sibelius & mahler

[In October 1907] Sibelius met the composer Gustav Mahler, who was visiting Helsinki. The two colleagues noticed that they had experienced the same phenomenon: with each new symphony both of them always lost listeners who had been captivated by the previous symphony.

But they disagreed about the essence of the symphony as a musical form. “I said that I admired its strictness and style and deep logic, which requires that all its motifs must be linked to each other,” Sibelius recollected later. “Nein, die Symphonie muss sein wie die Welt. Sie muss alles umfassen,” answered Mahler. (“No, the symphony must be like the world. It must encompass everything.”)


I love both Sibelius’ and Mahler’s music, their symphonies especially. But, I have lately (with the reading of the excellent new Mahler biography by Jens Malte Fischer) decided that Mahler’s own comment about what the symphony should be is actually somewhat ironic. I’ll explain. I believe that Sibelius actually did what Mahler intended in the literal sense. His symphonies are profoundly influenced by nature – nature without man, I’d say. Just the vast expanses of green forests, blue skies, and white snow of his beloved Finnish landscapes. Mahler, on the other hand, I believe, illustrates the interior world of man’s psyche – more specifically, Mahler’s own. And this is where the power of each composer’s works lies. Sibelius depicts the majesty, power, and awe-inspiring beauty of nature with such vividness – that the power of his orchestral climaxes are almost unbearable, like trying to look directly at the bright, midday sun. Mahler, on the other hand, finds equally powerful climaxes, but they are triumphs and tragedies of the human spirit, not of the physical world.

What do you think, and what are your favorite moments in Sibelius’ and/or Mahler’s symphonic output?

all things mahler


Via Chantal, Universal Edition has a great website up pertaining to all things Mahler.  Check it out!

why we love mahler


Ask almost any symphonic musician what works they love to play, and among the most often mentioned pieces will be those by either Richard Strauss or Gustav Mahler.  Why is this?  Well, to put it simply, these pieces constitute exactly what modern players are prepared to perform.  Our entire musical education is essentially geared to create a technical base (both on the instrument and musicianship) that will enable one to perform these virtuosic pieces with relative ease.

Of the two, it is definitely Mahler who makes the more severe demands.  In Strauss, one often plays an entire melodic line in its entirety, whereas Mahler demands superior ensemble precision by dividing up melodic lines among several diverse sections of the orchestra.  Very quick changes in dynamics and tempi and texture also challenge the musicians’ ability to make quick adjustments on the fly.

So that’s why, after this weekend’s concerts of Mahler 4, you sense a buzz backstage – the orchestra is happy: we’ve risen to the challenge, and are feeling at the top of our game.  The only problem?  Just one more classical concert to go and then we’re done until September.

A quick shout out to our last-minute guest english hornist for last night’s concert – she sight-read the Barber and Mahler and sounded great.  When I find out her name I’ll be sure to update this post.

Our English Horn sub last night was Jamie Roberts, Principal oboist of the Portland Opera – well done, Jamie!