(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.