Mahler’s “Resurrection” Symphony

Gustav-Mahler

(Gustav and Alma Mahler)

Tonight Xian and I are going to Powell Hall to hear the SLSO and SLSO Chorus, conducted by new music director and all-around swell fellow Stéphane Denève, perform Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 (“Resurrection”). Although I didn’t write the notes for that concert—or any notes for the SLSO since the beginning of last season—I did feel inspired to post my program notes (dsopn121317 ) for Mahler’s “Resurrection” Symphony, originally published for a 2018 concert by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra at the Meyerson in Dallas.

I’m  going to be thinking about resurrections and rebirths (René means reborn, not that I chose my own name or anything), and possibly updating this site more regularly than every several months. I do have a lot of new chamber music writing that I could add, for a Tippet Rise concert season that just ended. Tonight, at Powell Hall, I’m going to be enjoying the dulcet tones of my friend Patty Kofron and her peerless colleagues in the SLSO Chorus. Patty also helped me purchase my tickets, with the usual stipulation that I’d much rather hear well than see well. She’s a gem, and I love talking with her about music as much as I enjoy dishing the musical dirt with her.

Since this is my personal blog I should probably take the opportunity to muse more about Mahler and bring up all the Mahlerian matters that I can’t discuss in the genre of Professional Notes I Get Paid For. If I were more of a Lester Bangsian annotator, I might bring up a decades-past experience involving an illicit psychedelic substance and a recording of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau’s staggering interpretation of Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder. I might mention, or even reproduce, a minutely handwritten letter to a friend that I was writing while listening to this Children Death Songs cycle, over and over again, in the company of the aspiring composer I was living with, co-captain of our extremely boring-to-recount-and-yet-harrowing-to-experience trip). For several consecutive hours, neither of us wanted to listen to anything else except this song cycle about dead children, and I must thank the unnamed aspiring composer (and indirectly his professor) for hooking us up with the good stuff, that Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau recording, still my favorite, which was that night branded into my brain forever and ever amen. This is my favorite song in the cycle, the one I couldn’t quit hitting repeat on: “Nun will die Sonn so hell aufgehn.” If the link doesn’t work (I won’t seem to spring for the premium plan, all you profiteering WordPress executive scoundrels), just search Youtube or your favorite streaming service for Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau singing it, and you won’t regret it.

My mind was already primed for the over-the-top intensity verging on kitsch sentimentality of the dead-child concept, thanks partly to the great Dolly Parton and her vast canon of ballads about victimized children. Listen to a lot of classic country music (Dolly and the Louvin Brothers and Leadbelly and the Carter Family and George and Tammy), as I was doing at the time of my primal, hallucinogen-enhanced Mahler encounter, and the theme of dead kids is going to come up again and again, the same way it does in Renaissance poetry and my daily newspaper (St. Louis City, my heartbreaker of a hometown, maintains a high tally of murdered children, among them my husband’s recently murdered coworker’s recently murdered 10-year-old daughter). The details change, but the acute and particular grief of surviving a child is eternal. The pain of that loss barely seems endurable, and yet millions and millions have endured it or are enduring it right now. They can’t go on, they go on.  Mahler and Dolly and the Louvin Brothers and Shakespeare and Dickens and Beckett and Morrison, so many unsung others, turn our constant sorrow into a tribute, a consolation, a promise. A grief-stained joy almost seems possible.

A Gift Repaid with Interest

bigstar-1

Five years and a couple of weeks ago, I assembled a box of gift records for my best friend’s son, on the occasion of his Bar Mitzvah ceremony. And then yesterday, completely out of the blue, I receive a link to a performance by said Bar Mitzvah, who is now 18 years old, of a song that appears on one of the albums I gave him. My best friend, his mother, made the video animation. She has him singing on Delmar, as he is wont to do. He turned out even more wonderful than we imagined, and here is the proof.

Along with the box of LPs that I gave him, a copy of this letter. I had never been to a Bar Mitzvah ceremony before, and I haven’t been to one since.

Letter to a Bar Mitzvah

12/03/2011

Dear Adam,

I don’t know much about Judaism, and yours is the first Bar Mitzvah that I have attended, but a bit of Internet research yields the following fun facts:

  • You are now responsible for your own actions. (Uh oh!)
  • You may be legally married by Jewish law (Uh oh again! Please wait a few more years at least, because 13 is awfully young to settle down.)
  • You may possess personal property. (Finally: something that doesn’t warrant an “Uh oh!”)

