Mahler along with Wagner, are two composers that you must done have some reading about their lives, as then you will obtain a better understanding of their music.I suggest 'Mahler, a life' by Jonathan Carr. It is not a weighty tome,but destroys some of the myths surrounding Mahler,and 'Mahler an Introduction to his music'by Deryck Cooke, obtained from Amazon.
Mahler's parents were ill suited, but it producted 14 children,of whom only seven survived. Much has been made about the fact that this had an effect upon Mahler. But the death rate when he was born in 1860 amongest infants were high.He grew up in Iglau,Moravia,near a military barracks, with its trumpet sounds, and bands, dance tunes in the town on Saturday nights and regional folk music. Nearby was the countryside, which became a refuge for him. Bernard Mahler, his father, noticed Gustav's musical talent, for he himself was attempting to better himself intellectually.He obtained a music teacher and eventually Gustav entered the Vienna conservatory. Later on Mahler became conductor and director of the Vienna Court orchestra from 1897-1907. In 1902 he married Alma, who was years younger then he. She wanted to be his muse. He told her bluntly that she must give up her composing for him.She mixed in a artistic circle and was their pin up girl.Her parents and step father were artistic. Unfortunately, she was not as intelligent as she thought. Her books about her life with Mahler are to be taken lightly. He was a difficult man, but self sufficent, and would compose alone in a hut.She got her revenge in her memoirs.
Parts of his Seventh symphony influenced Webern,Berg and Schonberg.Although Mahler did not understand Schonbergs music he supported him in every way he could, including giving him money. It is thought if Mahler had not died in his early 50's in 1911, he would have ended up coming to the same musical conclusions as Schonberg. Along with Wagner, Mahler believed in reincarnation and there is much evidence to support this.In the Third Symphony he thought he had discovered the secret of creation. The sounds he produces in his symphonies, the bugle calls, marches,walzes, mundane music distorted, also the sounds of nature, must have seemed like Birtwhistle, or Nono does to modern audiences when first heard. You may have noticed that after a disjointed movement,he places a adagio and so forth. It is thought that the mundane and the spiritual in the music,are caused by the gentleness of his mother, whom he adored and the ambitious down to earth father.Mahlers music was not just about himself, but the world, and the quest for answers of a philosophical nature.
I think together, Solti conducting of the Mahler Symphonies, with the Chicago Symphony orchestra on CD, along with the Bernstein recordings on DVD, have fast tempi, which Mahler prefered.Both bring out the rawness and so called vulgarity,and Bernstein the emotionalism. I think Tennstedt is better when he is conducting alive, as in the DVD's of the Ist and 8th Symphonies, then in a studio. Haitink 6th Movement, of the Third Symphony,captures the spiritual beauty of that movement. But he is too polite and plays down aspects of Mahler. The songs, you cannot go past Janet Baker with John Barbirolli.However, Das Lied von der Erde,there is Klemperer's version, with Ludwig and Wunderlich,Ferrier and Patzak, Vienna Phil,cond Bruno Walter.1952, and Kerstin Thorborg,Kullmann,cond Walter, Vienna Phil,1938. The very first recording.Dutton. Both Walter and Klemperer, who knew Mahler well, both conducted his work differently.
After such a lengthy introduction,I will give my opinion on the seven Mahler symphonies.Claudio Abbado's tempi are fast. They are played differently to the Solti and Bernstein recordings. He down plays the rawness and vulgar sounds deliberately, so you can hear the music clearly, for his textures are light. It is as if the lens has been cleansed and I can see anew. The Lucerne Festival Orchestra is a supreme one. He has friends, former and current members of the Berlin and Vienna philharmonic orchestra,and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra. Along with well known instrumental soloists, also the Sabine Meyer ensemble and the Hagen Quartet.Abbado believes ensembles and so forth listen to each other.You can see that the orchestra love this man.I have never seen that in a orchestra. They are playing for him in their holidays. The 5th, 6th and 7th symphonies are excellent. At the beginning of the 1st disc,the Prokofiev Piano Concerto No 3 is played by Yuja Wang on the Piano. Disc No 2, has the Ruckert Leider, sung by Magdalena Kozena.Her voice is light compared to Baker, but I enjoyed the songs. It is a matter of taste,or opinion. The Bluray Discs come in a excellent white box, which is beautiful to the eye and has a booklet inside. 1080 full HD, DTS HD audio surround sound.Worldwide. The sound is fine. I have A Denon bluray machine with two speakers,but with Sennheiser earphones,it gives you surround sound. It is a new invention, a necessity for someone like me who lives in a flat.