O-liiii-ttle-ro-o-o-ose-red-petalled-&-tho-o-orned! ~ O-contradictions-iiiir-resolvable! ~ O-O-O-hu-uoo-ma-nity-in-gre-e-ea-test-need! ~ O-blessed-life! ~ ‘The unexpected appearance of the alto solo [after some 40 minutes of only instrumental music – no human voice – while the two solo singers sit at front center stage throughout this instrumental stretch & only after those 40 minutes does the first singer stand & intone her lone voiced song – so that, yes, this dramatic turn] casts a sudden illumination’

by prokofiev19

Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’ Symphony No. 2 – the 4th movement

– The London Mozart Symphony Orchestra with alto Jeanette Ager –


“… Mahler makes four changes in this text. First, he omits the third, fourth, and fifth stanzas. These stanzas express conventional Christian piety and a conventional image of heavenly peace, which puts an end to all striving and effort. In place of this static end-state, Mahler, as we shall see, focuses on the beauty of striving and love; nor does he mention Jesus or Heaven. Second, throughout Mahler omits the Halleluja’s, which add nothing to the content and suggest a static finality rather than a continuation of effort. Third, he alters ‘I am sown’ to ‘you are sown.’ Although on the surface this simply makes the rhetorical address to ‘my dust’ continue into the second stanza, it also has the effect of turning the poem outward to address all humanity. Finally, he substitutes for ‘schuf,’ ‘created,’ the word ‘rief,’ ‘called.’ God figures in the text, then, not as the creator of man, but as the one who calls the creative person to self-expressive action. …

‘Nothing of you will be lost,’ the contralto sings. And she develops this idea in the ensuing, ambiguous words. At first, one takes these words in the most obvious teleological sense: you now have everything you ever wanted, everything you ever loved and fought for. And they can certainly be taken in that way. But besides being unacceptable as a conventional account of heavenly reward … , the German clearly can and does have another sense, in which the accusatives are construed as internal or cognate accusatives (a construction common in ancient Greek as well as in German, and in English locutions like ‘fight the good fight’). An internal accusative introduces no object distinct from the activity mentioned in the verb: in effect it simply reinforces the verb, by mentioning again, as a substantive, the activity involved in the verb. …

What is being said, then … is that the reward of a life of striving and love is to have that life. That is you and yours and cannot be taken from you in any way, by an death or pain or opposition. The triple meaning of ‘geschlagen’ reinforces the idea: not just some metaphysical struggle, but your very heartbeat, the passionate movements of your body – and, in music, your beating time – is what redeems you, is what redemption consists in. …

Out of the silence of death – at a time when, inconventional terms, we expect to find the judge of the traditional Dies Irae stepping forward with his great book ‘in which everything is contained by which the world will be judged’ – we hear, instead, the quiet simple voices of human beings singing in chorus, reassuring one another. ‘Soft and simple,’ Mahler writes, ‘the words gently swell up.’ They sing unaccompanied, in simple chorale-like harmony. The resurrection theme that has been contaminated by the worldly clutter of the march now stands forth with naked dignity. On the words ‘brief Rest,’ the theme bends downward. The altered word ‘rief,’ ‘called,’ is now given tremendous emphasis, as the soprano solo soars upward above the chorus, singing, as Mahler marks the part, ‘very tenderly,’ and ‘inwardly.’ The second stanza continues the same pattern, with simple orchestration. …

What is the ‘light to which no eye has penetrated’? In an obvious sense, it is the light of Heaven. But the idea that no eye has seen the light of Heaven is, in Christian terms, an anomaly. Not only mystical experiences within this life – prominently recognized in both the Augustinian and the Thomistic traditions – but also the experiences of angels and perfected souls after death involve the seeing of the heavenly light. Some translations reduce the difficulty by writing ‘no mortal eye’ – but this is not, of course, what the text says. We can now note that in Jewish eschatology the afterlife is not a bright, but a shadowy, place, rather like the Homeric underworld. And Judaism draws close to Romanticism in its insistence on finding the worth and meaning of a life within history, in its choices and striving in this life. It seems not too bold to see here, then, a distinctively Jewish picture of the afterlife as in itself shadowy and uncertain, to be given light only by the achievements of the person within this life. Mahler’s Romanticism and his Jewishness are once again allied, in drawing attention to the light of the worldly life, rather than to any telos beyond this world.

