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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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Auspiciously, the Gloriosa theme now begins in the orchestra, taken up by the singing voice:

[Example 8-83: Maria Aegyptiaca (solo alto 2), mm. 1005-1012, text “Bei dem selgen Scheidegruße, / Den im Sand ich niederschrieb –” (“By the blessed farewell / That I wrote down in the sand –”)] The song becomes more and more fleeting, sinking down to a ghostly whisper in A minor. The

voices of the three women intertwine canonically:

[Example 8-84: Magna peccatrix, Mulier Samaritana, and Maria Aegyptiaca, mm. 1023-1028, text below]

–  –  –

A minor changes its sound to A major, and the whispering voices obtain strength, taking up the

graceful melody in thirds from the rose chorus:

[Example 8-85: Magna peccatrix, Mulier Samaritana, and Maria Aegyptiaca, mm. 1057-1069, text “Gönn auch dieser guten Seele, / Die sich einmal nur vergessen,” (“Grant also unto this good soul, / Which forgot itself but one time,”)]

–  –  –

A “somewhat passionate” (“etwas leidenschaftlich”) F-major closing turn gives the veiled mysticism of this scene of the three female advocates a transitional conclusion.52 The voices fade away, and D major spreads out. As if dissolved into floating clouds, the tender registers of the instrumental voices vibrate. Above them in the shining light is the trembling, atmospheric tone of the vibrating mandolin.

The voice of the “Una poenitentium (otherwise known as Gretchen, coming close [sonst Gretchen genannt, sich anschmiegend])” sounds out “warmly” (“warm”) to the Gloriosa melody:

[Example 8-86: Una poenitentium (solo soprano 2), mm. 1104-1115, text “Neige, neige, / Du Ohnegleiche, / Du Strahlenreiche, / Dein Antlitz gnädig meinem Glück!” (“Turn, turn, / You without equal, / You abundant in radiance, / Your countenance favorably toward my happiness!”)]

–  –  –

The overflowing joy, still tenderly restrained in the vocal expression, breaks through in the orchestral postlude. “Imperceptibly becoming more fresh” (“Unmerklich frischer werdend”), it gives the melody [303] a dance-like character through a slight acceleration. The voices of the “blessed boys (coming close in a circular motion)” (“selige Knaben [in Kreisbewegung sich

nähernd]”) powerfully strike up:

[Example 8-87: boys’ choir, mm. 1141-1150, text “Er überwächst uns schon / An mächtigen Gliedern, / Wird treuer Pflege Lohn / Reichlich erwidern.” (“He already grows above us / In his mighty limbs, / Our faithful care he will / Amply repay.”)]

–  –  –

Harp, glockenspiel, piano, and harmonium provide the basic instrumental colors. It is a festive sound of bright, celestial harmonies in evenly striding half-measure rhythms, like a triumphal march of heavenly children, without gravity, only joyful play. The voice of Una poenitentium

sings into it:

–  –  –

[Example 8-88: Una poenitentium (solo soprano 2, with some doubling from flute and oboe), mm. 1213-1219, text “Er ahnet kaum das frische Leben, / So gleicht er schon der heiligen Schar.” (“He scarcely perceives his fresh life, / And he already resembles the holy throng.”)]

–  –  –

Once more, the “Imple superna” resounds in this song of Gretchen. Immediately before the life that had been wished for is granted through love, the plea for grace from the first movement is repeated by the love that brings fulfillment. The closing measures, stripped of all their former

pomp, swell to the most heartfelt buildup of feelings:

–  –  –

[Example 8-89: Una poenitentium (solo soprano 2), mm. 1238-1243, text “Noch blendet ihn der neue Tag!” (“He is still dazzled by the new day!”)] “Slowly” (“Langsam”). Solemn B-flat major. Basses, bassoons, and low harps sink below in scales, the celesta plays fortissimo in tremolo, and everything else dies down from piano to pianissimo. The quiet “Accende” bass theme of the orchestral prelude is in horns and trumpets. A roll from the bass drum. It is as if everything still visible is sinking away. The highest devotion, requiring no strength, only the still vibrating shimmer of sound. The motionless silence of Divinity reveals itself in sound. Dolcissimo, moving in broad, almost inanimate sounds, the voice of the Mater gloriosa, with the melody playing around it in the flute and in harp harmonics, permeated by the “Accende”: [304] [Example 8-90: Mater gloriosa (solo soprano 3), mm. 1249-1273; flute 1, mm. 1249-1254, 1267harmonium, violas, cellos, mm. 1249-1252; harp 1, mm. 1249-1260; horn 1, mm. 1253violins, mm. 1256-1260; trumpet 1, mm. 1261-1264; oboe 1, harp 2, mm. 1267-1268; solo violin, mm. 1269-1272; choir 2 tenors and basses, m. 1273, text “Komm! Hebe dich zu höhern Sphären! / Wenn er dich ahnet, folgt er nach.” (“Come! Raise yourself to higher spheres! / When he knows of you, he will follow.”)] “Komm!” (“Come!”), the choir whispers almost without tone. Only the harmonium continues to sound, pianissimo. Silent worship, reverent trembling. “Komm.” A tense F-sharp pushes itself into the B-flat-major triad. Doctor Marianus, “prostrate in worship” (“auf dem Angesicht anbetend”), as the first to compose himself, begins in a “hymnlike” (“hymnenartig”)


