About this Recording
8.573350 - MAHLER, G.: Symphony No. 2 (arr. B. Walter for 2 pianos) (Maasa Nakazawa, Athavale)
English  German 

Gustav Mahler (1860-1911): Symphony No. 2 ‘Resurrection’
Arrangement for piano four hands by Bruno Walter (1876-1962)

 

In 1887 or at the beginning of 1888, while he was still working on his First Symphony, Gustav Mahler was making plans for a new symphonic work, beginning its transcript after 20 January 1888—the day he premièred his arrangement and completion of Carl Maria von Weber’s operatic fragment Die drei Pintos in Leipzig, thereby gaining more time to devote to composition. And, as so often in the past, the new work ended up addressing in a deeply personal way issues of life and death—to the extent that, according to Natalie Bauer-Lechner, he had the feeling that he was “dead and laid out covered with wreaths and flowers” while working on the funeral march of the first movement, the one he tackled first. Work on the piece was nevertheless brisk; it was completed as early as 10 September in Prague and headed Todtenfeier, Symphony in C minor and First movement. Mahler probably derived the term “Todtenfeier”—funeral rites or obsequies—from a poem by the Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz (1798–1855), who had also been the inspiration for Frédéric Chopin’s programmatic Ballades for piano.

Initially, Mahler even decided to publish Todtenfeier as a standalone symphonic poem, but when his publisher refused to accept this, the movement was set aside until the summer of 1893, when Mahler wrote (in Steinbach am Attersee) the Lieder Urlicht and Des Antonius von Padua Fischpredigt (based on texts from Des Knaben Wunderhorn) and sketched out the Symphony’s Andante and Scherzo, much of the latter being derived from material from the Antonius von Padua song. During the funeral service for Hans von Bülow in the Michaelis-Kirche in Hamburg on 29 March 1894 (where Mahler was baptised three years later), the composer then decided to round off the work with a choral finale: “Then the choir in the organ loft intoned the Klopstock chorale Auferstehn!—It struck me like a lightning bolt, and everything was revealed to my soul, perfectly clear and plain. The creative artist waits for just this lightning bolt, this is the holy conception!”

Mahler began work on the Symphony that very same day, revising Todtenfeier, then sketching the finale, placing Urlicht before it, and finally completing the entire five-movement work in the summer of that same year. It was premièred on 13 December 1895 in Berlin, conducted by Mahler himself, and was published in 1897 by Hofmeister of Leipzig. In 1898 the Viennese publishing house Weinberger adopted the work, and for them, in that same year, Bruno Walter prepared a “reduction for piano four hands”, the manuscript of which even contains corrections and annotations by Gustav Mahler. The piano reduction was published in January 1899 by Weinberger, then taken over by Universal-Edition in November 1906 (order number 949).

The first movement, which Mahler himself described as a “mighty piece of music, full of passionate feeling and dominated by deep inner grief, […] a lament for the death of a hero”, constitutes one of the composer’s most personal artistic utterances and confessions. The movement is cast in an oversized free sonata form with two development sections. The exposition comprises a funeral march-like first subject in C minor, a lyrical subsidiary idea, a third theme using Franz Liszt’s “cross motif” and an elegiac concluding group over a bass ostinato. As well as elaborating on this material, the two development sections then repeatedly introduce new motifs, including a bright E major pastorale and a chant-like Dies irae that definitively heralds the idea of a musical portrayal of the Last Judgement and the Resurrection of the Dead. The coda accordingly ends with an “unresolved” juxtaposition of major and minor and a plunging motif which merely hints at disaster, without attaining a point of final certainty.

According to Mahler, the “dramatic struggles” of this first movement should be followed by “an interval of at least five minutes” before the delicate, dancing second movement offers the audience “contemplative immersion in the charm and beauty of Nature” (Hermann Teibler), which it establishes primarily with a main theme in A flat major that is reminiscent of Franz Schubert. The two B major trio sections also pay homage to the world of late Classicism, although their racing “ghostly” triplets also conjure up the dark side of Romanticism. Mahler once told Bruno Walter that this Andante con moto was “a happy episode from the hero’s life”.

The scherzo-like third movement, which Bruno Walter described as a “high point in symphonic scherzo literature”, but which “was the product of a disturbing state of mind”, is clearly based on Des Antonius von Padua Fischpredigt (St Anthony’s Sermon to the Fish), the “flowing movement” (“fließende Bewegung”) of its framing sections seeming to mimic the fish swimming in the water. The chorale-like lines of the trio, by contrast, point to the “religious” side of Saint Anthony.

