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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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12 The provenance of this sketch page is unknown. It may or may not be the same sketch that was released by Alfred Rosenzweig in the Vienna newspaper Der Wiener Tag on June 4, 1933. Donald Mitchell gives an extensive history of Rosenzweig’s publication of the sketch, elaborates on its implications, and even includes the original article (See Songs and Symphonies of Life and Death, pp. 529-32, 635-37). The sheet was reproduced in the newspaper, but the original has not survived, and, according to Mitchell, it is very difficult to decipher in the newspaper. Like Bekker, Rosenzweig obtained the page from Alma. The version published by Rosenzweig differs from Bekker’s, not only in the reversal of the middle movements, but in the inclusion of a programmatic idea for the Scherzo. It reads as follows: “1) Veni Creator, 2) Caritas, 3) Weihnachtspiele mit dem Kindlein [Christmas games with the [Christ] Child]. Scherzo, 4) Schöpfung durch Eros [Creation through Eros].

Hymne.” Mitchell brings attention to the fact that two Wunderhorn texts, a sort of slumber song and a nursery song, both addressed to the infant Jesus, were written in Mahler’s hand on the back of a sheet that contained an early draft arrangement of the “Veni creator” strophes. He is convinced that these texts are connected to the planned Scherzo. Both sides of the sheet, including both the “Veni creator” material and the Wunderhorn texts, are reproduced by Mitchell (with transcription) on pp. 508-11 of Songs and Symphonies of Life and Death.

Other writers have also made reference to this sketch, including Constantin Floros (Gustav Mahler: The Symphonies, trans. Vernon Wicker [Portland, Oregon: Amadeus Press, 1993], pp.

217-18) and John Williamson (“The Eighth Symphony” in The Mahler Companion, edited by Donald Mitchell and Andrew Nicholson [Oxford:

Oxford University Press, 1999], pp. 409-10). Both Mitchell and Williamson suggest that the music for the blessed boys and younger angels in Part II may have had their origins in the “Christmas Games” Scherzo.

13 See the chapter on the Fourth Symphony, pp. 336-37 and p. 390, note 15. Mitchell also makes connections between the Eighth and Fourth Symphonies, particularly the use of the “heavenly” key of E major at important junctures in both works (see Songs and Symphonies of Life and Death, pp. 526-28).

14 Floros believed that “The Birth of Eros” may have been a projected setting of a part of the Classical Walpurgisnacht from Faust II, an idea which eventually developed into the setting of the final scene. He presented this argument in his first Mahler volume, not available in English (Gustav Mahler, vol. 1, Die geistige Welt Gustav Mahlers in systematischer Darstellung [Wiesbaden: Breitkopf and Härtel, 1977], pp. 129-32).

15 The persistence of this idea, which originated with Richard Specht, has caused no small degree of consternation among Mahler scholars. Mitchell is adamantly opposed to the concept. For example, he says that “dwelling on the opening orchestral Adagio as a ‘slow movement,’ or rather as the symphony’s ‘slow movement,’ may well hinder us from comprehending its unique function and singular organization,” which, he argues, is as a prelude or overture to Part II (Songs and Symphonies of Life and Death, pp. 545-56). He then continues to offer counterarguments to the idea of analyzing Part II as a combination of three “movements” (pp. 545-49). Williamson goes even farther, saying that “in retrospect this notion is so foolish as to leave the Mahlerian marveling at the longevity which bad ideas may possess (“The Eighth Symphony,” p. 407). Even a traditional analyst such as Floros states that “closer analysis will reveal that the structure of the section is too complex for such a relatively simple scheme” (The Symphonies, p. 227), continuing that the recurrence of Part I material as well as the return and anticipation of passages within Part II make such a sectional division problematic (pp. 227-30). Bekker’s adherence to Specht’s idea is a major argument for his grouping of the Eighth with the First and the Sixth as a symphony that rises in a direct line toward the Finale (see the discussion in the “Symphonic Style” chapter, p.

