Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Man lies in greatest need. Man lies in greatest pain. Gustav Mahler at 150

Gustav Mahler died in 1911, but he may still be the greatest composer of the 20th century.  Passages in his last, unfinished, symphony, the Tenth, seem to anticipate all the unspeakable horror soon to come, yet in the end his music leaves us with the possibility of a redemptive beauty that transcends all suffering.

A Jew, Mahler converted to Christianity to negotiate the rabid anti-Semitism of Vienna society.  Yet in his Second, Resurrection, Symphony, there is no last judgment at the end of the world, no final, cold estrangement from the face of divinity:
I came upon a wide road,
where an Angel bade block my way.
No. No, I will not be turned away.
I came from God, and I will return to God.
It was the gift of God,
the small, quavering light,
guide through earth's long, dark path,
that will deliver me to eternity's luminous shore.

On Wednesday, July 7th, the 150th anniversary of Gustav Mahler's birth, WFMT, 98.7 will be playing all 10 of Mahler's symphonies, and Thursday at 8:00 p.m., the station will broadcast a concert from the 1960 Mahler centenary with Dimitri Mitropoulos conducting the New York Philharmonic, the same orchestra Mahler served as music director a half century before, in the composer's Fifth Symphony, and the Adagio from Symphony #10.

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