As my first school year at Rice comes to a close, I have Mahler on my mind…and not just because of the wonderful Mahler 2 the Shepherd Symphony performed Friday. In my mind, no composer quite captures sehnsucht the way Mahler does, and that is just how I feel at the end of this school year…at the close of the last 2 years. I remember a few years ago, I got to see this concert- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8PQT5IK8mwA of The Cleveland Orchestra doing Mahler 10. I knew nothing about Mahler 10- had never heard it or even heard of it. I was seized. The symphony starts with the viola section in unison, sounding bitter and paranoid with miserly half-steps and persnickety rhythms. And then, Pierre Boulez gives one big solemn flap, a gigantic tock, and the rest of the orchestra comes swooning in. I remember not being able to breathe because of the beauty, and so unexpected after the unison viola prologue. I remember thinking that this must be what it is like to be in love. And I guess I was right because I found out later that while writing this piece, Mahler’s life was a mess. He had found out about his wife’s infidelity (though on the last page of the score of this piece he wrote for her “To live for you! To die for you!”) and his heart was failing. He wouldn’t finish the piece, in fact, before dying.
This piece is painfully dissonant. I guess the last couple of years have been hard on me because I understand the desire to be alone all the time…and I have experienced new heights of bitterness, paranoia, and distrust not unlike the opening of the Mahler 10 Adagio. There is a dissonance in that opening, but nothing like the dissonance which happens in the soaring beauty of the whole orchestra when it comes in. And I get it now. That cliche about bad helping us understand and value good. There is dissonance and pain worth experiencing… because is there anything as beautiful as when the whole orchestra comes in? And there is pain and dissonance not worth experiencing. Dissonance in community, with people and as a result of people…with the whole orchestra- there is beauty there. Different from the pain and dissonance of being alone and angry. I’ve been listening to Mahler 10 a lot this week in light of things not making sense. Things don’t make sense every moment in the world, but with the Boston Marathon, things made no sense a lot closer to home and people I love. Listening to the complexity of pain and beauty in Mahler helps me understand how communities should respond to tragedy by grieving together, not alone. It reminds me of the roles and responsibilities, even capabilities, we have to help each other and to swoop in with swooning beauty when others are being unison viola sadness.
And it helps me personally. Because Mahler was going through some tough times, but out of all this- facing infidelity, mortality…he was able to contribute to society, to humanity…a work of yes, dissonance and sadness, but incredible beauty. When I listen to Mahler sometimes, it is so beautiful I feel like I am drowning, drenched, steeping in roses