[Example 8-91: Doctor Marianus (solo tenor), mm. 1277-1283; flutes, oboes, clarinets, mm.

1278-1279, text “Blicket auf [zum Retterblick], / Alle reuig Zarten,” (“Look upward [to the view of salvation], / All you tender repentant ones,”)] Those who have been constrained down in reverence and moved by miracles now arise and gather together. The coda of the verse as well as the music now begins. The “tenderly, but intimately” (“zart, aber innig”) sounding words and tones of Marianus announce the solution to the mystery. The introduction theme of the winds, and with it the inconceivable experience, now

obtains its interpretation:

[Example 8-92: Doctor Marianus (solo tenor), mm. 1291-1320, with doubling from clarinets (mm. 1291-1294), oboes (mm. 1295-1298), first violins (mm. 1299-1303, 1308-1310), flute, oboe, and clarinet (mm. 1311-1315), text “[Blicket] auf zum Retterblick, / Alle reuig Zarten, / Euch zu seligem Glück / Dankend umzuarten! / Werde jeder bessre Sinn / Dir zum Dienst erbötig!

/ Jungfrau, Mutter, Königin, / Göttin, blebe gnädig!” (“[Look] upward to the view of salvation, / All you tender repentant ones, / So that you, in blessed happiness, / May be changed with gratitude! / May every better sense / Be ready at your service! / Virgin, Mother, Queen, / Goddess, be gracious!”)] Effusively, as if reaching out into eternity, the melody is drawn out and broadened, flying upward, as it were, upon rushing sounds of harps and solemn organ harmonies, drawing everything behind it in a mightily expanding sweep.53 The double choir and boys take up the song.

Undulating string and woodwind chords increase the soaring expression to the heights of the Gloriosa theme. A tremolo from celesta, piano, and mandolins provides a shivery atmosphere of ethereal brightness. Gently pressing forward, leading upward chromatically in enharmonic

exchanges, the song continues to ring out:

[Example 8-93: choir 1 sopranos, mm. 1344-1353, doubled by flutes and clarinets, mm. 1344choir 2 sopranos, doubled by violins, mm. 1352-1356, text “Werde jeder bessre Sinn / Dir zum Dienst erbötig!” (see previous example)] A mighty crescendo wave floods upward, driving from E-flat to E major. The Gloriosa melody is taken by the choir and orchestra. The splendor of the open heavens shines above all. In a moment of greatest rapture, the worshipful choir sinks back again to E-flat major, breaking off on the dominant. [305] “Blicket auf” sounds from horns and woodwinds, and “Gloria” resounds in triple forte of trombones and harps. Then the picture slowly dissolves in flickering sounds of harps, celesta, harmonium, and flutes, melting and dying away.

The miracle has occurred. Darkness falls. Deep meditation follows the revelatory experience. Winds fall silent. Muted strings in triple piano begin with an E-flat-major chord.

“Beginning very slowly” (“Sehr langsam beginnend”), the Delphic words of the Chorus mysticus

are heard from the united choirs “like a breath” (“wie ein Hauch”):

[Example 8-94: choirs and strings (with some reduced harmonies), mm. 1449-1458, text “Alles Vergängliche / Ist nur ein Gleichnis; / Das Unzulängliche, / Hier wird’s Ereignis;”54 (“Everything transient / Is but an imitation; / The unattainable / Is here experienced;”)]

–  –  –

It is again that wind theme of the instrumental introduction. Here it finds its last interpretation as a symbol of the transitory. United with it and soaring above it is the theme of the Eternal

Feminine, the Gloriosa melody:

