Saturday, November 10, 2007

Mahler's 7th Symphony

I've fallen in love with a "new" composer. Well, one that's new to me anyway!

I can't recall ever hearing any of Gustav Mahler's work, at least not hearing it and being conscious that it was his. He lived 1865-1911, which puts some of his work firmly in the beginning of one of my favorite eras.

The sweet girl and I have been reading and listening to Robert Levine's The Story of the Orchestra. This is a book/CD intended for children, but I've been learning as much or more than my little one (though she's loved it too). Each morning we talk about a different instrument in the orchestra and after learning about it, play the appropriate track on the CD that highlights it. It's been a great exercise in learning to pick out instruments as we hear them in orchestral work, something I never really learned to do.

A couple of weeks ago we learned about the tympani, those wonderfully huge drums played in the orchestra. The sweet girl has an ongoing fascination with percussion (seriously...she is longing to play drums and has a great sense of rhythm, though I'm not yet sure can carry a tune!) and so we were both excited to hear the featured track for this one. It happened to be the opening minute of the finale to Mahler's 7th symphony. If you've never heard this particular piece, try! It's one of the most exciting and heart-rending pieces I've heard in a long time. As we've played that one minute over and over, I've had odd but powerful sensations when I listen to it: it makes me feel excited to be alive, hopeful about the future, and (no kidding, though it's hard to explain this about a piece of supposedly secular music) jazzed about heaven and the kingdom of God. I think some orchestral music, because of its communal nature and often majestic brass tones, just gives me a heavenly sense.

The agonizing thing was we only had this one minute excerpt. It trails off tantalizingly, leaving me wanting to know where the music would go next. I hurried to our online card catalog to see of the county system had this particular symphony anywhere. They did, though it took them several days to get it from another library after I requested it.

I picked it up from the library hold shelf this morning. And I did something I basically never do with a good book, I went to the last chapter first. I had to hear that stunning finale, the final movement of the symphony. I felt like I'd been left hanging for two weeks, waiting to find out "what happened."

And it's wonderful. All 18 minutes of it. Now I need to go back and listen to the whole symphony, which lasts over an hour (so stretches my still growing musical appreciation skills). Mahler apparently wrote some of the biggest, longest, most complex symphonies ever. Wouldn't you know it!

The other great thing was how excited the sweet girl was about this CD too. I picked it up downstairs while she was up with her Daddy in the children's section. So she didn't see me get it. She must have remembered it during her rest time this afternoon though. A little while ago when she got up from a nap, the first thing she said was: "Mommy, did you get the rest of that symphony today?" She too wanted to hear the rest of the finale. It's playing in her room right now!

Edited to add: it must've finished. Right as I posted this, she came running into the living room, smiling brightly. "Mommy, can I hear the tympani again?" Time to go push the play button on track five one more time...!


Erin said...

Hooray for tympani! I hope the budding percussionist gets a chance to play Ringo soon! That symphony sounds fantastic. I'm not familiar with Mahler (that I know of, anyway); I'll have to see if I can listen to that symphony and especially the finale!

Beth said...

It's really a wonderful piece. I am learning *so* much about orchestra instruments as I teach S. about them (one reason I love teaching, I get to learn more!).

We're looking into getting her some rhythm instruments for Christmas. We may hold of an actual drum for a while yet...we do live in an apartment (with very close neighbors!) after all. :-)