I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change

Theodor Adorno suggested in his Mahler: A Musical Physiognomy that ‘change is the agent of hope in Mahler’. Mahler’s ideas and syntax are so denuded of synthesis, so locked into dissimulation and fragmentation (especially in the ‘Low’ movements), that the frequent, shocking insistence on sudden change both within and across movements ruptures the pantaphobic glamour with agency, and life. Mahlerian form seems an antigram of integration, yet if one is attentive, shards of hope and joy leap out in the hammer blows and antic tempi of the forms. With harmonic rhythm and accent flowing over bar lines, and scoring likewise bleeding over itself in the deliberate dream-confusion of tone, the finale of Das Lied von der Erdre appears an index of just such hope. Similarly, the confused torrent of its penultimate movement. Change is the quality other composers seek to streamline, or erase, even in their adherence to blind difference across traditional forms. In Mahler, change is made the life-force of the art.

Mahler’s greatest attraction lies in the ineffability that his music creates by suggesting all along in its form and its deliquescence the promise of death, but then delivering it at the close, only curiously alive (cf. the Ninth Symphony). Something cannot tell of death so vividly without paradox. ‘Nothing is truer than allegory’ wrote Catherine Breillart, and in this case the apparent pull of death in Mahler’s muse is indeed betrayed by the vivification of its tale.

Go here to read my full review of Dietrich Henschel and Tom Randle, under the direction of Hartmut Haenchen, just about managing to marshall all these energies into a convincing account of Das Lied this evening in Brussels.


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