Mahler: his life, his work, his times Lecture Series Mahler: his life, his work, his times

Mahler: his life, his work, his times

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José Luis Pérez de Arteaga

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Mahler is a hinge artist, and not only because his production took place between the 19th and 20th century, but also for his assumption of the past, both near -Wagner, Bruckner, Brahms- and distant -especially Beethoven-, and his projection towards the future.

Because Mahler was the enhancer and predator (both options are valid) of the symphonic form that he deconstructed in just three decades of work. The symphony, being the queen of all Western musical forms since Haydn and Mozart in the instrumental territory, reached its maximum expansion and greatness -understood as grandeur and bombast- through Mahler's creations. And the opposite, if the symphony ever had an annihilator, an exterminating angel, that would also be him. Although he was in great manor the inspiration of the Centre European "isms" in the century that had just began (including atonalism and expressionism), and thus, as a consequence, along the "novecento", there were very few musicians who escaped from his influence, regardless of the fact that most of them did not know him.

The classical-romantic symphony received its last possible exacerbations in shape and syntax in Mahler's conglomerates and tractati, which are nothing short from philosophical pronouncements and expressions of existence itself. For this proposal, the traditional shape was insufficient, so Mahler was obliged to create his own.

In a second conference we will have a closer look at the final creative inventory of Mahler, which culminates in the works written since 1907. These compositions, that based on the traditional interpretations represent the gloomy feelings of an author in articulo mortis, are Symphony No. 9 and Symphony No. 10, as well as a Lied-Symphonie, The Song of the Earth. The later is a work that expresses through its conclusive Ewig ("Eternally") an unfathomable aspiration of permanence.

This will be a trip that becomes particularly dramatic in the first movement of Symphony No. 9, in which Berg witnessed the presence of death as a constant. But on the other hand, Carlo Maria Giulini saw this work in the fashion of a "spiritual success", including its Finale, a closing in which Karajan perceives pain and rage, but not pessimism. Deryck Cooke defined these three pieces as the "Trilogy of goodbye". But, was that a goodbye to life? Is this what the in-concluded Symphony No. 10 represents? Its first movement, the only one that the author could finalize, begins with the Finale of the previous symphony, so leaving the deep, terrible cries of love to a side, does the ample scheme that the compositor leaves us in the final days of his life represent Christian resignation?, maybe mortuary pessimism?, or oriental acceptance of the arrival of the Death? It is not really clear, because it could be the case that the eternally restless Mahler could be witnessing new paths, human and musical, worth being visited. Almost sitting next to him, Schönberg wrote citing Stefan George, Ich fühle die Luft von anderen Planeten ("I sense the air from other planets"). It is not impossible that Mahler may have started to sense them too.

  1. José Luis Pérez de ArteagaJosé Luis Pérez de ArteagaNació en Madrid, en 1950. Profesor de Universidad, se formó musicalmente en España y en el extranjero, y estudió piano con Rosa María Kucharski. Desde hace más de veinte años es una de las principales personalidades de la crítica musical española. Es co-autor de La cultura española durante el franquismo (1977) y de las ediciones (1976 a 1981, y 1983 a 1988) de Cine para leer; y de François Truffaut (1988). Entre 1981 y 1985 fue director de la Enciclopedia Salvat de la Música. Es autor de Gustav Mahler (1986) y de La música de cámara de Shostakovich (1997). Asimismo realizó la traducción y las notas de Testimonio: las memorias de Dmitri Shostakovich (primera edición crítica, 1991). En 2007 publicó Mahler (con la colaboración de Almudena de Maeztu en la Biografía).