The Treasure Hunt MAHLER SYMPHONY NO. 3

©1983 Mark B. Anstendig

Mahler's music is an emotional trap for the performer and the listener. Though very human, the emotions are extraordinarily fine and subtly differentiated, lying at the extremes of human perceptive capacities. Most interpreters stop at their first superficial emotional reactions, but Mahler's real intentions lie much deeper and a performance reflecting those intentions places rare demands upon the listener's delicacy of perception. One must first calm down physically and mentally to a state as fine as the music, or the emotions experienced will be degraded by one's own physical and mental state. Once one has calmed down to the refinement of the expressive flow of the performance, the music becomes an enormous challenge. The emotional content of the music changes very subtly, often quickly. If one does not contain one's emotional reactions while still experiencing them, the reverberation of each emotional response will keep one from hearing the emotional subtlety that follows.

Few recorded performances really get back to Mahler's original intentions, and some of these are out of print. The best is Jascha Horenstein's recording of Mahler's Third Symphony, originally issued on Nonesuch, now deleted, and the English Unicorn label. Music-lovers should begin the treasure hunt now or, better yet, get after Nonesuch to reissue it.

Every Mahler symphony is a totality that takes the listener through a whole "trip", so to speak, that is only resolved at the end. Most of them have a metaphysical content and convey many insights into life itself. In fact, Mahler's music is concerned with conveying a very mature, philosophical understanding of what the purpose of this world is. The Second Symphony describes the figurative death and rebirth of the living soul into God. The Third Symphony takes the listener through the various aspects of life, and then answers the question of why life has to be as it is. The answer is totally serious and tinged with a particular sadness that comes with a comprehension of the purpose of this creation. The very end presents a sober, sonic vision of the Almighty Creator. The Horenstein performance is the only one that achieves these final visions without the slightest bit of pomp, heroics, or rejoicing with which it is usually misinterpreted.

An interpretation of this symphony hinges on the opening melody and the final pages. The shape of the opening melody and the fact that it is marked fortissimo give the superficial impression that it should be played heroically. But, according to Mahler, the movement describes nature ("what nature tells me"), and there is nothing heroic in nature. Nature is ingenuous, and that is how this melody should be played-¬ingenuously--with the relaxed, almost childlike manner that Horenstein manages to get from his players. The final pages, following the climax with snarling horns, are usually misinterpreted as a triumphant march leading to a grand, glorious, triumphant peroration. This is a total misinterpretation. The final march is, in fact, a sorrowful procession of the sadness that had to be a part of this creation. But there are no apologies. The ending is symbolic of the greatness and the objectivity of the concept that had to include all possibilities of life-experience and is being carried out fairly, according to a justice known only to the Creator. The march begins as a procession of crying, sorrowful babes. That Mahler meant it that way is clear in that it begins zart (tenderly) and triple pianissimo in a solo trumpet in a difficult part of its range. The player must completely relax his lips, like those of a baby, or the tone will crack or just not come out. The sound that ensues is similar to that of a sad or crying baby. Any other approach is risky, and in other performances the trumpet players avoid the issue by playing too loud.

Recordings as expressively fine as this one have to be equalized, or one will not hear the expressive subtlety. The equalization for this recording is typical: begin with a cut at 2000 to 4000 Hz until the edginess is eliminated. Then reduce the areas centering around 640 to 800 Hz and 125 to 160 Hz to eliminate thickness in the sound. Perfectionists can try a final touchup, especially just below each of these ranges and in the higher frequencies.

Mahler Symphony Number 3
Jascha Horenstein and The London Symphony Orchestra Nonesuch HB 73023 and Unicorn RHS 302/303





The Anstendig Institute is a non-profit research and educational institute that studies the vibrational influences in our environment, particularly those of sight and sound, and how they affect sensory perception. Its papers on sound reproduction, problems of focusing in photography, psychology of hearing and seeing, and erratic vibrational influences that affect our lives are widely distributed throughout the world. All are available free of charge.