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Beethoven's 9th Symphony
Friday, May 16, 2014
7:30 PM
Littleton United Methodist Church
5894 South Datura
Littleton, CO 80120

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Adults: $15.00
Seniors over 62 years: $12.00
21 and under: FREE

Our 28th Season - Schedule
Littleton Symphony Orchestra

Program Notes

A Celebration of Victory
Friday, May 13, 2011
Doors open at 7:00 PM - Performance begins 7:30 PM
The triumphant finale in our season of FIFTHS! Conductor Herbert von Karajan said that when one hears Mahler's Fifth, "you forget that time has passed. A great performance of the Fifth is a transforming experience. The fantastic finale almost forces you to hold your breath." Join us and find out for yourself. Oxygen not included.

Mahler : Symphony No. 5

Gustav Mahler (1860 – 1911) Symphony No. 5


“To write a symphony is to create a world” - Gustav Mahler

Mahler was best known during his lifetime as a conductor, one whose contemporaries held him in the same regard as Nikisch and Toscanini. After training at the Vienna Conservatory, he started in small provincial orchestras, and quickly climbed the ladder (Prague, Leipzig, Budapest, Hamburg). In 1897 he was appointed music director of the Vienna Court Opera, where he remained for ten years. Because of his responsibilities, he was unable to dedicate much time to composition during the season, and jokingly referred to himself as a “summer composer.” Mahler was frequently at odds with the management of the Vienna Opera, and was regularly attacked by critics. Much of the criticism was fueled by the anti-Semitism common in Vienna at the time, even though he had converted to Catholicism shortly after his appointment to the opera, . He left Vienna in 1907 to take a position as director of the Metropolitan Opera in New York, and was to eventually take the reins of the New York Philharmonic for a time, during which he took the Philharmonic on its first concert tour, to New Haven, Providence, Springfield, Boston, and Philadelphia.

Primarily a writer of songs and symphonies, Mahler’s work is divided into periods based upon song texts. The first is the Wunderhorn period, so-called because of his exclusive use in songs of texts from a collection of German folk-poems, Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Youth’s Magic Horn). The first four symphonies belong to this period. In 1901 he wrote his last Wunderhorn song, and began using texts by Friedrich Rückert. The Rückert symphonies (the Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh) are purely instrumental, and less programmatic. Bruno Walter said that Mahler “is now aiming to write music as a musician.” This “enhanced polyphony,” as Walter called it, required a new and more complex instrumental technique, with which Mahler struggled for the remainder of his life.

The Fifth Symphony was written during 1901 and 1902. The first read-through was with the Vienna Philharmonic early in 1904,
and the first public performance was with the Gürzenich Orchestra in
Cologne on October 18th of that year, with the composer conducting. He revised the score, based upon performances, until at least 1907.

The work is organized into five movements, divided into three sections. The first and second movements comprise section I, the third movement (Scherzo) is section II, and the last two movements (Adagietto and Finale) are section III. The last movement begins directly from the fourth, with no pause. The key of the symphony is sometimes listed as C-sharp minor, and the symphony begins there, but this is more a convention than a reality. The work moves rapidly from key to key – there are twelve key changes in the Scherzo alone – and eventually concludes in D-major. In fact, Mahler said that “to
avoid misunderstandings the key should best be omitted.”

Once again a dramatic four-note motif begins a Fifth Symphony. The solo trumpet declaims the theme, one pitch, C-sharp, in triplet eighths followed by a half note. The motif is repeated, then varied, and quickly develops into a fanfare for full orchestra. The movement soon settles into a funeral march. It’s an idea Mahler developed early in his career. His first three symphonies all include funeral marches, he began his Seventh Symphony with a funeral march, and his first composition, at the age of six, was a polka introduced by a funeral march. Perhaps the fact that eight of his fourteen siblings did not survive childhood made him familiar with the form. As biographer Neville Cardus wrote, “a coffin must have been a familiar item of
furniture” in the Mahler house.

