Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The man had a way

In looking for Bernstein's article on Mahler, "His Time Has Come," I found his Young People's Concert talk, "Who is Gustav Mahler?" I liked this selection:

"It is like Mahler's own personal farewell to the old romantic kind of German music, as if he knows it's all over, and now he must begin a new kind of music, which he begins right then and there. And it comes out sounding very original. But at the same time he doesn't want to say goodbye to the old music; he loves all that Wagner and Schubert so much. So he says goodbye sadly, unwillingly, so that at the end of the piece, when the singer says the German word ewig, meaning forever, she sings it again over and over as if not wishing to let go of this beauty."

In an age when MTV profiles million-dollar birthday parties, I am struck with a profound sense of Weltschmerz when I think about a time when a great conductor would explain Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde to kids. Perhaps Pierre Boulez should do a few concerts like this before he goes up to his great nothingness in the nowhere. I can imagine his speech:

"Clearly, Mahler's Das Lied prefigures the decay of tonality begun - in earnest - with Tristan und Isolde. Any youth who has not experienced the absolute necessity for such language, i.e., dodecaphony, is worthless. Mahler straddles the brink between decadent, bourgeois tonality and the logical perfection of Schoenberg, Webern, and Berg. Listen well, and know that modern music is the only form of music worth the effort. Now, further this program yourselves and destroy the concert hall. Leave no rafter standing and salt the land, that nothing ever grow here again! Schnell! Auf, auf!"

But seriously, forks, Bernstein was a great teacher and - if America hopes to have any culture or Kultur - we need another like him.


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