Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Love and Despair in Mahler's Music

Last time we looked at Alma Mahler and the jealousy she may have caused the men in her life. Her first husband, Gustav Mahler, experienced both the joys of passionate love for his young bride, as well as moments of jealousy, rage, and despair. Many of these emotions are evident in his music.

Gustav’s Symphony No. 5 provides an excellent example of the love the composer felt for his soon-to-be bride. Composed in 1901 and 1902, this symphony contains an Adagietto movement that scholars believe to be the composer’s declaration of love to Alma though he gave it to her with no explanation. You can listen to the Adagietto below. Do you find it to express the love Gustav must have felt for his future bride?

Several years later, Gustav Mahler wrote his Symphony No. 6, which is known for “Alma’s theme,” a soaring melody found in the first movement. This composition fell still early on in their marriage, before Alma’s relationship formed with Walter Gropius. Listen here:

Gustav’s mood changed following the discovery that the young architect Walter Gropius was in pursuit of his wife. In despair, the composer found refuge in writing his Tenth Symphony, which he began in 1910 and left unfinished at his death in 1911. When Alma turned the score over to a publisher thirteen years after her husband’s death, written cries from his broken heart decorated the pages of the score. Phrases such as “Madness, seize me, the accursed! Negate me, so I forget that I exist, that I may cease to be!”, or “To live for you! To die for you!” provide a few examples of his cry for help. For more information on this symphony, you can check out my post from January 2015 on Mahler’s unfinished music.

Be sure to stop back this Friday for a Valentine’s Day weekend playlist!