In any case, this is no ordinary funeral procession. Instruments appear and disappear, solos and small groups of instruments move the center of interest around the orchestra. Mahler used the large orchestra in such a way that he is often writing a sort of chamber music. It is not unusual for a player to be at pianissimo, while her neighbor is at full forte. The clarity achieved by this technique is remarkable.

The march varies from loud to soft, light to dark, simple to complex. The opening triplet figure, stated or unstated, underlies it all. There are solos from almost every instrument. The trumpet returns, solo flute takes the melody to the end, then a pause, with a final unison D, pianissimo, from the low strings.

The second movement (“Stormily, with Great Vehemence”) bursts on the scene with a fortissimo theme from the bassoons, cellos, and basses, punctuated by chords from strings, trumpets, and horns. It is a counterpoint to the first movement – loud, angry music occasionally succumbing to the depression of the first. Near the end there is a chorale from the brass, big and optimistic, but after a great climax it falters, the first theme returns, and again the movement ends pianissimo, two notes from cello and bass.

The third movement (Scherzo) is the central movement to the symphony, not only because of its place but also its importance. Mahler began writing the scherzo before the other movements, and it is the longest of the five. It begins benignly enough, with a pretty Ländler melody from the horns. The Ländler, an Austrian folk dance resembling the waltz, had been used in classical music since Haydn, and was often used by Mahler to denote nature and tranquility. But after the introduction – we’ll let Mahler tell it, from a letter to his wife, Alma, after the first rehearsal:

“...oh heavens, what are they to make of this chaos of which new worlds are forever being engendered,
only to crumble in ruin the moment after? What are they to say to this primeval music, this foaming, roaring, raging sea of sound, to these dancing stars, to these breathtaking, iridescent and flashing breakers? . . . Oh, that I might give my symphonies their first performance fifty years after my death!”

The movement is marked “Vigorously, but not too fast.” It is a celebration of life in the country, with pastoral themes and horn calls across mountain valleys. The difficulties are hidden, but alway present. There are new variations in orchestration, textures ranging from solo instruments through a simple waltz to a fugue, complex and abrupt changes of tonality and tempo. If he had not already proven it, Mahler shows in this movement his absolute mastery of the orchestra.

The Adagietto fourth movement is Mahler’s best-known music, frequently performed alone by Mahler and others even before complete performances of the symphony were common. The use of the Adagietto in Luchino Visconti’s 1971 film Death in Venice has no doubt enhanced its popularity, and it is the only Mahler symphonic movement frequently played separately.

Adagietto refers to the movement’s length, not to its tempo. In fact, the score is marked “Very Slow” twice in the first three measures, in two different languages. In contrast to the melodic domination by the winds and brass in the first three movements, the Adagietto is all strings, with the harp the only non-bowed instrument. The melody is related to the great song “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen” (I am lost to the world), which was written at the same time as the Fifth Symphony. The conductor Willem Mengelberg said that he was told by both Gustav and Alma Mahler that this was Gustav’s declaration of love for her. An obvious quote from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde would not have been an accident.

A single held note from the horn brings us directly to the Finale. This is optimistic music, relieving us of the gloom that pervaded the beginning of the work. Woodwinds and brass assume their place, as in the first three movements. Eventually the same brass chorale that failed in the second movement arises, triumphant, and after an enormous climax we are brought to a quick, brilliant conclusion. The long progression from C-sharp minor to D-major has taken us from a funeral march to a celebration of life itself.

Composer Ernst Krenek said that the Fifth Symphony is the work which brings Mahler “upon the terrotory of the new music of the twentieth century.” The trumpet call that begins the work is Mahler’s entrance into his greatest and deepest creative period. An obituary published in the New York Daily Tribune a few days after Mahler’s death stated ‘We cannot see how any of his music can long survive him’. Fortunately, critics often get it wrong.