Mahler: Symphony no.2 − 5 June 2011


With only one week remaining before FSO perform Mahler’s Symphony no.2, Ben Hogan shares his insight into this marvellous work. 


 Gustav Mahler (1860 – 1911), Symphony No. 2 (‘The Resurrection’) (1894)

In January 1896 Mahler said of his second symphony: ‘The first movement depicts the titanic struggles of a mighty being still caught in the toils of this world; grappling with life and with the fate to which he must succumb – and his death.’ The premise of the work in Mahler’s psyche was his apprehension of the apparent meaningless and horror of human frailty and mortality. This sentiment had been iconically captured only three years prior in Edvard Munch’s famous painting ‘The Scream’.

The five movements which make up the ‘Resurrection’ symphony chart Mahler’s attempt to understand this ugly side of the human condition. This is a journey which takes us through an entire world of emotions, beginning with despair and encompassing wistfulness, anguish and profound longing for life beyond death. This longing is answered by the transcendent final movement, as the choir enters intoning ‘Aufersteh’n, ja aufersteh’n wirst du, / Mein Staub, nach kurzer Ruh!’ (‘Rise again, yea, thou shalt rise again, / My dust, after short rest!) Mahler famously discovered this text from Friedrich Klopstock at the funeral of the conductor Hans von Bulow on March 29, 1894. When he heard a boy’s choir in a floating gathering gallery lead the congregation in Klopstock’s hymn, he instantly understood how he should conclude his symphony, and returned home to begin work on the fifth movement.

The symphony is imposing in every way. Not only does it tackle monumental themes, it also requires a gigantic orchestra: quadruple winds, enormous brass and percussion sections, two harps, ample strings, soprano and alto soloists as well as a full mixed choir. The logistical hurdles in staging and rehearsing a work of such tremendous proportions, not to mention the emotional investment involved in communicating Mahler’s vision, make performing the symphony a feat even professional orchestras baulk at. The Fremantle Symphony Orchestra is delighted to accept this challenge and they are looking forward to sharing Mahler’s spiritual quest with you. Please come and support the orchestra as they perform the ‘Resurrection’ symphony. After all, it’s a matter of life and death.

The Fremantle Symphony Orchestra will perform Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 (‘The Resurrection’) at 3pm on Sunday 5th June at the Fremantle Town Hall. Pre-concert talk at 2.30pm.

Deryck Cooke, Gustav Mahler: An Introduction to his Music, London: Faber and Faber, 1980.
Peter Franklin, The life of Mahler, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.
Edward Reilly, ‘Todtenfeier and the Second Symphony’, in Donald Mitchell and Andrew Nicholson (ed.s), The Mahler Companion, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

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