Wha? Wha? What?

Part I

This week's performances of the biggest symphony Mahler ever wrote are being "dedicated to the many thousands of people who contributed to both the creation of Benaroya Hall and its monumental impact on our great city," according to the program.

They’re clever up there in Seattle, you know. Mahler’s Eighth Symphony is known as the “Symphony of a Thousand.” Tee-hee.

Thursday's subscription season opener was, in those terms, a triumph.

Wha? “In those terms?” What terms? From what I remember about the word “triumph,” it means, roughly, this: a great victory or achievement. So then, the season opener achieved...a big symphony? A dedication? Or was it more of a victory, instead? The season opener was victorious over...not having a season opener? Wha?


Part II

It was hard to know which to admire more: Mahler's skill in creating an edifice of sound at once massive and lucid, or music director Gerard Schwarz's in realizing both the massiveness and the lucidity.

I once had this question in the quantitative section of the GREs, so I know how hard it is, too.

But either way, the result was a ringing endorsement of the hall's acoustic excellence.

Wha? So let me get this right: The resultant performance, one which was a combination of Mahler’s compositional skill and Schwarz’s conducting skill, endorsed (????) the awesome acoustics of the hall? The performance endorsed the acoustics. Wha?


Part III

Schwarz has recently been bringing Mahler's bigger symphonies before the public at the rate of one a season — since 2006, the Third, the Seventh and the Sixth.

And now the Eighth. That’s forty percent of the total number of Mahler’s symphonies, that is if you want to count the Tenth, too. But really, how many more “bigger” ones does he have? I can’t wait ‘till Schwarz starts doing the smaller ones.

The vividness of the composer's inspiration has benefitted, on each occasion, from the conductor's equally vivid sympathy for the expressive fervor of the music and his ability to shape its often wildly varied elements into a coherent whole.

Wha? Huh? (plucks eyebrows, draws new ones with magenta Sharpie to suggest confusion) I think we’ve got it already—Schwarz did a good job with his baton. But...”the vividness of the composer’s inspiration benefited?” As I see it (and I could be wrong, of course), Bernard Jacobson of the Seattle Times is equating “inspiration” with the “score,” however convoluted that may be. In that sense, Schwarz, being able to read and perform the score, made the score “coherent,” which, in turn, benefited the score’s vivdness, which isn’t inherently coherent (maybe). Wha?


Part IV

The Eighth — known as the "Symphony of a Thousand" — poses a different structural problem.

...aside from not being inherently coherent, which befogged the vividness of the composer’s “inspiration.”

Its two movements are settings respectively of the ninth-century Latin hymn "Veni, Creator Spiritus" and the final scene of Goethe's "Faust." Mahler succeeded brilliantly in unifying his treatment of these two vastly different texts, but at the cost of variety. The seven-note figure that dominates the hourlong second movement is exploited far more repetitively than its potential justifies.

Here’s my best Bernard Jacobson impersonation: “Mahler had no idea what he was doing. He should have done it this way, instead, because I know better.”

And the method by which Mahler stretches relatively few motifs over his vast canvas is not development so much as permutation:

I’ve got a sinking feeling about this. (Hint: “permutation” sounds cold and mathematicky)

...the first movement's obsessive juggling with a handful of melodic ideas, in particular, reveals where Schoenberg's ultimately mechanistic 12-tone serial technique had its origins.

Wha? Give me fucking break! The one thing that Bernard “Totem Shoes” Jacobson would urge Mahler, himself, to change about the Symphony would be how much it reminded him of Schoenberg’s not-yet-invented technique, which is supposedly “ultimately mechanistic.”

Here’s my second best impersonation ol’ Totem Shoes Jacobson: “Hey Mahler, you shouldn’t have written it that way, because, one, I know better and, two, you might sound like Schoenberg, who I don’t like, because he is all mathematicky and stuff. You want to go get some coffee and type things on some Microsoft software then go hiking for vivid inspiration and not learn anything about modernism or Mahler or Schoenberg or serialism or music? Me, too!”



AnthonyS said...

But nothing was "sun-dappled", right?

Strini said...

"Wha? Huh? (plucks eyebrows, draws new ones with magenta Sharpie to suggest confusion)"

I'm a writer biased toward words, and all, but I want a picture of the above. -- Strini

Anonymous said...

Prediction of the minute:

Serial music will end up with the the so called "ars subtilior" in the mannerist file cabinet. That is-- music that is cool but that no one really cares to get.

Good write up though Empiricus, and howdy.

Empiricus said...

I think I might agree with that, especially with the caveat that "if you give it a chance, it can be pretty cool."