Thursday, June 16, 2011

Mahler: Symphony No. 5's Adagietto

September 1987: Alte Oper, Frankfurt, Germany

Wiener Philharmoniker (Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra), Leonard Bernstein conducting, is here performing Gustav Mahler's Adagietto from the Fourth Movement of Symphony No. 5. The Adagietto is typically around 10 minutes, but in some recordings it has approached 12 minutes.

Mahler [1860-1902] composed  the piece in 1901 and 1902 in Maiernigg, Austria, on the shores of the Wörthersee in the state of Carinthia. He conducted the first performances of the Fifth Symphony at Cologne, Germany, on October 18, 1904. (This video clip is taken from the recording of 1990.)

Leonard Bernstein was instrumental in making Mahler popular with North American audiences. This piece in particular later became an orchestral standard. The composition is actually a happy one, notes Manfred Honeck, musical director with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, in an article in The Toronto Star:
Mahler wrote the Fifth Symphony at one of the happiest times of his life. He had just married Alma Schindler and he had just become director of the opera in Vienna. The symphony is actually a love poem to Alma. And yet, thanks to its use in Luchino Visconti's famous film (Death in Venice) people think the famous ‘Adagietto' movement is tragic.
Perhaps this false sense of tragedy also comes from its connection to a sad event. Leonard Bernstein conducted  "The Adagietto" at the mass for Robert Kennedy at Saint Patrick's Cathedral, in New York City, on June 8, 1968, the day he was laid to rest.