In keeping with this emphasis, it is, I believe, worth at least entertaining a further idea. If my account of the work has been at all persuasive, musical creativity is among its central subjects. Mahler repeatedly associates music with darkness: it is the realm where ‘the dark feelings hold sway.’ The idea that ideal experience must be a visual experience, that its illumination must be accounted for in terms of the eye, would be one that might well be resisted by a person whose deepest emotions unfold themselves in musical form. Mahler was rather dismissive of the visual arts, writing that they are hooked up with ‘external appearances’ rather than with ‘get[ting] to the bottom of things.’ Music, by contrast, cuts beneath habit. It can therefore shed a light that is, very precisely, unseeable to the socially corrupted eye. Mahler uses the idea of ‘illumination’ in describing both the ‘Urlicht’ and the final experience of heavenly love. But I believe that it is, precisely, an illumination unseeable because musical, a light emanating from the inner world where the ‘dark feelings hold sway.’ This is fully compatible with, and a further specification of, the work’s Jewish eschatology.

The entire chorus now joins the ascent. It becomes the ascent of all mortal beings, rich and poor, female and male, winged by love. They now sing in triumphant unison, ‘I shall die, in order to live.’ And now the Resurrection theme returns, sung fortissimo by the entire chorus, accompanied by the full orchestra – with, now, the addition of the organ.
 The sounds of Bach chorale now perfectly fuse with the Mahlerian intensity of strings and brass, as the symphony celebrates the victory of authentic (musical) creation and the love it bears to all human beings. The strong and fully, expressive self, addressed as ‘you, my heart,’ now finds no limits to its joy. Instead of curving downward, burdened beneath a weight, the last phrase of the theme soars confidently back up to b-flat: ‘Rise again, yes, rise again you will my heart, in an instant,’ ‘(in einem) Nu,’ is held solidly, weightily, for almost a full bar, as if to direct our attention to the temporally extended and the bodily, through which and in which the victory has been achieved. The triple meaning of ‘geschlagen‘ – the heart’s struggles, its physical beating, and its music’s beat – is now expressed in the orchestra, as the percussion, brass, organ, and strings all strike together emphatically on the downbeat. The temporality and physicality of sound – for Schopenhauer, signs of the connection between music and nonredemption, bondage to the erotic will – become here the vehicle of redemption, and the redeemed existence.

Is there an otherworldly Christian salvation in this work? On the surface, there is. On the other hand, it is emphasized that there is no ‘Last Judgment,’ no assignment of static positions. Being and love are the ends, and these ends are ends in this life and of this life. Mahler purposively omits portions of Klopstock’s text referring to Jesus and to heavenly peace, substituting his own Romantic vision. Furthermore, in order be a salvation for the self, the world of bliss must be a wolrd of the heartbeat, of the body, of erotic striving, of continued receptivity and vulnerability – a world in which general compassion for human suffering yields a loe as fully universal as music itself.

Mahler achieves, then, a triumphant fusion of the Christian ascent with the Romantic emphasis on striving and imagination. He does this in the context of a Jewish emphasis on this-worldly justice and the this-worldly body …”

~ Martha Nussbaum in her Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of Emotions

(Cambridge University Press, 2001)

< Most of my 'default' Category formulation as well as Tags for this
 post - oah-oa-oh - poem - are drawn - with a few slight changes - from
 Professor Nussbaum's lighthouse articulations in this study; indeed, yes
 - in her discussion of Mahler's 2nd symphony. >