62). Mitchell even casts doubt on that idea: “...while there can be no doubt that the concluding section clinches and crowns Part Two, it perhaps does not represent the resolution of the total work – a true dénouement – that more often than not is the prime objective of the Mahlerian finale, a target toward the achievement of which the formal organization of those movements that can be categorized as finales proper is dedicated, no matter how striking and radical their divergences from symphonic orthodoxy. Part Two of the Eighth is unorthodox enough, but not, I suggest, in ways that mean that one can introduce it into the tradition of symphony and then ‘read’ it as a modification of existing practice, as an alternative to it, or as innovation – or as a combination of all three” (p.

548). The analysis of Part I as a sonata form raises different issues which will be discussed in note 28 below.

16 Both Mitchell (Songs and Symphonies of Life and Death, p. 613) and Williamson (“The Eighth Symphony,” pp.

417-18) attribute the transmission of this remark to Specht, and both interpret it in a decidedly non-nationalistic way.





17 This “humanist” view can be contrasted with Adorno’s comments cited in note 1 above. Adorno seems suspicious of the aesthetic impulse, as if this is a kind of nationalistic, proto-Nazi type of agenda. The Holocaust and our knowledge in hindsight of Hitler’s way of mishearing Wagner surely colored Adorno’s view, but it is not necessarily more believable than those of Bekker and others, who hear the work as a more sincere hymn to love, brotherly and otherwise.

18 Bekker’s somewhat idealistic idea here contradicts the more common perception that the counterpoint in certain passages of Part I is so dense and overloaded that individual lines do not always come through as clearly as Mahler perhaps intended.

19 Here, Mitchell strongly echoes Bekker: “... the particular compositional method of the Eighth was neither the result of inspiration working on a reduced power nor the manifestation of a failure to meet the challenge of the texts. On the contrary, the symphony was exactly what Mahler wanted it to be. Given his aesthetic intention, which was, I believe, to create a work of mass appeal, it was obligatory to find a manner, a method, that would serve that intention” (Songs and Symphonies of Life and Death, p. 589). The folk qualities mentioned by Bekker in some of the melodies are certainly a part of this. The elaborate counterpoint is not as simple and direct in the same sense. Here, the “mass appeal” would lie in the sheer volume and monumental impact of the sound. For Adorno and other critics, this may have resonated more as grandiloquence or bombast.

20 See the discussion of these provocative ideas in the introduction, p. 11.

21 Stravinsky would make statements of a similar kind about his approach to setting Latin in the Symphony of Psalms, Oedipus Rex, and other works. See, for example, Ruth Zinar, “Stravinsky and his Latin Texts” in College Music Symposium 18/2 (1978), pp. 176-88. Zinar quotes Stravinsky as saying in his autobiography that “the text... becomes purely phonetic material for the composer. He can dissect it at will and concentrate all his attention on... the syllable” (p. 177).

22 Bekker makes reference to a very famous letter to Willem Mengelberg. See Gustav Mahler Briefe, revised and edited by Herta Blaukopf (Vienna and Hamburg, Paul Zsolnay Verlag, 1982), pp. 311-12 (Letter 360).

23 This mention of the Dionysian brings to mind Nietzsche’s pairing of the Dionysian and the Apollonian in The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music (Die Geburt der Tragödie aus dem Geiste der Musik, 1872). The sort of universal “song” described by Bekker, along with his earlier emphasis of the communal “Volk,” reflects Nietzsche’s perspective. It is also very different from the intensely private Rückert settings.

24 The attribution of the text to Hrabanus Maurus is now generally regarded as incorrect. The author is unknown.

25 This fascinating comment implies several things, including perhaps the idea that hymns to Mary could represent a kind of sublimated eroticism. If so, then this is an interesting foreshadowing of the appearance of the Mater gloriosa in Part II of the symphony. The organizing impulse of “Caritas,” already mentioned by Bekker, is a definite link to the Faust text and its closing reference to “das ewig Weibliche.” 26 Dr. Georg Göhler (1874-1954) was a composer, musicologist, and longtime director of the Leipziger RiedelVerein, which took part in the 1910 premiere of the Eighth in Munich. Göhler played a large role in the choral preparation for the premiere. He had also written several articles on the rehearsal process for the Eighth and in celebration of Mahler’s 50th birthday for the Dresdener Neuesten Nachrichten. Mahler requested that he prepare the German translation of “Veni creator” for the program book at the premiere. Göhler remained a close friend to Mahler in the last year of his life. He was the recipient of the famous letter in which Mahler described his final revisions to the Fifth Symphony. See Briefe, ed. Blaukopf, pp. 394 (Letter 451), 398 (Letter 458), 403-4 (Letter 463, one of the latest surviving letters), 428 (biography). The English translation here is from Göhler’s German, not from the original Latin. Bekker was presumably making use of the program book from the premiere.

