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From the YouTube Music Video Archives: Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 (‘Resurrection’) – Finale

“Why have you lived? Why have you suffered? Is it all some huge, awful joke? We have to answer these questions somehow if we are to go on living – indeed, even if we are only to go on dying!” These are the questions Mahler said were posed in the first movement of his Symphony No. 2, questions that he promised would be answered in the finale.

–John Henken, Los Angeles Philharmonic, ‘About the Piece’

The full symphony is available on YouTube here, courtesy of the Netherlands’ Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra.

Quin Finnegan has more on Mahler (and Percy!) here.

From the YouTube Music Video Archives: Kindertotenlieder (Songs on the Death of Children) by Gustav Mahler, sung by Kathleen Ferrier

Last week I wondered about the influence that Gustav Mahler might have had on Walker Percy, especially the Kindertotenlieder, and promised to post them this week. These recordings by Kathleen Ferrier are incredibly beautiful, and if you aren’t familiar with them … prepare yourself.

A little history:

The original Kindertotenlieder were a group of 425 poems written by Rückert in 1833–34 in an outpouring of grief after two of his children had died in an interval of sixteen days. Mahler selected five of the Rückert poems to set as Lieder, which he composed between 1901 and 1904.

The songs are written in Mahler’s late-romantic idiom, and the mood and feeling they express is very much what their title implies. The final song ends in a major key and a mood of transcendence.

The poignance of the cycle is increased by the fact that four years after he wrote it, Mahler lost his daughter, Maria, aged four, to scarlet fever. He wrote to Guido Adler: “I placed myself in the situation that a child of mine had died. When I really lost my daughter, I could not have written these songs any more.” (Wikipedia)

The words for No. 1 above, “Nun will die Sonn'”

Nun will die Sonn’ so hell aufgehn,
Als sei kein Unglück die Nacht geschehn!
Das Unglück geschah nur mir allein!
Die Sonne, sie scheinet allgemein!

Du mußt nicht die Nacht in dir verschränken,
Mußt sie ins ew’ge Licht versenken!
Ein Lämplein verlosch in meinem Zelt!
Heil sei dem Freudenlicht der Welt!

Now the sun will rise as brightly
as if no misfortune had occurred in the night.
The misfortune has fallen on me alone.
The sun – it shines for everyone.

You must not keep the night inside you;
you must immerse it in eternal light.
A little light has been extinguished in my household;
Light of joy in the world, be welcome.

Here are the rest of “the lovely tunes of Mahler”: [No. 2 “Nun seh’ ich wohl”][No. 3 “Wenn dein Mütterlein”][No. 4 “Oft denk’ich”][No. 5 “In diesem Wette”]

Regarding the influence the Kindertotenlieder on Walker Percy, I can only point to the quotation above and importance of the death of children in the novels. At the end of The Moviegoer, Binx’s half-brother, Lonnie dies a brave death. He’s a good kid, a religious child (he tells Binx that he has overcome an “habitual disposition” in one of the final scenes), and it is his death that prompts the other cousins to ask Binx about the resurrection. In what is certainly a conscious imitation of the final pages of The Brothers Karamozov, Binx replies that no, Lonnie won’t be confined to a wheelchair, to which the children self-consciously cheer “Hurray!”

There’s a similar scene at the end of The Last Gentleman, when Jamie requests baptism before he dies. Tom More’s daughter, Samantha, though dead before the beginning of Love in the Ruins, is nevertheless an important character. Here is one of my favorite passages in all of Percy:

“Papa, have you lost your faith?”
“No.”
Samantha asked me the questions as I stood by her bed. The neuroblastoma had pushed one eye out and around the nosebridge so she looked like a Picasso profile.
“Then why don’t you go to mass anymore?”
“I don’t know. Maybe because you don’t go with me.”
“Papa, you’re in greater danger than Mama.”
“How is that?”
“Because she is protected by Invincible Ignorance.”
“That’s true,” I said, laughing.
“She doesn’t know any better.”
“She doesn’t.”
“You do.”
“Yes.”
“Just promise me one thing, Papa.”
“What’s that?”
“Don’t commit the one sin for which there is no forgiveness.”
“Which one is that?”
“The sin against grace. If God gives you the grace to believe in him and love him and you refuse, the sin will not be forgiven you.”
“I know.” I took her hand, which even then still looked soiled and chalk-dusted like a schoolgirl’s.