Obviously, I don’t know anything about the many religious rituals and ceremonies in which you are now eligible to participate, so I won’t presume to hold forth about those. I’m going to talk about your rite of passage in more general terms. I wasn’t brought up in any faith, and I have never been a religious person, but I did survive adolescence. What got me through, what jump-started me into puberty and ushered me into adulthood, what made the whole dreary enterprise seem worthwhile and sometimes even magnificent was rock & roll. When I was confused, or frustrated, or pissed off, or in love with some boy who barely knew I was alive, I could always rely on my music. No matter what I was feeling, I could always find an album that would make me feel understood, less alone in the world. My human friends disappointed me sometimes, but my record friends never let me down. Do you know the Beach Boys song “In My Room”? It goes, “There’s a world where I can go and tell my secrets to/In my room, in my room/In this world I lock out all my worries and my fears/In my room, in my room.” My room mattered to me because that’s where I kept my records and my record player. Nothing could touch me there. My room is where I was my best and truest self.

Most kids these days have iPods, and they can carry their “room” around with them wherever they go, but I think they’re missing out on the magic that comes with having a personal sanctuary filled with sonic totems: a turntable, LPs, dust jackets, real speakers. Vinyl records, unlike mp3s, have an odor, a life force, a physical presence, a past. They crackle a little when they get worn, skip when they’re abused. If you treat your LPs right, they will outlive you. When all the CDs and mp3s have died their little unmourned digital deaths, the vinyl will abide. I own many records that belonged to people who are dead now, and it comforts me to think that my record collection will be dispersed among future generations when I’m gone.

I took good care of my records when I was a teenager (invest in a Discwasher cleaning system, if you don’t have one already—when records are free of dust and debris, they’re much less likely to get scratched—and make sure to replace your needle fairly regularly, about every 6 months if you use your turntable every day), and I hope you’ll do the same so you can bequeath yours to a worthy recipient someday. I still have records that were given to me by my grandparents, parents, ex-boyfriends, and old friends. Some of my albums, I know, are worth a lot more on eBay than I originally paid for them, but their monetary value means nothing to me. How could I put a price on a friend, on a memory? Whatever I paid for the albums in my collection, my investment was returned to me a millionfold. I paid stupid meaningless money for them, money that I might otherwise have blown on Diet Coke and nail polish, and they gave me knowledge, experience, passion. They helped me make sense of it all: the hormonal maelstrom, the endless hurdles, the darkness and doubt.

The albums I’m giving you today aren’t supposed to be comprehensive, some kind of starter kit for a young collector. I picked out 18 from my personal stash because Wikipedia told me that the number 18 has special significance for the Bar Mitzvah; supposedly, it represents the Hebrew word for life or something. (Also, given the fact that several of the albums I gave you are doubles, that was the maximum number I could fit in the box.) These 18 albums are not at all representative of a well-rounded person’s taste. The only thing these records have in common is that they meant something to me when I was a teenager, and I know they have something to do with the adult I am today. Here’s a truth that adults never seem to mention when they’re lecturing you about growing up: The Teenage You never goes away. All those lyrics you pore over now will be imprinted on your consciousness forever. You’ll forget your wife’s cousin’s name, your license-plate number, your grocery list, countless appointments and passwords, but the songs you love now will be seared into your soul until you die. They’ll matter to you in a way that songs you’ll love later never will. I can’t guarantee that these albums are going to have the same significance for you that they did for me, but I do know that the Future You will be shaped by everything you love now. So love widely, love deeply, and love well.

Won’t you let me walk you home from school?

Won’t you let me meet you at the pool?

Maybe Friday I can

Get tickets for the dance

And I’ll take you.

 Won’t you tell your dad, “Get off my back”?

Tell him what we said about “Paint It Black.”

Rock & Roll is here to stay

Come inside where it’s okay

And I’ll shake you.

 Won’t you tell me what you’re thinking of?

Would you be an outlaw for my love?

If it’s so, well, let me know

If it’s no, well, I can go

I won’t make you.

(from “Thirteen,” by Big Star, on one of the albums I gave you)

Love,

René

 

 

 

Nietzsche, Strauss, Dylan

Among other things, Richard Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra is the 19th-century version of  “Subterranean Homesick Blues”:

“Verily,” says Zarathustra to his flock, “I counsel you: go away from me and resist Zarathustra!…. Perhaps he deceived you. The man of knowledge must not only love his enemies but also be able to hate his friends…. You are my believers—but what matter all believers… All faith amounts to so little. Now I bid you to lose me and find yourselves.”

—Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra

(From Digressions I Must Omit from my Program Notes, a work in progress)

Kraftwork

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I had the good fortune of interviewing Shannon Wood, St. Louis Symphony Principal Timpani, for Playbill. We met in his percussion studio/rehearsal space, across the street from Powell Hall. We talked about Kraft’s Concerto for Timpani and Orchestra, No. 2, his mallet business sideline, and lots of other fascinating stuff.

You can read it here if you like:
http://tinyurl.com/zs6g9mq

 

Romantic Projections

Detlev_Glanert_Iko_Freese_DRAMA

The St. Louis Symphony performs Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro, Glanert’s Frenesia (in its U.S. premiere!), and Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 2 (with pianist Emanuel Ax) on Saturday, April 25, and Sunday, April 26, 2015. My program notes start on p. 26.

http://tinyurl.com/qyu8bgz