Friday, December 09, 2011

Sunday Classics preview: It's the old minor-to-major switcheroo -- courtesy of Mahler, Schubert, and Donizetti


For the final stanza of "In diesem Wetter," the last of the Kindertotenlieder, Mahler switches from minor to major
Thomas Hampson, baritone; Vienna Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein, cond. DG, recorded live, October 1988 [audio link]
In this weather, in this storm, in this bluster,
they're resting as if in their mother's house,
not frightened by any storm,
by God's hand protected,
they're resting as if in their mother's house.

[We'll hear the complete Hampson-Bernstein performance of "In diesem Wetter" in the click-through.]

by Ken

Above all, what we have tonight is some incredibly beautiful music. After a week spent working on this preview and Sunday's main post, I have ineradicably engraved in my head the solo-horn reiteration of the last three lines of Mahler's "In diesem Wetter" (at 2:21 of the Hampson-Bernstein audio clip above).

The relationship between Gustav Mahler and his wife Alma is one of the more complex and controversial chapters in musical history, but it's not hard to grasp that Alma was deeply shaken when her husband set to music five of Friedrich Rückert's poems on the death of children. Rückert had written his poems (428 in all!) in frenzied response to the death of his own children from scarlet fever, but at the time Mahler composed his Kindertotenlieder (Songs on the Death of Children) his and Alma's children were all still healthy. (Is it necessary to recall that a series of tragedies were waiting in the wings?)

The climax of Mahler's cycle comes in the last song, "In diesem Wetter" ("In this weather"), when suddenly and unexpectedly, after four stanzas safely in minor mode, conforming to the conventional expectation that "minor = sad" and "major = happy," the music shifts into the major. If there's a more devastating moment in music, I can't think of it. But Mahler hardly invented this harmonic trick. (For the record, we've heard "In diesem Wetter" before, sung by Maureen Forrester.)

We're not out to prove anything this week. We're just going to take note of this and two other of the more famous musical minor-to-major switches, by Schubert and Donizetti, which we'll hear in the click-through along with the complete Hampson-Bernstein performance of "In diesem Wetter."


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At 9:25 PM, Anonymous r said...

Thanks, Ken, I needed that. You are my music fix. By Saturday night or Sunday I am really jonesing it. A couple of weeks back I went to our new concert hall and heard the Rachmaninoff Rhapsody on a Theme in our new Kaufmann Center for the Performing Arts. The last time I heard it performed live was in St. Louis with Rubinstein at the key board many years ago. We have a concert hall and a theater in the same fine arts building. The Alvin Ailey Dance troop was performing at almost the same time as the concert. So many wonderful things to be thankful for.

At 6:42 AM, Blogger KenInNY said...

Much appreciated! A comment like this makes it all feel worthwhile.

I can imagine what a fond memory that Rubinstein St. Louis performance must be. I have a friend who loves, really loves, the Rachmaninoff Paganini Rhapsody (which we gave a quick survey in April 2010), and really, really loves Rubinstein's 1947 recording with Walter Susskind (not to be confused with the 1956 stereo remake with Fritz Reiner). It took some patiently mad chasing, but eventually we tracked down two copies of Vol. 9 of the Rubinstein Edition. (I'm perfectly happy with the Reiner version, but I'm happy to have both.) Hmm, maybe we should hear more of that one of these days.

Again, thanks so much for sharing.



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