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«THE EIGHTH SYMPHONY [268 blank] [269] On September 12, 1910 in Munich, under Mahler’s direction, the premiere performance of the Eighth Symphony ...»

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As always with Mahler, and as in the design of this symphony as a whole, the architectonic structure is primary, also within the subsections. It would be difficult to determine to what extent Mahler followed a preconceived plan in the arrangement of the structure. In general, his creative style was of a hallucinatory kind, standing under the spell of the momentary inspiration. In times of creative activity, Mahler even appeared to himself as only a vessel, as a tool of compelling forces under whose influence the work arose, as if it had been dictated to him into the pen. It would be an exaggeration, however, to conclude from this that Mahler’s complete output, especially a work of the extent and unusual layout of the Eighth, somehow arose without any consciousness in a state of dreamlike rapture, that each measure was written down passively without regard to what was coming. It is difficult here to draw the line between conscious, unconscious, and subconscious. In the sense of philological conclusion, it is even impossible. But it must be regarded as certain that the anticipation of the overall formal rhythm, the idea of the complete architectonic plan, and the arrangement of groups and sections were all present for the composer during the act of creation. Perhaps he decided on individual changes here and there in the execution, discarding original plans and interpolating new ones. The essentials, however, were internally seen in advance and correspondingly prepared by him. To assume the contrary, one would not only render a disservice to Mahler as an artistic designer. At the same time, one would identify a crucial feature of his effectiveness—the impression of broad-lined architecture—as a coincidental secondary consequence. As distorted as the picture would be of a Mahler who builds his forms according to a meticulously worked-out scheme, [283] it would be just as wrong to assume that these gigantic forms effortlessly fell from above as a gift to the composer. As with every great artist, the conscious and the subconscious also flow into each other with Mahler. As certain as the formal design is a matter of intuition, is in fact the most important precondition, the actual first inspiration, it is just as certain that one may view the detailed expansion as the result of a conscious work carried by a creative drive.32 The exposition with its establishment and structuring of contrasts had shown such a plan, and the development shows a similar, clearly targeted formal design. It is divided, again corresponding to the textual pattern, into three parts. This three-part division of the layout, the most natural and effective for all large formal structures, already shows an inner methodology.

The first part takes up the “Infirma” with a new strength that is prepared by the final developments of the exposition, continuing over into the tender plea for enlightenment. This plea, first presented in restrained, intimate humility, suddenly rises to a passionately excited upswing. The “Accende,” still sounding from before, becomes the starting point of a visionary, blazing elevation of the spirits and almost exceeds the beginning of the movement in its irresistible power. Following this outbreak of feelings, as the third and last buildup that summarizes all that has gone before, is the mighty fugue. Intellectual logic and the highest intensity of feeling flow into one, awakening an ecstatic conception of a superhuman revelation of the will, before which all individual energy gives way and can only surrender itself without resistance to this surging sea of sensual stimuli.

This is how Mahler builds his development section. If, despite its structure that testifies of the highest artistic consciousness, it flows in one stream, never awakening in the unbiased listener a compulsion to consider the cause, then this is a sign that here, as in every genuine artistic creation, the extremely thoughtful design is always subordinate to inspiration.

An orchestral prelude introduces the first part. New colors and new sounds. A chaotic, fantastic world of mist set in motion by skittering apparitions. It is as if clouds suddenly sink upon the revelation of the exposition, and only memories of that which was just experienced flash through the imagination. Tempo primo, Allegro, “somewhat hurried” (“etwas hastig”). A timpani roll on B, with basses and cellos, triple piano, fixed like a pedal point upon the same pitch. The 5/4 meter heightens the impression of unease and insecurity. Muted horns intone the main theme in inversion. Woodwinds and muted trumpets, flaring up in between, attempt a dissonant addition. Their dotted rhythms descend without melodic closure in violent string pizzicati. The basses sink to A-flat in a chromatic tremolo. Then fermatas and deep bell sounds.

