Mahler is right when he said his Symphony 3 was one the likes of which the world had never seen: it's a most unusual symphony. It's got 6 movements instead of the usual 4, plus parts for a soprano and children's choir. It's got one of the longest first movements of any symphony ever written: lasting some half an hour. Written in a small log cabin in front of the lake of Steinbach in 1895, it's suffused with the spirit and the power Nature, as inspired by Friedrich Nietzsche, the philosopher who wrote the Overman (Ubermensch)("Superman" according to some translation, a name abused by Hitler who supplied specially printed copies of extracts of Nietzsche philosophy taken out of context to ordinary German solders as part of their training) and The Gay Science (Die fröhliche Wissenschaft), was to be entitled in like the latter work and was supposed to have 7 programmatic movements as follows:
I : Pan awakens. Summer marches in.
II What the flowers in the meadow tell me.
III What the beasts of the forest tell me.
IV What the night tells me. (Alto solo.)
V What the morning bells tell me. (Women's chorus with alto solo.)
VI What love tells me.
Motto: 'Father, behold these wounds of mine! Let no creature be unredeemed!'
(from Des Knaben Wunderhorn)
VII Heavenly life [ Das himmlische Leben]. (Soprano solo, humorous)
Later, the original 7th movement became the final movement of his next symphony, the 4th and the third symphony became a 6-movement symphony.
In its present form, with the programmatic title "Sommermorgentraum" (A Summer Morning Dream", which is the only original programmatic indications, Mahler retains when the piece was first performed in 1902, its 6 movements are as follows:
I Kräftig. Entschieden (Strong and decisive) [D minor to F major]
II Tempo di Menuetto (In the tempo of a minuet) [A major]
III Comodo (Scherzando) (Comfortably, like a scherzo) [C minor to C major]
IV Sehr langsam—Misterioso (Very slowly, mysteriously) [D Major]
V Lustig im Tempo und keck im Ausdruck (Cheerful in tempo and cheeky in expression) [F major]
VI Langsam—Ruhevoll—Empfunden (Slowly, tranquil, deeply felt) [D major]
I leave it to the experts to argue out whether music can be progammatic, as if musical notes, phrases, motifs, movements could be treated as words, phrases, sentences, themes, paragraphs and essays or poems. To me, any relevant indications of what the music is "about" is of assistance in firing our own imagination and thus help us appreciate different features and aspects in the composer's music, provided one bears in mind that these are no more than hints, clues, suggestions and can never be taken literally because music is always music. It can never be replaced by words, no matter how skilfully done. Otherwise, music will have lost its raison d'ête.
According to the programme notes last night, Kurt Blaukorf, Mahler's biographer had this to say about the influence of Nature on Mahler: "For Mahler, everything human is embedded in nature. The liberating power of nature does not incite him to decry civilization...Nature is the storehouse from which, like the giant Antaeus touching mother earth, he replenishes his energies. Mahler's concept of nature...embraces the idea of universality. This unity of all things pervades the third symphony." Indeed, the whole symphony is about, if one can be permitted to say,what music is "about:, the regenerating power of great nature. One can feel it through all the movements. The first movement seems to suggest nature awakening, gradually exploding into the joy of finding oneself alive. The second is more lyrical, as if after the awakening and the outburst life in all its exuberant forms, one finds oneself relaxing in a meadow. In the third, we find the song of birds like the cuckoo and the nightingale suggested by the sound of the clarinet. In the fourth, Mahler seems to want to express man's longing for heaven, for eternal joy. In the fifth, Mahler appears to want to use the children's voices, deliberately imitating the song of church bells and also the soprano voice, to suggest little angels and the holy mother singing of the joys of heavenly peace.In the sixth, Mahler seems to express what makes the world go round: love in a warm adagio as he indicated, "tranquil, deeply felt", warming up gradually into a final climax and then dying away again, quietly before a final rebound. It's in love that man shall find his ultimate salvation: it forgiveness, its grace, its comfort and its tenderness.
I remember that our previous principal conductor Edo de Waart also performed Mahler's No. 3 with the HKPO to great acclaim some years ago . So it's with great expectation that I attended last night's concert y the HKPO, conducted by Jaap van Zweden with the assistance of now world-renowned HK Children's choir under Albert Lim and Ladies of the HKPO Chorus under Philip Chu . The solo soprano part was provided by Kelly O'Connor who has got a most excellent and endearing voice. Van Zweden has chosen to to have the whole symphony performed in one session, without any intermission so as to preserve the unity of the work and to preserve the lingering feel of each previous movement upon the next. That turns out to be a good decision. Apart from some initial hitches in the first movement, when the brass seems a bit unsteady and unsure in certain solo passages and some passages being played louder a bit too loudly for my taste, the performance by the HKPO was magnificent and both our guest mezzo-soprano and the HK Children Choir and the Ladies of the HKPO Chorus gave a most satisfying performance. I more than get my money's worth and had another very very memorable evening.What more could I ask for! I really like the way Mahler makes use of the percussions timpanis drums etc to punctuate the music which give them such a well-defined structure and which emphasize the high points and the way he intervenes all the instrument into an organic whole.