The Power of Music: “You Brought Me Trumpets? You’re An Angel!”

“Oh my God! You brought me trumpets? You’re an angel!”

In the process of reading the posts left about a particular piece of classical music on YouTube (Mahler Symphony #2, the Resurrection Symphony), I noticed that one woman posted a particularly poignant memory she had of her mother’s last moments in the hospital, and the misunderstanding her mother had had when she doctors specified another catheter for her:

Flashback to when my Mom (a music teacher by profession) was on her deathbed. Her organs were shutting down, the doctors declared that she was going to need a smaller tube for a catheter. She misunderstood the words “smaller tube” and thought they said “Mahler Two”. She declared that this was her favorite passage in the history of music.

I quickly called this up on my iPhone, and she thanked me through the whole procedure of the doctors getting the smaller tube to work. Every time a new instrument was introduced to the piece, she would say “Oh my God! You brought me trumpets? You’re an angel!” I guess my point is, never underestimate the power of music!

I was taking my usual afternoon nap today and as usual our master bedroom radio was set to our single classical music station in the area, KUCO, out of Edmond, Oklahoma.  I awoke to some Mahler coming out of the radio.  Wasn’t sure what it was, but it . . . was . . . Mahler.  I say that in the way most classical musicians (or fans of classical music) would know that.  The brass was clearly predominant and delivering their parts in a cock-sure, “My part is to be heard above the rest of you” way.  They weren’t being used to support the strings; the strings were there to support the heavy load carried by the brass.

At first, I listened carefully, trying to see if it might be Bruckner and not Mahler at all; but the piece was brass-heavy in its ascending and descending passages, with some of the load “shared” with two soprano voices who were grabbing for some of the attention over the strong brass behind them, belting out a particular German lieder (song) that was based on some already existing poetry (rather like Beethoven using Schiller’s “Ode to joy”).

Here is the poem that Mahler used in the last movement of the 2nd Symphony, with the first part by the poet Friedrich Klopstock and the last section written by Mahler himself:

Its easy to see why Mahler’s Second Symphony is also called the Resurrection Symphony, isn’t it.

Mahler completed what would become the first movement of the symphony in 1888 as a single-movement symphonic poem called Totenfeier (Funeral Rites). Some sketches for the second movement also date from that year. Mahler wavered five years on whether to make Totenfeier the opening movement of a symphony, although his manuscript does label it as a symphony. In 1893, he composed the second and third movements. The finale was the problem. While thoroughly aware he was inviting comparison with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9—both symphonies use a chorus as the centerpiece of a final movement which begins with references to and is much longer than those preceding it—Mahler knew he wanted a vocal final movement. Finding the right text for this movement proved long and perplexing. (Wikipedia)

Mahler finally decided to bite the bullet and write a finale to his symphony with a choral centerpiece . . . inviting the inevitable comparisons with Beethoven’s monumental 9th Symphony (because of its use of principal singers and a large chorus singing Schiller’s “Ode to Joy”, and remembered by most all of us today as the music that became synonymous with the German citizenry destroying the Berlin Wall that had divided them.)

BIG Brass Symphonies

As will be obvious to you when we get to the links to YouTube recordings for you to sample, Mahler was among three German composers in the after-Wagner period who began to use a large, full range of brass instrumentation:

 Mahler, however, perhaps out of his desire to portray a more grandiose and universal concept within his works, expanded the brass further still. Mahler, in his first symphony, calls for seven horns, four large valve trumpets in F, and the usual complement of three trombones and tuba.  In his second symphony, he calls for six trumpets, with four additional trumpets offstage, as well as ten horns, four trombones, and a tuba. In Mahler’s works, as well as the compositions of Strauss and Bruckner, the brass tend to dominate the texture, and the parts written for all the instruments are quite difficult.

(“The Evolution of Brass Instruments and Orchestral Brass Writing from the Late Classical Period to the End of the Romantic Period,” Ken Jimenez, 2011.)

YouTube have a good variety of live orchestral hall recordings of Mahler 2, but you will notice if you look them up that they are usually (but not always) EITHER the whole work (which takes a good hour and 20 to an hour and a half) or just the last piece of the last movement (the choral climax of the symphony).

I’m going to overlook the great body of the whole work (sorry, Eric) and just give you a video recording or two of the approximately 8 minute choral finale of Mahler 2:

Gustavo Dudamel with the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra, Movement 5, Part 4 or 4 of Mahler’s Symphony No.2, the Resurrection, at the BBC Proms, 2011.  (YouTube, 8:01)

Now, for those of you interested in saddling up to your desktop computer for an hour and a half, here is the complete Mahler 2 by Gustavo Dudamel and his band of Venezuelan kiddy corp:

Gustavo Dudamel with the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra, Mahler’s Symphony No.2, the Resurrection, at the BBC Proms, 2011.  (YouTube, 1:33:51)

Also, if you’d like to see how passionate Bernstein got about the works he conducted, view this final choral movement of Mahler 2 by Bernstein and the London Symphony Orchestra back in the 70’s:

Leonard Bernstein, London Symphony Orchestra, Movement 5, Part 4 or 4 of Mahler’s symphony No.2.  (YouTube, 8:25)

 

 

 

 

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