I wonder: did it break my heart when Samantha died? Yes. There was even the knowledge and foreknowledge of it while she still lived, knowledge that while she lived, life still had its same peculiar tentativeness, people still living as usual by fits and startes, aiming and missing, while present time went humming, and foreknowledge that the second she died, remorse would come and give past time its bitter specious wholeness. If only – if only we hadn’t been defeated by humdrum humming present time and missed it, missed ourselves, missed everything. I had the foreknowledge while she lived. Still, present time went humming. Then she died and here came the sweet remorse like a blade between the ribs.

But is there not also a compensation, a secret satisfaction to be taken in her death, a delectation of tragedy, a license for drink, a taste of both for taste’s sake?

It may be true. At least Doris said it was. Doris was a dumbell but she could read my faults! She said that when I refused to take Samantha to Lourdes. Doris wanted to! Because of the writings of Alexis Carrel and certain experiments by the London Psychical Society, etcetera etcetera. The truth was that Samantha didn’t want to got to Lourdes and I didn’t want to take her. Why not? I don’t know Samantha’s reasons, but I was afraid she might be cured. What then? Suppose you ask God for a miracle and God says yes, very well. How do you live the rest of your life?

Samantha, forgive me. I am sorry you suffered and died, my heart broke, but there have been times when I was not above enjoying it.

Is it possible to live without feasting on death?

That was too long a quote, I realize. But I think it’s one of the best passages in all of Percy, and I do see the shade of Mahler there.

Anyway, to continue: in Lancelot, Lance’s child Siobhan, his daughter-who-really-isn’t-his-daughter from his second marriage to Margot, very likely suffers sexual abuse from her grandfather, Tex.

Will Barrett discovers that he himself was once almost a murdered child in The Second Coming. In Lost in the Cosmos … nothing comes to mind. But in The Thanatos Syndrome, a ring of do-gooders is also responsible for the sexual abuse of children, and even taking photographs.

It must be said that Percy was keenly aware of the ways children can suffer from his own experience. Whether it be from the cruelty of nature or the cruelty of adults, it seems to me likely that he was drawn to the music of Mahler because of this sensitivity. His younger brother almost died in a car accident that many think was a suicidal act of desperation by his mother. Percy’s own daughter, Anne, was deaf from birth.

If you listen to the clips above, you’ll understand that it certainly is great music, sickness in the soul or not, and it isn’t hard to see (for me, anyway) how they’ve found a way into some of the most wrenching passages in Percy’s novels.

Ripatrazone alert

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Over at The Millions, Mr. Fine Delight has a consideration of Andre Dubus:

The two elements of Dubus’s work and life that stifle most critics are his form and function; short fiction and Catholicism, respectively. The Jesuit literary critic Patrick Samway knows how to deal with those topics, as did Vivian Gornick, whose 1990 essay “Tenderhearted Men: Lonesome, Sad and Blue” remains one of the best treatments of Dubus. When she writes that his “work describes with transparency a condition of life it seems, almost self-consciously, to resist making sense of,” she recognizes the almost rubber tendency of Dubus’s fiction. His characters are trapped in worlds timed by their immediate needs: “they drink, they smoke, they make love: without a stop.” Because “sexual love is entirely instrumental,” relationships fail again and again. Marriage falls into adultery, adultery into loneliness, and then the cycle repeats. His characters “remain devoted to the fantasy.” Gornick’s essay considers Dubus after examining Raymond Carver and Richard Ford, and she concludes that Dubus’s Catholicism helps create the most layered fiction: “damnation mesmerizes him.” For Carver and Ford, there is only the “hard-boiled self-protection” of men. Dubus shares Flannery O’Connor’s fear of God. His characters still sin, but they look over their shoulders, they go to confession, they weep for their souls. Jonathan Mahler’s otherwise sharp essay, “The Transformation of Andre Dubus,” falters on his Catholicism, wondering if his devotional moments in essays “can be alienating” to the “secular reader.” In his introduction to Dubus’s essay collection, Broken Vessels, fellow Catholic Tobias Wolff explains: “[For Dubus], the quotidian and the spiritual don’t exist on different planes, but infuse each other. His is an unapologetically sacramental vision of life in which ordinary things participate in the miraculous, the miraculous in ordinary things. He believes in God, and talks to Him, and doesn’t mince words.” This belief operated in the real, tangible world, where the sacred and profane coexist, as in the story “Sorrowful Mysteries,” where the main character’s girlfriend is introduced in such a manner: “She likes dancing, rhythm and blues, jazz, gin, beer, Pall Malls, peppery food, and passionate kissing, with no fondling. She receives Communion every morning, wears a gold Sacred Heart medal on a gold chain around her neck.” In his essays, Dubus explains that sacraments “soothe our passage” through life. His daily receipt of the Eucharist means “the taste of forgiveness and of love that affirmed, perhaps celebrated, my being alive, my being mortal.” God needed to be brought down to the real, dirty world. Without the “touch” of the Eucharist, “God is a monologue, an idea, a philosophy; he must touch and be touched, the tongue on flesh.”

