May 18, 2021

Die with Mahler's 9th in the heart

Die with Mahler's 9th in the heart


Every music lover treasures the memory of the times he has listened to the endless moments of the fourth movement of Mahler's novena, with his famous strings fusing in the silence of death that extends after the last symphony that gave him time to conclude before his sick heart stopped. It is not about the feverish imagination of the music lovers: really in the final beat of the score Mahler wrote «ersterbend», that is, «dying».

And it's not just about the death of Mahler himself. Shortly before finishing this symphony that would never get to hear interpreted, the composer had suffered the death of his daughter María that left him destroyed. At the funeral of the little girl, her mother-in-law suffers a heart attack and loses her life right there in the church. Mahler, by then, has already been diagnosed with a disease in a heart valve and notices every day that each beat can be perfectly the last: he lives on borrowed time and he knows it. For his little out has been subjected to a lynching in the press that has forced him to leave his position as director of the Imperial Opera in Vienna. The mournful picture is rounded off when he learns that the love of his life, his wife Alma, is unfaithful to the architect Walter Gropius.

One might think that with a panorama of these characteristics the rage is more than justified and, therefore … what need to go to the Auditorium and undergo 90 minutes of music that came from a heart so tormented as sick? Well, it is precisely when you take into account this desolate panorama, in all its details, when the tranquility, the resignation, the true peace that distill all this work and, notably, its last movement, take on all its brilliance. The lesson of humanity that it contains converts Mahler's novena into a significant turning point in the history of "aesthetic ideas" that Menéndez Pelayo would say, because not only Mahler was saying goodbye to the world before going to the Hereafter, but he was also saying goodbye a whole world, a whole Europe, before falling into that abyss of revolution and death called the twentieth century.

But that's another issue that, by the way, speaks Leonard Bernstein (who did so much to "resurrect" Mahler) in his fifth Norton Lecture at Harvard in 1973 (https://youtu.be/kPGstQUbpHQ). It is enough for us to point out that, far from being an exercise in masochism, going to the Auditorium operates in the soul in a way similar to a car wash from which one emerges, strangely, breathing more easily and, also, with a more of those to be taken to the grave. As if an angel with a stubborn heart and a heavy heart had passed by, yes, but also in spite of everything with Esperanza.

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