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This morning I decided to sit through a performance of Mahler's 4th symphony on youtube... in the hopes of expanding my horizons with Mahler and all that, y'know, since in the past I've really only heard his 1st symphony in full, and only snippets of the others.

Unfortunately, I have to confess my conclusion is still the same as before: his music just doesn't do it for me.  I don't deny his genius at the craft, and certainly he's an excellent orchestrator -- probably far beyond what I could ever hope to achieve, but I just have a hard time getting "into" his music the same way I get into, say, Sibelius' symphonies, or Beethoven, or Shostakovich, for that matter.  I had a hard time following his musical structures; it seems like just one idea strung after another, meandering, without an obvious direction (that is, unless I read the program notes / circumstantial information).

I found the 1st mvmt of the 4th somewhat frilly, light, and seems to me to be just "random" flittering around, without much of a satisfying dramatic structure.  The middle movements didn't win me over either; the slow movement seemed excessively drawn-out in its dark moods.  Also, I admit I'm biased against choral works, so the finale didn't really appeal to me that much either.  It's probably just my personal bias, but I can only tolerate a soprano's voice for so long before it gets tiring on the ears.  And I suppose not understanding German didn't help with appreciating the lyrics either.

So even though Mahler seems to be far more popular, this crude bumpkin over here will continue to prefer his Sibelius and Bruckner symphonies over Mahler.  Well, OK, to be fair, maybe I'll just pick another Mahler symphony randomly and listen to it in its entirety later today... from what snippets I've heard in the past, though, I'm not expecting my opinion to change.

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Comment by Rodney Carlyle Money on August 4, 2017 at 11:00am
If memory serves me correctly, Mahler was born a Jew, converted to Christianity just to get a job position, and now in his symphony 4 he is trying to describe The Marriage Supper of the Lamb in which he has absolutely no clue about. I can tell why you don't connect with it, because Mahler unfortunately probably could not even connect with the subject he was trying to describe musically. When you describe the glory of pure good triumphs evil as a children's tea party, one is destined to fail. String players and conductors tend to favor this symphony more because of idiomatic writing verses actual musical impression thus giving the symphony an illusion of success and genius.
Comment by Mike Hewer on July 27, 2017 at 8:27am

It's great that you are trying to expand your listening habits HS. I try and do it all the time, something new as often as possible.

Keep those ears open.

Comment by H. S. Teoh on July 25, 2017 at 7:06pm

On your advice I listened to Mahler 6 today.  Unfortunately, it didn't change my impression of Mahler.  It's very masterfully-crafted music, one has to admit, but somehow it just doesn't "click" for me.

I thought about it afterwards, and perhaps I might explain my feeling this way: with symphonies like Sibelius' or Bruckner's, or even Shostakovich, the end of the symphony brings closure, and satisfaction on some level (and this even with some of Shostakovich's most nihilistic symphonies).  With Mahler, the end of the symphony brings exhaustion (and this even with the most optimistic of his symphonies that I've heard).  Your ears (and stamina :-P) are just stretched to the max, and finally you arrive at the end, exhausted, and ready to crash. Even Bruckner's long symphonies, at the end, bring closure, but not exhaustion.  I suppose this is all very subjective and not really meaningful to anyone besides myself, but anyway, this is my take on why I just can't get "into" Mahler's music. :-D

Comment by Mike Hewer on July 25, 2017 at 12:51pm
I'm partial to numbers 2,6,8 and 9. Not too familiar with 4 but with you on Bruckner, Shostakovitch and Sibelius ( the composer)....

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