduced myself later, he graciously thanked me for coming to the concert. 

Thumb-nail Review #36

Just Another Thumbnail Review – Mahler’s 7th

From: Daniel Goode
Date: December 22, 2013 8:56:31 PM EST
To: Jennie Punter
Subject: Just another Thumbnail review-Mahler’s 7th

Looking down from my magnificent box seat (thank you, cousin Martin), straight ahead at the Met Orchestra under James Levine in Carnegie Hall this afternoon playing the 80-minute Mahler Seventh Symphony—I saw so many bald and grey heads, and hardly a youngin’. Could it be the prices (my seat was $142)? Could it be ignorance? Or all of the above. This orchestra is wonderful. The playing was thrilling, oh I wanted a slower beginning, but so what, it was gorgeous, warm, brilliantly together. Why wouldn’t the younger generations be thrilled at the sound, the drama, the pazazz of this invention of European origins with so many hundreds of versions throughout the world? Tell me! before I cry in despair.

Brought up on the “Three B’s” (Wagner substituted Bruckner for Brahms, the dumbkoff), I never heard a note of Mahler until I was in my 20s. I still try to understand why it worms its way into me.

It’s something about the statement and the commentary being almost simultaneous because the orchestra is such a fabulous monster, so big, so various, it can do both at the same time. So a “one-liner” which is where Mahler starts, becomes in a few seconds, a multi-liner, and your breath is taken away. (This ignores the accumulations of form, the travel, the experience of being on a journey…just as important.)  But it starts with the phenomenon that feeling is transmitted when he tells you why this theme, this chordal passage, this rhythm turns him on: by making the orchestra say it in many varied voices, right from square one—to the very end. It’s anti-classical in that sense. The classics just lay it out, and let you take it or leave it.

Mahler is not of that ilk. He can’t let you go home without telling you, showing you, why you should be moved by this scrap, or that, this odd piece of tune, chorale of chords, this walking or marching or dancing rhythm. Then he connects the dots and you have a symphony. It works.

Hats off to the Met Orchestra for bringing this out.

Thumbnail review.

Against clichés about Mahler’s music

This piece was originally posted on Jeffery Goldfarb’s excellent web site “Deliberately Considered” on September 21st 2011 [Click Here]

To read Marvin Taylor’s response to this post [click here]
To read my response in turn [click here]

The tendency to reduce an understanding and appreciation of cultural achievements is a limitation of the thought in Marx and Marxism, as I suggested yesterday. Such reduction, though, is actually a more general problem, as is explored here in another of Goode’s thumbnail reviews about music and life. -Jeff

Why should we care? Because some of us love the music. Some of us even commit that chauvinist crime of saying: “He’s the greatest Jewish composer” as if there were a contest out there. (He was reviled with anti-semitism in Vienna during his lifetime, especially around his directorship of the Vienna Court Opera). But two of the most progressive conductor’s, Leonard Bernstein and Michael Tilson Thomas (both Jewish), both of whom regarded Mahler as central to their lives, are just full of the usual clichés about him. Oh, like: that those wonderful and suggestive, disintegrating endings to his final works are “about death” or about his death. Well, maybe they are, but HE never said that.

The latest slew of these interpretations came in a visually elegant public television program conceived by Tilson Thomas called “Keeping Score.” I won’t list instances here, maybe some other time. Actually the best one-liners came from the first clarinetist, Corey Bell, of the SF Symphony (featured in the film). He spoke about the “skin-of-your-teeth tonalities” in the Scherzo of the 7th Symphony, and of the “corners to hide out in.”

Thomas does get off one perceptive analysis: tracing the use of the musical “turn” from Mahler’s first work, “Songs of a Wayfarer” to the final movements of his last two completed works. And the importance of the tone, A, in that early work and then in the climax of the first movement of his 10th Symphony.

A final shot of Thomas at Mahler’s grave in Grinzing, a suburb of Vienna, shows without comment, stones placed in the traditional Jewish manner on top of the Mahler’s gravestone. His remains were not allowed to be buried in the same cemetery as Beethoven and Schubert. “Those who love me will find me” he said.

