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Location: Houston, Texas, United States

My name is David Stone. I live in Houston, Texas. I am a 30-something single white male. I am an Orthodox Christian and am a member of an English-language parish of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR).

Friday, May 02, 2008

Mahler's "Resurrection" Symphony

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Last night I attended a performance by the Houston Symphony of Gustav Mahler's Second Symphony at Jones Hall. The Symphony is commonly known as the "Resurrection Symphony".

This Symphony, while popular, is seldom programmed due to the large number of performers required. The only other time I was able to hear this work performed was 19 years ago in 1989 when Christoph Eschenbach conducted a performance by the Houston Symphony. With this being Bright Week in the Orthodox Church I simply could not pass up a chance to witness this performance.

The Houston Symphony was joined in this performance by the Houston Symphony Chorus along with soprano Erin Wall and contralto Meredith Arwady. The conductor for this concert was Maestro Hans Graf, the Music Director of the Houston Symphony.

Mahler's Second Symphony was composed during the years 1888-1894. His sources of inspiration for the Symphony included: the collection of German folk poetry known as Des Knaben Wunderhorn, Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, and Friedrich Klopstock's Resurrection Chorale.

The Symphony consists of five movements. The fourth movement is a setting of the poem Urlicht from Des Knaben Wunderhorn. The fifth movement contains a setting of Klopstock's Resurrection chorale as rewritten by Mahler to which he added these additional lines (here in an English translation):

O believe,
You were not born for nothing!
Have not for nothing, lived, suffered!

What was created
Must perish,
What perished, rise again!

Cease from trembling!
Prepare yourself to live!

O Pain, You piercer of all things,
From you, I have been wrested!
O Death, You masterer of all things,
Now, are you conquered!

With wings which I have won me,
In love’s fierce striving,
I shall soar upwards
To the light which no eye has penetrated!
Its wing that I won is expanded,
and I fly up.

Die shall I in order to live.
Rise again, yes, rise again,
Will you, my heart, in an instant!
That for which you suffered,
To God will it lead you!

The performance by the Orchestra, Chorus and soloists was excellent. Graf's interpretation was very good though quite different from my recollection of Eschenbach's interpretation. He offered a leaner, more straightforward approach that was not overly dramatic. The tempos were also quicker than Eschenbach's.

Some of the highlights of the performance for me were the solos performed by the concertmaster and the principal trumpet, the offstage brass sections, the brass playing during the Chorale, 'Dies Irae' and finale sections and the singing of the Chorus during the final movement.

The last five minutes or so of the final movement (which simultaneously employs the Chorus, Orchestra, Organ and both soloists) is one of the most moving and spiritual passages in all of music. One has to hear a live performance to fully appreciate it. It is simply spell-binding. The performers did not disappoint here either. The finale was magnificent.

The only disappointment in the performance for me (a minor quibble) was that the electronic organ used in the finale was mostly lost in the acoustics of Jones Hall. One day I hope to hear this piece again but performed in a Cathedral or Hall with a proper pipe organ.

The performance of this piece by the Houston Symphony continues through this weekend. You can find out more details on the two remaining performances here.

is a review of the performance from the Houston Chronicle.



Blogger Morgan said...

I stumbled across this post while looking for a translation of the lyrics from this symphony to share with a music class for adults that I teach in Costa Rica. I was blessed to be in the viola section of my university Orchestra when we performed this incredible symphony, ironically, on September 10th, 2001. Ever since I can´t hear it or even think about it without weeping. I agree totally with your closing remark- the finale of this symphony should be required listening for humanity. Everyone deserves the opportunity to hear this piece performed live... and weep with the gift of Mahler´s genius.

4:58 PM  
Blogger Stephen said...

This is as close to God as I'll ever come. The most magnificent piece of music ever created.

10:02 PM  
Blogger Nicole and Mon Voyage said...

If you can make a spontaneous trip to Dallas this weekend (5/20-23, 2010), Jaap van Zweden and the DSO are doing it at the Meyerson--with its amazing organ. This is a piece which will take full advantage of the hall's splendid acoustics! If you haven't heard the DSO perform under van Zweden, do try to come check it out.

1:02 PM  
Blogger DaveStadnick said...

The New York Philharmonic Orchestra performed this work for the 9/11 Concert (10th anniversary) though (unforgivably) the last movement was cut short for a commercial break. It has since been rebroadcast. May I reiterate you comments here ... "The last five minutes or so of the final movement ... is one of the most moving and spiritual passages in all of music." and I would hope this brings some meaning and closure to the families and dead of the 9/11 attack.

8:45 PM  

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