Mahler Symphony No. 4, Part 1
After the truly heavenly slow movement of Mahler’s 4th symphony, a soprano emerges and sings a song literally called “The Heavenly Life.” It is a symphonic ending like no other, one that leaves the listener peaceful and contented after taking a long(but not as long as usual) and winding journey with Gustav Mahler and his 4th symphony. The 4th symphony is a symphony of moments, like the famous sleigh bells that begin the piece, and a symphony of long, massive, and momentous arcs, like in the timeless 3rd movement, which might be my single favorite movement of any Mahler symphony. But this symphony, so renowned for its contentedness and beauty also features complicated emotions, drama that clouds the blue skies, and a dark side that we never truly escape, perhaps not until the very end of the symphony. Mahler said that his symphony was “divinely serene, yet profoundly sad, it can only have you laughing and crying at the same time.” What a perfect way to define Mahler’s music, always full of dualisms, contradictions, ironies, and complexities, but that’s what makes Mahler’s music so irresistible; its ability to plumb the depths of not only the human spirit but also its psyche. Mahler’s music is truly musical therapy, and if there’s one of his symphonies that really exemplifies that, it’s this fourth symphony. With all that said, this is also his simplest and most easily grasped symphony in terms of its purely musical content. I’ve gotten a lot of emails in the past from folks who are skeptical or confused about Mahler and his appeal, so if you’re one of those people, than this symphony MIGHT just be the one that changes your mind. As always with Mahler, his symphonies get multi-part episodes, so this week I’ll go through the first two movements of the symphony, from the sleigh bells and brilliant sunshine of the first movement, to the devilish and ironic second movement. We’ll talk all about Mahler’s brilliant orchestration, his use(and deliberate misuse) of form, the pure beauty of this music, and the oddly negative reception that this symphony got when it was first performed. Join us!