week46: mahler


just last week: i was on a tinder date and the conversation somehow found its way to mahler— i realized halfway through that i was yet to actually listen to a full composition by mahler. he’s been an appendage to a couple tso performances i’ve attended, occasions which i hardly remember on account of their cerebral density, unattractive features for the uninitiated—and that is the presupposition to this journal, that one throws in one’s hee-yaw despite lacking every kind of initiative introduction to the technical and structural features of orchestral music which make composers like mahler altogether more accessible…

If Beethoven is already Beethoven in his first symphony, Mahler is even more Mahler in his.” Louis Biancolli, notes for the recording

at any rate, one can hardly have asked for a better introduction than with this symphony–chronology is a boon for the uninitiated— and this time around it is the dense topography of his musical landscape that is memorable, on account of all my recent praise for music large and deep enough to put one in a landscape.

learning that he wrote this symphony in his twenties coincided with what has been, as of late, a persistent sentiment: a gnawing worm, an intangible and diffused anxiety—that i’m wasting my twenties, (in that very high fashion way of course). the presupposition had been, by way of expectations, that i’d be by now hip and waist deep in some very particular, if not peculiar, obsession. so much of the decisions i made in my early youth and young manhood relied on the inevitability of this obsession—namely that it was inevitable that i’d find right away just the arena to play out my long love’s arc; and in its subtle lighting unveil, at a confident pace, all my gestures of devotion that a lifetime would  abbreviate. but then i learned of the need for pedigree. the need for initiation much before one is aware of what it is one is being initiated into.

the salve, whenever i’m daring enough to seek it out, is that in my own many ways, i’ve only just begun. perhaps mine is the kind of task unable to reap those benefits for which pedigree—every long and penetrating history—is valuable. namely the ability to know right away what it is you are. what a tremendous service one has been done, to have at an early age part-and-parcel, a long and penetrating catalogue of what one is. that socratic slogan to ‘know thyself’ is above all a conservative value—for it is high and subtle praise of how much energy one is saved by revealing to oneself the labels which generations of specialization has already prepared.

there are some for whom to ‘know thyself’ is the most psychologically intractable distraction. those who are serious in the business of creating who they are to become; for whom precedent is a luxury they’ve not been bred to afford; for whom all the past is a first attempt; for whom the present is forgiven of its obstacles on account of its proximity to the future; for whom there is nothing ancient or ‘classical’ in the need for the raw materials of life—and of music too; for whom Nietzsche made a much more demanding wager: become who you are——for such firstlings, any attempt to know oneself becomes a fumbling rehash of slogans and incantations to describe a process whose preliminary phase might requires several generations just to be sure of itself. our dear Nietzsche was right to have said that; for if it is true that there is nothing new under the sun and that one is not a firstling, the task still remains to become what one really is, to not at all be concerned with all that knowing and naming.

A higher human being, excuse me for saying, doesn’t think much of ‘callings’, the reason being he knows himself called….He takes his time, he has plenty of time, he gives no thought whatsoever to being ‘finished already’—at the age of thirty one is, as regard high culture, a beginner, a child “” Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols

—well then. that is at least one anxiety afflicting everyone everywhere equally, this panic regarding time. oscar wilde once chastised his lover for having nothing of the ‘oxford manner’ in him—that is the ‘ability to play gracefully with ideas’. perhaps nothing is more exemplary of this inability than our general time-panic and desire in every occasion to be ‘finished already’. well then, i’d better slow my runs, settle down in it a little. if i’ve yet to write what is the equivalent of my first symphony, it might owe less to an insufficiency of pedigree than being in no rush to be finished already. i for this reason among others enjoy the company of nannies in their forties still thinking having children—at least, if it happens, one is damn well sure timing is not the first cause of action.

(difference between metaphor and analogy in musical appreciations)———

Instead, [Mahler’s] writing demands absolute security of intonation, brass players with lungs and lips of steel, a string section governed by one mind and one strength, and, most important of all, the indefinable group ability to breathe together, feel together, smile and weep together in the realization of this unique music. “”  Richard Mohr, notes for the recording

‘lips of steel’, ‘smile and weep together’——occasionally while writing this journal, i for a moment worry my analogies are tethered too much to nothing, are too much like air motes flung into the ether of overly cerebral similes; thankfully, just as occasionally, i’ll read someone else’s metaphors about musical experiences that remind me that perhaps i don’t go far enough…

a metaphor is always a better tool than an analogy in the description of a musical idea—this on account of the use of a metaphor to make comparisons that are not explicitly apparent, thereby needing to pull upon the lasso of the imagination in order to capture of the sentiment communicated by two otherwise distinct images. conversely, an analogy merely elaborates what—had better attention been paid on the subject—could have been identified by one’s own senses. by that distinction, the best metaphors merely brings one closer to the subject, encourages a leaning in into the realm wherein analogies are possible but—at least in the musical sense—not needed. not needed because an explicit simile like ‘gorecki’s symphony no.1 is sorrowful’ is redundant: the music itself communicates this emotion, without the aid of an interpreter. a metaphor however is, in a sense, a bridge between two bridges———the point of contact between two disparate experiences that, unbeknownst to the inattentive, share the same origin of sentiments, aesthetic, style and the long etcetera of criterias that categorize a work of art.

this journal is at best merely a network of bridges; an excavation of that spiritual underworld so readily available to the serious musical experience. notice elsewhere the prevalence of analogies in the description of musical experiences—‘a cathartic experience’, ‘a breathtaking event’ and so on—as if the authors’ aim is to deliver to you precisely what your ear and feeling should for itself discern…

In between, the changes of mood are mercurial, ranging from the folk-song quality of the first movement and the boisterous landler rhythm of the second to the ironic funeral march of the third and the heaven-storming grandeur of the finale.“” Richard Mohr, notes for the recording


whatever we mean in general by ‘full bodied’ and ‘all encompassing’ we’d have to mean it twice as much to describe this symphony. what i really mean—i hardly remember any of its melodies. that is usually a result of two very different kinds of attention: the first, having nothing to do with music, is the occasional shitmixing week wherein there’s too much happening to pay adequate attention to the music (which has the same effect as closing hospitals during an epidemic); and then there’s quite the opposite effect of being so immersed in a musical experience that is almost without any sharp edges, that is without any obvious themes or melodies, no sure place to hang one’s hat: thereby to listen to it again and again is to each time find oneself in a landscape…

 ( my favourite word as far as music is concerned) ———

 In the finale, after plunging into a hell of anguish and horror, Mahler masters his despair and glimpses paradise in a chorale of salvation. Few moments in music surpass that precipitous cleavage of spirit and sound. Even Mahler never quite plumbed such depths again or exceeded such effulgent heights. Whatever the trauma that had shattered him—if, indeed, specific trauma there had been—he had achieved momentary catharsis. “”Louis Biancolli, notes for the recording

‘catharsis’?—today was a good day.