27 The “half’ stanza referred to by Bekker was originally a quatrain, but Mahler cut the last two lines, as he did some words from lines that are included by Bekker here. He also rearranged the stanzas, transferring the “half” stanza from third to fifth position. The two couplets of the stanza now in third position (the first in Bekker’s “second section”) were reversed. Mitchell provides several sources of the text, including, in addition to the draft sheet referred to in note 12 above, a liturgical version and the text as set by Mahler. See Songs and Symphonies of Life and Death, pp. 508-17. The source of the seventh and penultimate stanza is obscure. It appears neither in Mahler’s handwritten draft nor in any liturgical source. Mahler apparently received it from Fritz Löhr. See also Floros, The Symphonies, pp, 219-20.

28 Mitchell, while he does not dispute the existence of a sonata structure in the movement, believes that it is of far less importance than is ascribed to it by Bekker, Floros, and others. He does not see a true duality in the first and second themes, but recognizes the real contrast in the “positive” and “negative” use of one of the principal motives, first presented by the brass in mm. 5-7, between the first two “Veni” statements (given by Bekker in the example labeled as 8-2). Mitchell prefers to view the hymn as a large-scale motet, fitting within the “compilation style” of the whole symphony, which allows for the assembly of various forms, genres, and styles and their unification through a narrative or dramatic idea. See Songs and Symphonies of Life and Death, pp.

533-45. Faust, not coincidentally, is another example of a work with a virtuosic compilation of genres, forms, and styles. Mitchell’s view seems more consistent with Bekker’s description of the work as a grand, universally appealing song. Sonata form would not be a natural choice for a song. Another interesting analysis of the movement is provided by David B. Greene, who, in contrast to Mitchell, sees dualities throughout the movement, all of which are overcome by the development section, leading to a recapitulation where, instead of a resolution, the perception is of a fulfillment that has already occurred. In other words, the process is more important than the arrival. His comparison of the movement’s process and the normal sonata process with different views of religious aspiration and fulfillment is intriguing. While Mitchell asserts that the second “Veni” theme (given by Bekker here in the example labeled as 8-4) is not recapitulated until the coda, Greene sees it as having been absorbed into the first “Veni” theme. It is of interest that, in contrast to most analysts, Greene begins the development section not with the large instrumental interlude at m. 169, but earlier, with the first “Infirma” material at m. 141 (seen by most analysts as a “closing section”). He does this in order to preserve the duality between the two “Infirma” themes within the development section, but it makes the already disproportionate relationship between the vast development section and the other sections even greater. On the other hand, it brings the size of the exposition closer to that of the recapitulation. See Greene, Mahler: Consciousness and Temporality (New York: Gordon and Breach Science Publishers, 1984), pp. 199-220. The return of E-flat major before the interlude, either at the end of the exposition or at the beginning of the development, undermines a traditional analysis in sonata form.

29 Because of Bekker’s inclusion of the complete text above, the text of the examples will not be included in the captions, as it was in such examples as those for the finale of the Fourth Symphony (and in Part II of this symphony), where the examples were often Bekker’s only quotations of certain portions of the text, sometimes in context with purely textual lines that preceded or followed them, and where inclusion of the text and translation in the example captions was the only way of including the entire text.

30 “Spiritales unctio” [sic] in original.

31 It is primarily in instrumental passages such as this where Mitchell sees the “negative” pole of the principal motive given in Example 8-2. See Songs and Symphonies of Life and Death, pp. 536-39.

32 These observations also call to mind the anecdote, shared by both Alma and Ernst Descey, that Mahler composed the music beyond the text he had at the time, and found that when he received an “authentic” version of the text from Löhr, the words precisely fit the music that he had “overwritten.” This anecdote and its plausible implications are examined by Mitchell (Songs and Symphonies of Life and Death, pp. 523-29) and Williamson (“The Eighth Symphony,” pp. 410-11).

33 Since Haydn’s Creation is most commonly performed in English, I translate this text.



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