This article, reprinted by Alex Ross, is one of the most hauntingly beautiful things I have read in a long time. Hans Fantel, the author, was there in the Vereinsaal when Bruno Walter conducted the Wiener Philharmoniker in Mahler's 9th in 1938. With Hitler and the Anschluss roaring over the Tyrol and Oberösterreich, this performance takes on a grim - but poignant still - overtone.
This passage, in particular, resonates with me,
"I now had some musical understanding of what I had then heard uncomprehendingly. I could now recognize and appreciate the singular aura of that performance; I could sense its uncanny intensity — a strange inner turmoil quite different from the many other recordings of Mahler's Ninth I had heard since. Knowing now what nobody could have known at the time of the concert, it seemed that perhaps the playing of the music carried within it a foreboding of what was to come. Terror and anguish, not yet experienced but divined, were transformed into song. Was it by chance that Mahler's Ninth — that supreme expression of farewell — was on the program that day?
But it wasn't the music alone that cast a spell over me as I listened to the new CD. Nor was it the memory of the time when the recording was made. It took me a while to discover what so moved me. Finally, I knew what it was: This disk held fast an event I had shared with my father: 71 minutes out of the 16 years we had together. Soon after, as an "enemy of Reich and Führer," my father also disappeared into Hitler's abyss."
Mahler's 9th is a singularly tragic work, not only because it heralds a composer cut down in his prime, but because of all the tragedy and horror that it encompasses. If Beethoven's 9th is the music of exultation, then this is the music of deepest despair. Read the entirety of this article. It is rare that music criticism is this profound.