21-22 YSOPB Final SINGLES - Flipbook - Page 79
Symphony No. 5 in C# minor (1902)
(July 7, 1860-May 18, 1911)
His programming was often adventurous and even controversial. The first
opera he conducted at the Vienna Opera was by Czech composer Bedřich
Smetana; he tried, in 1905, to stage Richard Strauss’s Salome, but the
licentious opera was rejected by the state censors. He was worn down
by petty scandals involving disgruntled singers at the Court Opera, antiSemitic attacks in the press, and myriad run-ins with imperial censors,
Mahler. Beginning in 1907, Mahler chose to “escape” for a few months
each year to New York City. He considered moving to the United States
permanently but died in 1911 before any plans could come to pass.
As a composer, Mahler was caught in a transitional time, challenged by a
new understanding of musical logic and order that shook music’s foundation
and re-defined musical expression. What began with Mozart and Haydn as
an opportunity to explore the expressive possibilities of orchestral music
had become symbolic of the full depth and breadth of human existence.
Mahler professed being influenced by the music of Anton Bruckner, the
noted symphonist who was one of his teachers at the University of Vienna,
as well as that of Richard Wagner and Johannes Brahms, who were cast
as musical opposites in the late 19th century. Mahler was very passionate
about Wagner’s music. Rather than worship him from a respectful
distance as others did, he plunged into Wagner’s music by giving lavish
performances. The expressive aspects of Wagner’s orchestration and the
clarity of Brahms’s formal structures both found their way into Mahler’s
musical vocabulary. This allowed him to construct symphonies that he saw
as “worlds,” deep, personal statements of life experience. Each symphonic
work is unique, and his Fifth Symphony is no exception.
CLASSICAL SERIES: MAHLER'S FIFTH
The oldest of six surviving children born to a tavern owner in what is
now the Czech Republic, Gustav Mahler was reputedly brought up in an
abusive, loveless household. He was largely self-taught as a musician until
the age of 15 when he entered the Vienna Conservatory. There he studied
piano and composition and also took courses at the University of Vienna.
His true ambition was to be a conductor, and he composed only part-time
during summers. His first stint as a conductor came in 1880 at a small,
underfunded summer theater, but he parlayed the experience into a better
position the following year in Ljubljana, the present-day capital of Slovenia.
Slowly, he won ever more prestigious postings in Kassel, Prague, Leipzig,
Budapest, and Hamburg before landing the job he coveted. In 1897, was
appointed to the the Vienna Court Opera to conduct operas as well as
symphonic works with the Vienna Philharmonic.
As Mahler wrote his symphonies, Schoenberg and Bartok had begun
their experiments in new music (with others not far behind). This
inevitably caused a crisis for audiences struggling to make sense of these
developments for composers like Mahler and Richard Strauss who found
more meaning in the music of the 19th century. In Mahler’s case, this led to
music that exhibited remarkable contradictions, which is seen most clearly
in his symphonic works.