This originally was published in an edited version on Jeffrey Goldfarb’s blog, “Deliberately Considered.”

Marvin Taylor comments on my Mahler post

On Oct 13, 2011, at 4:03 PM, Marvin J Taylor wrote:

For the blog entries: What do you think about this: Are the well-intentioned attempts to see these things in Mahler’s works just a continuation of the very problematic critical debates between early Wagner–of Judenthum in der Musik–Hanslinck, and Brahms of the 19th c.? Did Bernstein get duped by falling into this line of critical thought just as Hanslick and Brahms missed the shift in Wagner’s thinking in the later works after he gave up on the ideas put forth in Oper und Drama? (Or, conversely, did Bernstein so strongly believe in the cult of the artist that Wagner promoted–and the Nietzsche so rightfully despised–that he over Romanticized everything about Mahler?)

On the other hand, as a student of lit., I’ve never much worried about what authors (of any kind) say about their work. The Intentional Fallacy rears its Fafner-like head. Instead, I tend to see these kinds of engagements as Heidegger did: that is, as dialogues with the past, even if it was only two weeks ago. It’s even more important to located the discussion in the present the further back you go in time with the referent.

Of course, Mahler often does use rather simplistic “programmatic” tricks in the music. I’m thinking, for example, of the off-stage horns of the Apocalypse at the end of Sym. no. 2. This probably enables people to see programmatic moments where they might or might not exist, such as at the end of the 9th.

Then, of course, there is the matter of the performances. Regardless of what Bernstein thought about the work, his conducting of the pieces is so stellar that I’d almost rather not know his ideas. This is esp. true given the live performances with the Koncertgebow. Those recordings are devastating to me on a purely musical level.

How’s that for opening up a can of worms?

All best,
M.

Daniel to Marvin, re: Mahler

This is great. I’ll have to defer to you, I’ve never read Oper u.Drama. I thought the T.Thomas film really was pretty much a part of the over-Romanticized thing. I’m not really interested in the idea of the end of those movements (9, 10, Das Lied) AS a death trip. Yes, ending ending ending. OK, already! got it.  In performance (I have to write this down at some point), the actual effect in real time, actual halls, is to make a subtle, long segue between the hyper-mood of his material, and the everyday world with coughs and squeaks and traffic, letting you down slowly, fading out on you, putting you on your feet going out with the memory of what was the musical high points for  you. It’s very vivid and unavoidable at any performance. What he meant is almost superfluous, though why not add it in, if we knew it. Ironically it was those three works that were premiered posthumously, so any composer/audience colloquy couldn’t happen. This does spook me: the posthumous performance of his masterpieces with no commentary from him possible.

The Mahler Second is part of the theatricallizing of his inner/outer world, so yes, simplistic, but we forgive him (intentional fallacy again) because he’s recovering child-hood memory, so simple=simple. I honor Bernstein’s performances, and glad he decided to internalize Mahler. I think the 9th with Koncertgebow and Bernstein was one of the films I saw in the Mahler and Film series last season. Or was it another symphony? Or was it Claudio Arrau? Bernstein did the 4th, yes, that was it. There was a German television film of Kindertotenlieder with Fischer-Dieskau that was overwhelming partly because the simple, stark, black and white staging of it was like German wood-cut. Our PBS type things need to hang their hat on something simple, so the conductor’s get short-circuited. Bernstein was a serious thinker in a way, just not in these contexts.

Yes, I think contemporary discussions, of the program note variety, just continue ad nauseum the 19th Century. I don’t have a theoretical take because M’s music is still a visceral agent in my life. I like Adorno’s book on Mahler. I’ve turned it into a palimpsest. You’ll get it some day for the Fales!! Yes, to a blog entry. I should read Op. u. Dr. I might need a crib. Hope I recognize where he departed from himself as you mention.

Thanks for putting your thoughts down on this. For me., it’s a perpetual itch, I keep on scratching at, but it never calms down.
Best,
Daniel