SUNDAY, MARCH 18, 2018 4:00PM
Pre-concert conversation 3:00pm
Howard Performing Arts Center, Berrien Springs
As Mahler’s first purely instrumental symphony since his First, the Fifth Symphony occupies a pivotal place in Mahler’s endlessly fascinating output.
Composed during the summers of 1901 and 1902, following the meeting of Alma Schindler in Vienna the previous winter, this symphony is reflective of the composer’s personal life with its trajectory from mourning to triumph.
Mahler, Symphony No. 5
SYMPHONY NO. 5 MAHLER
Mahler composed his Fifth Symphony over the course of two summers 1901 and 1902, at a lakeside cottage in Maiernigg, Austria. His wife Alma later described his working life there as “Almost inhuman in its purity,” the composer toiling daily on multiple creative projects, during the only respite he enjoyed from the crushing schedule of life as a professional conductor.
The work marks an important break in his symphonic output, beginning a series of masterpieces for instruments alone after three symphonies that had included voice and, therefore, text. His foray into “absolute music” does not however imply that the composer had abandoned the idea of poetic inspiration, as the music often seems reminiscent of moments from Kindertotenlieder, Rükert Leider or “Der Tambourg’sell” from Das Knaben Wunderhorn, song settings on which he was working at the same time. However, without words to guide the listener, Mahler was obliged convey his ideas solely through the integration of musical form and content.
The “grand scheme” of the music is a clear progression from struggle to hard-won triumph, reflected in the progression of tonality from C# minor in the first movement to blazing D major in the finale. It is at least possible that the outline reflects recent developments in the composer’s life, notably his successful wooing of the beautiful and talented Alma Schindler, but the basic template has many musical antecedents, most notably the Ninth Symphony of Beethoven.
Acting as a central pivot between the emotional poles (struggle; triumph) is the lengthy third movement, a Scherzo comprising a whimsical combination of ländler and waltz, and featuring an obbligato role for the French horn. On either side of this median lie the pairs of movements – Funeral March/Storm; Love Song/Finale – that form parts one and three of the whole. In each of these outer parts, Mahler uses the first movement of each pair to introduce motifs that will later be taken up and developed at length in the second. This idea of developmental “feeding forward” may also be found in a chorale that emerges first in the Storm movement, and then is reworked as part of the Finale. The net effect of such rigorous structural/thematic integration is one of tremendous cumulative power.
The fourth movement, an Adagietto for strings and harp alone, deserves special mention as possibly the most popular of all Mahler’s compositions. It has been used in a variety of contexts as a stand-alone piece, perhaps most poignantly at the funeral of Robert Kennedy in 1968. The original inspiration is said to have been Alma: the conductor Mengelberg related the story that Mahler presented the movement to his muse as a wordless love letter.
PEER GYNT SUITE NO. 1 GRIEG
Ibsen requested the composer to write incidental music for Peer Gynt as part of an 1876 project to turn his original poem into a drama that could be staged.
The suite comprises four scenes, only two of which take place in Peer’s (and Grieg’s) native Norway:
Morning (Act 4) - Peer is travelling in North Africa. “What a glorious sunrise! It touches the world with gold!”
The Death of Åse (Act 3) – Peer has returned home to comfort his dying mother
Anitra’s Dance (Act 4) – A Bedouin princess and her troupe perform for our hero
In the Hall of the Mountain King (Act 2) – Peer has followed the Mountain King’s daughter to her father’s underground palace, only to be vigorously pursued by homicidal trolls and goblins.