There follows, in fourth place, the orchestral song Urlicht (Primal Light), making Mahler’s Second the first of his series of “Wunderhorn Symphonies”. As regards content, Urlicht revolves around “the soul’s questioning and wrestling over God and its own divine existence beyond death” (Mahler), and accordingly, the brass section repeatedly calls to mind “ecclesiastical” realms. But the dark timbre of the alto voice also establishes a prevailing mood of restraint, which is only occasionally brightened by sounds reminiscent of folk music. Finally, the thought of the “eternal life of bliss” (“ewig’ selig’ Leben”) brings a clear forward momentum, thereby paving the way “programmatically” for the finale.

Here Mahler supplemented Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock’s poem Die Auferstehung with words of his own to create a large-scale cantata finale. The first part is still reserved for the orchestra, which opens proceedings “wild herausfahrend”—“in a savage outburst”—before the hymnic “resurrection theme” is heard, at first muted, then undergoing a succession of fresh treatments and elucidations after horn calls and the “threatening” Gregorian Dies irae. A march drives the music forwards, offstage fanfares heighten things further, then, after several chamber-musical episodes, the chorus intervenes, singing of the resurrection of the dead in a solemn Misterioso. “One is clubbed to the ground and then borne up on angels’ wings to the highest heights”, Mahler commented regarding this radical change of mood in the course of the movement. Soon the soprano and alto soloists also confess the Christian doctrine of salvation, interludes heightening the tension further, until a solemn final apotheosis with pealing bells unites orchestra, chorus and organ before culminating in an orchestral postlude of even greater intensity.

Bruno Walter, who wrote the reduction for piano duet recorded here, was a musician who was particularly well acquainted with Gustav Mahler’s oeuvre. Born Bruno Walter Schlesinger on 15 September 1876 in Berlin, he learned piano from an early age, giving his first public performance as young as nine. He then decided to pursue a career as a conductor, however, his first engagement being in 1893 at the Cologne Opera. In 1894 he became Gustav Mahler’s assistant at the Hamburg Opera, where he remained briefly after Mahler left for Vienna, before moving to Breslau (where he assumed the stage name Bruno Walter) in 1896, Pressburg in 1897, Riga in 1898 and Berlin in 1900. In order to avoid being totally bound to Mahler, musically speaking, he declined the latter’s invitation to join him at the Vienna Court Opera as Kapellmeister for decades before finally accepting the post in 1901. After Mahler left for New York, Bruno Walter remained in Vienna until 1913, appearing in many other cities as a guest conductor. He became an Austrian citizen in 1911, and gave the first performance of Mahler’s Lied von der Erde (Song of the Earth) that same year in Munich. In 1912 he premièred the composer’s Ninth Symphony in Vienna.

From 1913 to 1922 Bruno Walter was Musical Director of the Munich Opera. He made his first appearances in the USA in 1923 and headed up the Municipal Opera of Berlin-Charlottenburg from 1924. That same year he helped to found the Salzburg Festival. In 1929 he took over from Wilhelm Furtwängler as conductor of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, but had to emigrate to Vienna in 1933, conducting both at the State Opera and in concerts by the Vienna Philharmonic. In addition, he continued to conduct at Salzburg. In 1936 he became Artistic Director of the Vienna State Opera. The Anschluss of 1938 overtook him while he was in Amsterdam, whence he moved to Lugano and finally, at the end 1939, to the United States, having in the meantime become a French citizen. In the States he mainly conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic to begin with. From 1941 to 1959 he also worked at the Met in New York and was, in addition, chief conductor of the New York Philharmonic from 1947 to 1949. He also made numerous recordings, particularly of works by Gustav Mahler.

After the Second World War, Walter also resumed conducting in Vienna (his last appearance there was during the 1960 Wiener Festwochen) and in Salzburg. In Austria he was honoured in a number of ways: in 1956 he received the Ring of Honour of the City of Vienna, in 1959 the Karl Renner Prize, in 1961 the Austrian Decoration for Science and Art. He died on 17 February 1962 in Beverly Hills, California, where he had been living since 1941. A few months after his death, Walter’s daughter Lotte Walter Lindt gave a significant portion of his “musical remains”, alongside numerous letters (including Gustav Mahler’s), his (heavily annotated) conductor’s scores and his own compositions, to the library of the Academy (now University) of Music and the Performing Arts in Vienna, where it is intended to be of “ongoing benefit to the students” and also to keep the memory of Bruno Walter alive.

Bruno Walter regarded Gustav Mahler’s Second Symphony as one of his mentor’s key works, once describing it as follows: “From the Second onwards, he pursued more consciously and rigorously the path of the symphonist, who develops movement structure from a thematic nucleus, focussing single-mindedly on the form, and who is never seduced into sacrificing the principle of the organic unity of a movement by any emotional excess, poetic idea or musical inspiration.”

Hartmut Krones

Translation by Susan Baxter


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