1860 - 1911
I don't think I'm going to write about Gustav Mahler's symphonies specifically. I mean, not about the structures or even particular moments of poetic evocation. I've tried that before. Trying to describe music with words is like trying to cube a sphere. Instead, I hope to say a few things about how my sense of being in the world, in general, is affected by exposure to this music.
Listening to Mahler's music, I am delivered into an unusual world-space. A place "where" I can feel deep into the world.
What's bizarre is how far removed I am from Mahler's time, from those things that fed into his mind and soul. That spectrum of impressions and experiences is closed off to me – that time, geography, and lived culture. Yet I fall into this music helplessly...naively...instinctively. For a while, I am dissolved into Mahler's reaction to being in the world. In sympathy, I luxuriate in the depth of expressed paradox. A great vessel of passions is tipped over, and its warm musical liquid drenches me. Sometimes, it is unnerving or dreamily macabre.
Listening to Mahler's music, rich shadow-forms glide through my imagination. This music is indeed a series of powerful waking dreams. Melancholy and wonder, desperation and catharsis all enrich the symphonies. And in the orchestral songs of Das Lied von der Erde.
All of this music builds a world large enough to hold even ghosts. My dead father and all the memories of my life somehow dwell in the movements. And if I adore someone, that adoration becomes less frenzied in this sound-space. It almost dissolves into colored atoms, as if I'm peering through a mesmerizing kaleidoscope -- I can observe adoration and even forlorn states in a disinterested way. I can see love and loss and pieces of time going to infinity.
There is a tang and texture of eternity, or at least yearning for such, in this music. I second what my friend Kris Saknussemm said about Mahler's music: it's my personal religion.
Symphony No. 6 -- second movement
(By the way, Valery Gergiev is one of my favorite conductors, and I think he is cool as hell.)