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Mahler in March
- Mahler's Symphony No. 6
- March 24-25, 2017 8:00 PM
- where: Dell Hall directions
- conductor: Peter Bay
The ASO will “drop the hammer” in March with performances of Gustav Mahler’s iconic Symphony No. 6 in A Minor. Grab that special someone because you’ll want to see and hear this amazing piece performed by your
Austin Symphony. Experience the famous hammer blow! Take a look:
Still want more? How about playing on some string instruments provided by our friends at Violins Etc.? We also have a wonderful pre-concert talk given by Bob Buckalew at 7:10 pm. How about “tweeting” with our musicians and ASO staff? Take a photo in front of our photo wall. The Austin Symphony wants you to get the most out of your concert experience, which starts…
All artists, programs & dates subject to change
|Gustav Mahler||Symphony No. 6 in A Minor, Tragic|
Symphony No. 6 in A minor, “Tragic”
b. Kalischt, Bohemia / July 7, 1860
d. Vienna, Austria / May 18, 1911
Mahler began his Sixth Symphony during the summer of 1903, completing it a year later (along with the second and fourth movements of Symphony No. 7, and Songs on the Death of Children, which he had begun three years earlier). This was one of the most idyllic periods of his life: his fame as a conductor reached its apex; regular and well-received performances of his music were taking place across Europe; and the companionship of his wife and their two daughters was giving him great joy (the younger, Anna, was born in June 1904).
Yet the music he was writing represents an even greater gulf between reality and his creative world than the one which had surrounded the creation of the Fifth Symphony. Both Symphony No. 6 and the song cycle are somber, even tragic works. They turned out to be disturbingly prophetic ones, as well.
Regarding the Symphony, Alma Mahler wrote in her memoirs, “In the last movement he describes himself and his downfall; or, as he later said: ‘It is the hero, on whom fall three blows of fate, the last of which fells him as a tree is felled.’ On him, too, fell three blows of fate, and the last felled him.” This refers to the events of 1907: the death of their older daughter Maria of diphtheria and smallpox, aged four-and-a-half; Mahler’s being driven from his job as Music Director of the Vienna State Opera; and the diagnosis of his life-threatening case of heart disease. To represent these “blows of fate,” Mahler included a hammer in the orchestration of the Sixth Symphony’s Finale. The sound he wanted from it wasn’t clangorous and steely, but a non-metallic thud, “like an axe stroke.”
“But at the time he was serene; he was conscious of the greatness of his work,” Alma continued. “He was a tree in full leaf and flower. None of his works came as directly from his innermost heart as this one. The music and what it foretold touched us so deeply.” The first performance took place on May 27, 1906, in Essen, under the composer’s direction. According to Alma, “Out of shame and anxiety he did not conduct the Symphony well. He hesitated to bring out the dark omen behind this terrible last movement.”
Mahler made changes to the Symphony’s orchestration following the premiere and several years thereafter, the most important of them the deletion of the last of the three hammer blows. He superstitiously feared it might hasten the arrival of the disaster that it predicted for him. He also had second thoughts about the sequence of the inner movements. His original plan was to have the Scherzo performed first, followed by the Andante, and this was the order in which the movements were once published. The sequence that he eventually decided upon, and which he always conducted, however, was Andante first, followed by the Scherzo. This order is followed in the 2010 critical edition of his complete works that is sanctioned by the International Gustav Mahler Society, the version Peter Bay is using for these performances.
Mahler gave the Sixth Symphony the subtitle Tragic. In overall terms it is an appropriate designation. Yet it is only in the finale that the work’s catastrophic nature becomes completely clear. Each of the three preceding movements offers a balance of positive and negative elements.
The opening movement contrasts a menacing, march-like subject with a passionate second melody. Alma recalled, “After he had drafted the first movement, he came down from the forest to tell me he had tried to express me in a theme. ‘Whether I’ve succeeded I don’t know; but you’ll have to put up with it.’ This is the great, soaring theme of the first movement of the Sixth Symphony.” In the middle comes a peaceful interlude, atmospherically colored with the sound of cowbells. (Mahler may have included them as a recollection of his happy youth in central Europe. They will be heard again in the Andante and Finale.) The “Alma” theme crowns the coda triumphantly.
The Andante is a serene, gorgeously melodious lullaby. But its climax, in contrast, is a searing outpouring of emotion.
The colossal, overwhelming finale opens with an eerie, unsettling introduction in slow tempo. The movement proper is restless and striving. It consists of a series of waves of vigorous activity, each of which is crowned catastrophically by one of the hammer blows of fate. There is no recovery from the third and final climax. The music, its tragic destiny fulfilled, subsides into utter darkness.
Maestro's choice recordings, Purchase recommended recordings from Amazon.com and help support the ASO
Mahler: Symphony No. 6 / Kindertotenlieder ~ Bernstein / HampsonPurchase at Amazon