Gusto Rocks, Gustav Sucks

Lindsay Perigo's picture
Submitted by Lindsay Perigo on Mon, 2019-12-09 07:28

Gusto Rocks, Gustav Sucks

New Zealand Symphony Orchestra conducted by Edo de Waart with Lauren Snoufer (soprano), Anna Larsson (mezzo), Orpheus Choir, Voices NZ Chamber Choir.
Mahler Symphony No.2 Resurrection; Michael Fowler Centre 22 November.

One of the world's finest orchestras and some splendid singers under the baton of one of the world's greatest conductors played and sang some of the world's most execrable anti-music the other night. They performed it explemplarily, and were cheered to the echo by the febrile throngs of worshippers who packed the venue, but their admirable gusto could not redeem Gustav Mahler from his status in this solitary reviewer's eyes as a titan of tosh, tedium and tunelessness.

The febrile throngs were to be expected, of course. A Mahler symphony is a religious event. As Harold C. Schonberg writes:

If Bruckner's music arouses a fanatical devotion in many listeners, Mahler's creates an actual frenzy. Again there are doubters, those who find Mahler's music too neurotic, and often too banal for enjoyment. The dedicated Mahlerian regards these unregenerates the way St. Paul regarded the heathen. It is hard to think of a composer who arouses an equal loyalty. The worship of Mahler amounts to a religion. Any music critic will attest to the fact that a response of anything except rapture to the Mahler symphonies will bring long letters of furious denunciation. Much more than even Bruckner's music, Mahler's stirs something imbedded in the subconscious, and his admirers approach him mystically.

Long letters of furious denunciation must have been written to Cologne critic Hermann Kipper, who referred to Mahler's "atrocious cacophonies" indicating a "brain in perpetual turmoil" belonging to a "hypernervous and pessimistic age."

They must also have been unleashed on one Paul Hiller, about whom Dick Strawser recalls on his blogsite Thoughts on a Train:

Paul Hiller wrote for a number of music periodicals including the once famous Neue Zeitschrift für Musik (founded by Robert Schumann in 1834). ... He writes that Mahler’s latest symphony [5th] contained “no genuine musical ideas” and that he was a “clever but not convincing composer” who used his craft “to create sensations” which he described as a “jumble of sounds lacking any kind of musical logic.” The symphony was an “accumulation of absurdities and revels in utterly bizarre oddities.” Only the Adagietto “belonged to the realm of music.” In general, it was “more disconcerting and repellent than pleasurable,” a “triumph of technique.”

Mahler set a high-minded agenda for his second symphony:

Why have you lived? Why have you suffered? Is all this merely a great, horrible jest? We must resolve these questions somehow or other if we are to continue living—nay, if we are only to continue dying. Once this call has resounded in anybody's life, he must give an answer; and that answer I give in the last movement.

Alas, the answer eluded this reviewer. The last movement was certainly diverting, with its disappearing and reappearing musicians, peripatetic tangents and all-round brouhaha, but reveal the meaning of life it did not. Mahler's wife complained that Gustav was always on the phone to God. God must have hung up on him.

The world's best band, sundry stellar soloists and the Orpheus Choir will Handel something much more worthy of them on Saturday December 7 when they present Messiah. God will be there for it, and there are tunes in it. Hallelujah!


Mr_Lineberry's picture

Lauren Snoufer her real name? Puzzled

Emperor's New Clothes

Lindsay Perigo's picture

This critique goes to the heart of contemporary pretentiousness, emptiness and evil.

The Emperor is naked!!!!

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