Thursday, July 20, 2006

This Magic Moment (one in a series)

Mahler, Symphony No. 9, first movement, 2 mm. before fig. 5

We've heard the big first theme a time or two or three; we've crested one big crunching climax, with several more obviously still to come; and now there's stuff churning below the surface of this new reiteration. Complications are in the air. We careen around the corner, and — whoosh, everything gets sucked out of the atmosphere. Suddenly there's just this gaping wide-spaced ninth: B in the bass, C# way up in the first violins, and nothing much in between except a sugary harp arpeggio to fill in the simple harmony. It's like biting into what you think is a hunk of bread and finding meringue.

The first 15 or 20 times I heard the piece, this passage bugged the snot out of me. It sounded treacly and sentimental, and the unprepared rush into the wide-open texture inspired vertigo. And then one day I pulled a 180, the way one does. Now I look forward to it every time, and feel a little shiver of delight as it hits.

(As the title suggests, we're only doing individual moments here. You want large-scale harmonic effects, you gotta go elsewhere.)


At 7/28/2006 4:56 AM, Blogger Orpheus said...

Hi Joshua! Thank you very much for bringing this wonderful moment in Mahler's 9th to my attention. I have thought a bit about our conception of "favorite moments" in a post over at my blog Zeitschichten.

Looking forward to reading more from you soon!

At 7/31/2006 12:06 AM, Blogger nobleviola said...

As an orchestral musician, I've pulled many a 180 in my day (and I'm only in my tenth year of being in an orchestra), and many of those are in Mahler. For me, I now look forward to those "celestial" moments when the curtain is pulled aside and there is a glimpse into another world. For me, since it's fresh in my mind, the calm eddys in the first movement of Mahler 7 are just sublimnity itself.


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