Thursday, May 10, 2012

Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 2—'Resurrection'

The Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra with The National Youth Choir of Great Britain, Gustavo Dudamel, conducting, perform Gustav Mahler Symphony No. 2 ("Resurrection") at BBC Proms 2011.


Gustav Mahler was born on July 7, 1860, into a Jewish family in Kaliste, Bohemia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and now part of the Czech Republic. In February 1897, at age 36, Mahler converted from Judaism to Roman Catholicism, chiefly to secure a post as artistic director of the prestigious Vienna Court Opera. Nevertheless, his music retained his Jewish heritage and influences. "This, in the eyes of those who hated his innovations, far from removing his Jewish stigma, drew attention to it," Paul Johnson, a historian writes in A History of the Jews,quoting from Alma Mahler's book Gustav Mahler: Letters and Memories (1946):
"He was not a man who ever deceived himself," wrote his wife, "and he knew that people would not forget he was a Jew. . . . Nor did he wish it forgotten. . . . He never denied his Jewish origin. Rather he emphasized it."Mahler composed the Second Symphony between 1888 and 1894, and first performed in 1895. The first four symphonies are often called "Wunderhorn" symphonies because many of their themes originate in earlier songs by Mahler from Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Youth's Magic Horn), a collection of German folk poems published in the early 19th century.
Mahler's symphonies, hardly performed during his life, became out of fashion for decades after his death in 1911 at the age of 50. The anti-Romantic mood changed after the Second World War. Leonard Bernstein has been credited with giving Mahler new life in the 1960s, making his music popular on both sides of the Atlantic. With all due credit to Bernstein's influence, it might also have to do with the changing sentiments after the destructiveness resulting from a world caught up in the mania of war. 

After its end, the world was ready to hear Mahler.

Gustav Mahler [1860-1911]: Gustav Mahler, photographed in 1907 at the end of his period as director of the Vienna Hofoper. As Mahler said: "The point is not to take the world's opinion as a guiding star but to go one's way in life and working unerringly, neither depressed by failure nor seduced by applause."
Photo Credit: Moriz Nähr (1859–1945)