Friday, April 4, 2014

Montage # 150 – Mahler’s Third Symphony

As of  May 2nd, 2014, this montage will no longer be available on Pod-O-Matic. It can be heard or downloaded from the Internet Archive at the following address:


Here we are, at montage number 150.

In a rare convergence of events, this montage is also the beginning of a four-part thematic arc simply called “One-Work Montages”. As the title suggests, all the montages in this series feature a single work. This isn’t something unusual in these pages – our Podcast Vault selection for April – the Berlioz Requiem – is one such example, and so was our Christmas montage of the Nutcracker.

When we hit a major milestone, I usually don’t feel limited to my usual 90 minute ceiling for montages – so I thought I’d go all-out today, and pick what I think is the longest work in my collection – Leonard Bernstein leading a performance of Mahler's Symphony No. 3.

For the longest time, this Symphony held the distinction of being in the Guinness Book of World Records. The reason? Of all the symphonies in the active classical music repertoire, this is by far the longest, with an average performance time that routinely crosses the 100-minute barrier. Other works, including Schoenberg's "Gurrelieder", exceed this; but in the symphonic realm, this record stood until the mid-70’s when it was overtaken by Havergal Brian’s Gothic Symphony.

Every conceivable single kind of human, natural, physical, and spiritual emotion that has ever existed can be found in this gargantuan six-movement work, which incorporates material not only from Mahler's "Des Knaben Wunderhorn" song cycle, but also the Night Wanderer's Song of Nietzsche's "Also Sprach Zarathustra". The first movement alone, with a normal duration of a little more than thirty minutes, sometimes forty, forms Part One of the symphony. Part Two consists of the other five movements and has a duration of about sixty to seventy minutes.

As with each of his “Wunderhorn” symphonies, Mahler provided a programme to explain the narrative of the piece. In its simplest form, the program consists of a title for each of the six movements:

1."Pan Awakes, Summer Marches In"
2."What the Flowers in the Meadow Tell Me"
3."What the Animals in the Forest Tell Me"
4."What Man Tells Me"
5."What the Angels Tell Me"
6."What Love Tells Me"

Today’s recording of the Mahler Third – like many of Leonard Bernstein’s recording projects for Deutsche Grammophon - was made before a live audience at Lincoln Center in August 1986. Because of Bernstein's typically immense conducting and (arguably) ultra-slow tempos, it is also perhaps the single longest recording of this symphony, clocking in at close to 106 minutes, from the portentous horn-dominated opening bars to the tension-releasing conclusion in D Major.

Bernstein marshals seemingly everything he knows about conducting into this performance. He is ably assisted by the legendary German mezzo-soprano Christa Ludwig, the New York Choral Artists, and the Brooklyn Boys Choir in this endeavor, along with contributions from posthorn soloist Philip Smith, trombonist Joseph Alessi, and violinist and concertmaster Glenn Dichterow.

I think you will love this music too!

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