Mahler - Symphony No. 2, “Resurrection”
II. Andante moderato (sehr gemächlich)
New York Philharmonic Orch.
Leonard Bernstein, cond.
Gustav Mahler met the aging Hans von Bülow when he arrived to take the helm of the Hamburg Opera in 1891. The elder statesman admired the young conductor but did not take kindly to his Totenfeier, a funereal tone-poem which Mahler played for him at the piano on one occasion.
The poem The Resurrection by Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock was read at von Bülow’s funeral in 1894. “It struck me like lightning, this thing,” Mahler wrote; he would include the opening lines of the poem along with his own considerable expansion in the Second Symphony’s choral finale—the Totenfeier, heavily revised, became its first movement.
At the Dresden premiere in 1901 Mahler provided a rudimentary program for the work. The second movement, essentially a set of Ländler, is at its surface one of Mahler’s most unassuming statements meant to evoke (though not without some chill, perhaps) happy memories from the lifetime of the deceased. It is a brief moment of warmth and levity in one of the largest and most cosmic works of music ever created.
But, characteristically, almost from the instant he prescribed such a program Mahler was ready to tear it to shreds. As he wrote to Alma in December:
I am convinced, namely, that if God were asked to expound the program of the world He created, He would be incapable of doing so! At most it would be some kind of a revelation, which would reveal just as little about the nature of God and of life as my feeble concoction can tell us about my C minor symphony…it would inevitably lead to misunderstanding. In Berlin I had an earnest talk with Strauss, in which I tried to show him the futility of his position. Unfortunately, he didn’t really understand me…
(Caspar David Friedrich | Fog in the Elbe Valley, 1821)