[Example 8-95: choir 1 sopranos, mm. 1478-1481, text of last line] “Ewig, ewig” (“Ever and ever”), the melody continues to call. In trembling excitement, the Chorus mysticus resounds one more time, bringing all voices together, carried by the sound of the organ, intensified to the highest fullness by the orchestra, which enters behind it. It is not executed with repetitions or expansions. It is very brief, and for just one time, with the power of an ancient motto for humanity. “Posted in isolation” (“Isoliert postiert”), trombones and trumpets blast out the augmented “Veni creator.” From the orchestral trumpets and trombones throb the bell strokes of the Gloria. In solemn, majestic E-flat-major grandeur, the song of love concludes.55 [306 blank] NOTES 1 In this context, it is somewhat ironic that Theodor W. Adorno, writing in 1960, arrived at just such an assessment of the Eighth in particular. At a time when Mahler’s importance was slowly being rediscovered and more objectively evaluated, Adorno provided one of the most eloquent voices. His attitude toward the Eighth, while not categorically dismissive, is skeptical enough to have had a profound influence on later writings about the symphony. Adorno approaches the Eighth from the perspective of its “official” status as Mahler’s “magnum opus,” and essentially arrives at the conclusion that the work could in no way accomplish that to which it aspired.

See Mahler: A Musical Physiognomy, trans. Edmund Jephcott (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), pp.

138-42. The following is characteristic of Adorno’s view of the symphony: “Like no other composer of his time, Mahler was sensitive to collective shocks. The temptation that arose from this, to glorify the collective that he felt sounding through him as an absolute, was almost overwhelming. That he did not resist it is his offense. In the Eighth he repudiated his own idea of the radical secularization of metaphysical worlds, uttering them himself.

If on this one occasion one were to speak of Mahler in the language of psychology, the Eighth, like the Finale of the Seventh, was an identification with the attacker. It takes refuge in the power and glory of what it dreads; its official posture is fear deformed as affirmation” (p. 139, emphasis mine). The “attacker” in this case is probably the nationalistic, anti-Semitic establishment and its celebration of grand collective achievements of the time such as the architecture of the Ringstraße in Vienna. These attitudes eventually gave rise to the Nazis.

2 The word “abwartend” (“waiting,” “watching” or “biding”) appears to be a printing error and makes no sense in this context. The word should surely be “abwertend” (“pejorative” or “derogatory”).

3 Original, “Lieder und Gesänge” two words that are impossible to differentiate in English. Mahler’s songs had been released in an edition with that title. In general, “Gesänge” tend to be more serious or even religious.

4 The English word “artistic” does not really convey Bekker’s meaning here with “alles artistische.” 5 Much more of this letter, including the account of the visit to the bell factory, is included by Bekker in the chapter on the Second Symphony (see pp. 217-19 and p. 245, note 35). The long quotation there ends with the passage quoted here, although its inclusion there has the effect of an afterthought.

6 Cf. Matthew 11:15, 13:9, Mark 4:9, Luke 8:8.

7 Cf. Matthew 5:3, 11:28, 15:16.

8 These thoughts are echoed in Donald Mitchell’s sympathetic, but highly objective analysis of the Eighth. In several places, Mitchell juxtaposes the “new simplicity” of the Eighth’s language (particularly in the strophic solo arias, or “songs” in Part II) with that of the Kindertotenlieder and especially Das Lied von der Erde. In one of these discussions, he makes the following perceptive observation: “There is a public/private dichotomy in the output of most artists. In his Eighth, Mahler made a wellnigh total commitment to the public half of the equation... I have no doubt that it was Mahler’s clear intention to compose a massive, heaven-storming work – a celebration of God the creator and the creative spirit in man, and of divine and human love, no less – that

would speak, through its deployment of comparably massive resources, to a mass audience” (Gustav Mahler:

Songs and Symphonies of Life and Death [London: Faber & Faber, 1985, rev. edition Woodbridge, UK: The Boydell Press, 2002], p. 574).

9 These comments provide more insight into Bekker’s attitude toward the influence of song in the symphonies.

The association of the Wunderhorn texts with “the Divine and the transcendent” is obvious from “Urlicht” in the Second, “Es sungen drei Engel” in the Third and “Das himmlische Leben” in the Fourth.

10 The idiom “mir nichts, dir nichts” can be translated in several ways. This seems the most appropriate here.

11 Hermann Kretzschmar, Führer durch den Konzertsaal, I. Abteilung: Sinfonie und Suite, 6th ed. (Leipzig:

Breitkopf & Härtel, 1921), p. 812. Bekker’s source was most likely the fourth edition (1912).

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