Wednesday, January 12, 2011

An ocean of shameless kitsch

Mahler wrote his enormous Eighth Symphony in a very short time; its first part is solidly composed, but its second from the first baritone entry, is thrown overboard into an ocean of shameless kitsch from which it is never rescued, least of all in the inflated ending, and it must be regarded as one of his weakest compositions. Such dangers were always liable to trap even the most gifted and intelligent musicians; the higher they aim, the greater the risk of bathos.
That contribution to the current Mahler celebrations comes from Robert Simpson who was no mean composer himself. It appears in Simpson's 1981 book The Proms & Natural Justice which is still available and is essential reading. I hesitate to put words into his mouth, but I believe I am right in saying Bernard Haitink shares Simpson's view of the Eighth Symphony and only conducts it when required to do so as part of a Mahler cycle. Header image is my original 1972 LP set of Georg Solti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's magnificent account of the same symphony. If you are going to do bathos do it well...

Also on Facebook and Twitter. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

6 comments:

Pliable said...

David Cavlovic commented via Facebook:

Sounds similar to the comments about Beethoven's Ninth. And I daresay more people will listen to Mahler's Bathos than Simpson's sounds, even in our rarefied audience environment.

http://www.facebook.com/overgrownpath#!/overgrownpath/posts/155885064461940?notif_t=share_comment

Pliable said...

Quite so David. But in today's rarefied but technologically enabled audience environment should we not be encouraging them to listen to Mahler and Simpson?

Pliable said...

David Cavlovic again via Facebook:

Yes. But I tend to get a little miffed when one composer dissess another. "Jealousy" among musicians is a turnoff.

Pliable said...

David, I think it is unfair to term Robert Simpson's motivation for making the comment as "jealousy".

It comes as part of a fascinating and reasoned critique of planning biases during William Glock's tenure at the BBC.

I will try to return to the book in another post to show its wider context, but would also recommend it as a purchase to interested readers.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Proms-Natural-Justice-Plan-Renewal/dp/0907689000/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1294833176&sr=8-1

Gavin Plumley said...

Adorno was similarly skeptical of the 8th. I tend to agree in the main, but I always find the end staggering... a last gasp of hope before the resignation of the 9th and 10th.

That image of the Sofiensaal on the Solti is marvellous.

Pliable said...

"That image of the Sofiensaal on the Solti is marvellous" - well said Gavin. It is probably worth explaining for readers who do not know the Solti Mahler 8 that it was recorded in Vienna with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.