Once again the theme in muted horns, this time in its original form. The basses change to E-flat, and there is a timpani roll, pianissimo. Again the woodwinds attempt to take hold of the theme.

The meter changes: 5/4, 4/4, 6/4, 5/4, 3/4, 4/4, 5/4, always at very brief one- or two-measure intervals.

Here or there, the theme briefly sounds out in an individual voice—in the horn, in the trombone, in string pizzicati—“always equally fast and hurried” (“immer gleich schnell und hastig”), calling and then immediately fading away again, an apparition in the mist that cannot be grasped.

Similarly as before, the [284] transitional motive to the first “Infirma” sinks down in violin tremolos and flute sounds. The voices cease to chase after the theme. The A-flat of the basses is enharmonically changed to the dominant note G-sharp. With the change to C-sharp minor, a harmonic resting point has finally been achieved. “Twice as slowly as before” (“Noch einmal so langsam als vorher”), the minor-key transformation of the main theme sounds with strong

emphasis from the solo bass:

[Example 8-20: bass solo, mm. 218-219] The remaining solo voices take up the call, which penetrates from the depths, and lead it further

into the supplementary motive of the main theme:

[Example 8-21: alto 2 solo, second violins, violas, mm. 223-224] The seven-voice solo vocal passage, only supported by gentle woodwind and string registers, becomes clarified from the “passionate” (“leidenschaftlich”) C-sharp minor to F major. From there, “very gently and restrained” (“sehr zart und gehalten”), D major blooms, the plea for

enlightenment: “Ignite your light unto our senses, stream your love into our hearts”:

[Example 8-22: alto 1 solo, doubled an octave above by solo violin, mm. 231-234; doubled two octaves above by flute, mm. 231-232] It is the “Imple superna,” already known from the second theme, in a new tonal transformation.

Pacified, the melancholy minor-key theme from the beginning of the development section sounds

from the bass in pure C major:

[Example 8-23: bass solo, cellos and basses, mm. 235-237] It continues to be heard through the ever more tenderly echoing solo voices, in alternation with the song theme. “Without expression” (“Ohne Ausdruck”), flutes and second violins quietly work in the “Gratia” call until the singing voices lose themselves as if floating away. The tempo sinks, becoming ever slower, into a dreamy twilight, and the instrumental voices also fade away.

Then suddenly, in a threefold contrapuntal combination, the “Veni” rings out: in augmentation

from trumpets, in double diminution from bassoons, and in simple diminution from horns:

[Example 8-24: bassoons, horns, trumpet, mm. 254-257] That which was sought at the beginning of this section has been found, and is now revealed anew.

Jubilation breaks out. The basses suddenly shift from the fading C to a fortissimo B. E major flares up. “Suddenly very broadly and with passionate expression” (“Plötzlich sehr breit und leidenschaftlichen Ausdrucks”), in the full orchestra, the main theme is briefly heard as a prelude, with a massive molto ritenuto. “With a sudden upswing” (“Mit plötzlichem Aufschwung”),

shattering with ecstatic force, a unison cry of double choir, boys’ choir, and all soloists:

[Example 8-25: all solo and choral voices, mm. 261-267] It is one of the most powerful moments in this work, in Mahler’s oeuvre, in the entire literature. A moment that comes close to Haydn’s grandiose “And there was light”33 in the greatness of its inspiration, in the impact of its contrasts, in its emotional inner strength. A tremendous unison wave rises up, broadly calling out in mighty intervals, and then it turns back to the starting point, almost rushing over itself in ever more strongly accelerated rhythms, [285] pressing beyond it to the depths with boundless energy, as if hardly comprehending its own fullness. It is a revelation of the same elemental force from which the first theme also originates, and related to that theme in melodic and rhythmic details. Technically, it is the addition of a new theme in the development section, something to be found already in Beethoven. The key relationship is also similar to the classical model. In Beethoven, the new development theme appears within the first E-flat-major movement of the “Eroica” in E minor, and in Mahler within the E-flat-major movement in E major. The key is characteristic for Mahler precisely at this point, for an E-major breakthrough always signifies for him—in the “Totenfeier” of the second, in the slow movement of the Fourth, in the Andante of the Sixth, in the first movement sunrise of the Seventh—a celestial revelation, the opening of the heavens.34 E major is also belted out here with liberating force. As a confirmation, the theme sounds in D major in the repetition that directly follows, and is then led back to E major by the solo soprano35 in an intense continuation

of the line:

[Example 8-26: all voices, mm. 269-271; soprano voices, mm. 272-275] Now the voices divide, carrying the message further, combining it with the previous themes, adding new ones from the profusely gushing spring. The choirs, which were unified at the “Accende,” are separated and stand again against each other, supplementing one another with antiphonal calls. The soloists are silent or added to the choral voices to enhance the luminous force. The boys’ choir by contrast, first used at the “Accende,” now emerges independently with a fresh, penetrating sound. It intones a victoriously marching theme, an anticipation of “Freudig empfangen wir diesen im Puppenstand” (“Joyfully we receive this man in the pupal state”) from the second part. In the choral basses, the “Veni” theme sounds in further combination with the “Accende”:

[Example 8-27: boys’ choir, mm. 274-280; oboes, clarinets, horns, mm. 274-277; choir 1 basses, bassoons, bass clarinet, cellos, mm. 275-278; choir 2, mm. 278-280] Powerful chords in the strings, woodwinds, and organ strengthen the triumphal impression while horns and trumpets blow out the “Accende.” The forces gather themselves anew. Both choirs again come together. The key swings from an E-major cadence to G and C major. The mood of a battle breaks through. “Cast the enemy to the ground.” The voices stomp, and the shrill battle

cry “Hostem” is yelled out:

[Example 8-28: choral sopranos and altos (and top voice of tenors), mm. 290-295] A mighty eighth-note motion in scales rises from the string basses and takes in the upper

voices. The boys’ choir takes up the “Spiritus” theme:

[Example 8-29: boys’ choir, mm. 304-306; choir 1 altos, horns, m. 304] [286] In the other choral and solo voices, the “Hostem” and “Accende” motives continue like a

march, closing together in this imperious combination:

[Example 8-30: choral soprano voices, mm. 308-311] The energy is strained to the utmost level as the interweaving and intensification of the voices in free counterpoint has apparently arrived at its peak. The masses have found each other and come together. The call sounds to the leader who guides them to their destination. The spiritual battle in which all engage together according to a higher law, guided by the force of will, the heightened expression that leads beyond the manifestation of energy to action—this law that binds forces that were previously unrestrained is found by Mahler in the fugue. For the third time in the course of the development, the key pivots. From the passionate C-sharp minor of the “Infirma” it had changed, by way of the mediating D major, into the revelatory E major of the “Accende” with the G-major battle passage. Now, in the moment of triumphant confidence, it leads back to the heroic main key of E-flat major. “Go before us” resounds the call upon the sharply dotted “Spiritus” motive. As if to indicate who should lead the way, both themes of the

creator spirit sound at the same time, the “Veni” and the storming continuation of the “Spiritus”:

[Example 8-31: all choral voices, mm. 312-317; cellos and basses, mm. 314-317; choir 2 sopranos, m. 318]36 With this, the departure point for the crowning fugal construction is given. It is also divided into three parts again within itself. The architectonic principle that determines the movement as a whole remains definitive for all sections and subsections, again and again providing the basic feeling of a strong governing direction. The first part of the fugue already exhausts the complete text. This is now no longer interpreted in correspondence with the individual trains of thought. The word as a discernible text, until now declaimed with extreme accuracy and clearly defined conceptually, now steps back. As if by intent, the voices, set to different texts, are now so intertwined that recognition of the conceptual sense is impossible.

There remains only the musical impression of an immense plurality that presses forward from the most varied directions, brought together and unified through the bonds of formal design.

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