Sunday Classics: Parting, though not without a struggle -- with "an increasingly calm acceptance of fate"
A symphonic finale in search of an ending
In the first not-quite-six minutes or so of this clip, Lenny B's comments are superimposed over a rehearsal, which gives way to the actual performance at about 5:55. We first saw this clip in the January 2012 post, "At how bad a point did the cell-phone ring heard 'round the world interrupt the NY Phil's Mahler Ninth? Let's complete the symphony." (We also heard Lenny conducting the complete finale from a July 1979 Tanglewood performance with the Boston Symphony. Later we're going to hear the broadest of his recordings of the movement.)
Well, when we attacked "Der Abschied" ("The Farewell"), the half-hour sixth and final song of the song-symphony Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth (in a July 2009 Maureen Forrester remembrance post), we pretty much just plunged in (in August 2010 we followed up with the three tenor songs), and I'm afraid that's what we're going to do as well with the other completed work composed after Mahler's diagnosis of terminal heart disease, the Ninth Symphony.
I noted when we listened to Mahler's "most characteristic" and "least loved" symphony, the Seventh (in November -- first the three middle movements, then the outer movements), that the composer would use this basic plan again. In the Seventh it's a pair of enormous outer movements bracketing a core of "other" musics: the two "Night Music"s wrapped around a scherzo. This is very much the plan of the unfinished Tenth Symphony, with a core consisting of a pair of scherzos bracketing the little "Purgatorio" movement (we heard this core of the Tenth later in November) -- with the crucial difference that those gigantic outer movements are now slow rather than normal symphonic fast ones.
That switch, of course, had already been made in the Ninth Symphony (which, as I noted in Friday night's preview, should properly have been the Tenth, if Mahler had had the courage to tempt fate and give Das Lied the dangerous-for-symphony-composers number nine). It's hard to think of words to convey the scale and dimension of the opening Andante commodo and concluding Adago of the Ninth.
AS I MENTIONED IN FRIDAY NIGHT'S PREVIEW . . .
Most listeners are likely to agree that the prevailing subject matter of the Mahler Ninth is farewell, the final parting -- as we can surely divine from the clip we've seen again up top, with Leonard Bernstein providing voice-over commentary over the final 10½ minutes of the finale. But even in those majestic outer movements the tone is hardly singlemindedly elegiac, and in those "otherish" middle movements the parting journey covers some very different ground.
MAHLER: Symphony No. 9 in D
i. Andante commodo
Nobody was more tuned into tunes than Mahler -- how to imagine them and what to do with them once you do. But does this glorious opening Andante commodo (the first time Mahler began a symphony with a slow movement, but not the last -- the most nearly completed movement of the unfinished Tenth Symphony is that gorgeous Adagio) actually have a tune? It's immensely tuneful, chock full of tune fragments, or perhaps cells -- I hum them a lot. But in listening, consider how Mahler composed this massive movement out of such tiny units of material.
I thought these brief movement descriptions by Terry Barfoot, from thee 1999 EMI CD reissue of Otto Klemperer's 1967 Mahler Ninth, might provide some helpful listening cues.
Berlin Philharmonic, Sir John Barbirolli, cond. EMI, recorded January 1964
Berlin Philharmonic, Herbert von Karajan, cond. DG, recorded live at the Berlin Festival Weeks, 1982
ii. Im Tempo eines gemächlichen Ländlers
(In the tempo of a leisurely Ländler)
We heard Bruno Walter rehearsing and then performing this rustic and perhaps sardonic movement in Friday night's preview, when we also heard the Ländler from Mahler's First Symphony.
Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Carlo Maria Giulini, cond. DG, recorded April 1976
BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, Kurt Sanderling, cond. BBC Radio Classics, broadcast performance from Manchester, July 17, 1982
Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Sir Georg Solti, cond. Decca, recorded May 1982
New Philharmonia Orchestra, Otto Klemperer, cond. EMI, recorded February 1967
Orchestre National de France, Jascha Horenstein, cond. Disques Montaigne, broadcast performance, June 6, 1967
Concertgebouw Orchestra (Amsterdam), Leonard Bernstein, cond. DG, recorded live, June 1985
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