From The YouTube Music Video Archives: Étude Opus 10 no. 11, by Frédéric Chopin

There are lines of connection between all genres of artistic creation, not the least of which is literature and music. In the tradition of ancient Greece they were one and the same, since even the Odyssey was performed to the accompaniment of a lyre (recall the performances of the bards Phemius and Demodocus within the poem). Some of my favorite contemporary writers refer to composers in their books, and it’s been a good way of learning about pieces that I hadn’t known previously. Auden is one of the authors most knowledgeable about opera, and wrote several librettos, including The Rake’s Progress by Igor Stravinsky. Beethoven isn’t just referenced, but is important to the plot (or is at least himself an important leitmotif) in several novels by Milan Kundera.

Music is certainly an important component of Percy’s novels; for me the most telling sentence is from The Moviegoer, when Binx Bolling says, “I listened to the lovely tunes of Mahler and felt a very sickness in my soul. Now I pursue money and on the whole feel better.” (p. 196) I started listening to Mahler because of this sentence, so I can actually blame Percy for a very sickness in my soul. And while I’m at it, I’d like to add that there’s something decidedly Mahler-like about Percy’s novels: all those dead children. Mahler famously wrote the Kindertotenlieder (“Songs on the Death of Children”, based on poems by Friedrich Rückert) four years before his daughter Maria died. Mahler was also a convert to Catholicism. Perhaps I should write “Percy was also” – I don’t think it’s at all a stretch to note this influence of Mahler on Percy. Even in his last novel, The Thanatos Syndrome, children suffer horribly. I’ll find some of the Kindertotenlieder for next week.

There’s a connection between Auden and Percy here as well, since both were close readers of Kierkegaard and no doubt adopted the Dane’s view of music as the apogee of the aesthetic sphere and adapted it for their own needs.

The piece in this video was referenced in The Moviegoer on page 47:

We talk, my aunt and I, in our old way of talking, during pauses in the music. She is playing Chopin. She does not play very well; her fingernails click against the keys. But she is playing one of our favorite pieces, the E-flat Étude. In recent years I have become suspicious of music. When she comes to a phrase which once united us in a special bond and to which I once opened myself as meltingly as a young girl, I harden myself.

Wikipedia has a good introduction to études here.

From the YouTube Music Archives XXII: Ewa Podleś

The incomparable Polish contralto Ewa Podleś begins performing in Seattle Opera’s production of Handel’s Giulio Cesare tonight at McCaw Hall. As a contralto she’s the best we can do for the part of Caesar, since the role was originally written for castrati, and the last one of those died off around the turn of the last century. I went looking for previous performances by Podleś from Canada and San Diego, but unfortunately there was nothing on line. Interestingly enough, there is a clip from the same opera, but here Podleś is in the role of Cornelia, Pompey’s wife, singing Cessa Omai di Sospirare. As Pompey’s wife she spends most of the opera threatening to kill herself because her husband’s head was lopped off in one of the early scenes.

If that wasn’t complicated enough, there’s also a stunning performance by Podleś as Cleopatra in Berlioz’s ‘scène lyrique’, La mort de Cléopâtre, recorded in Montreal with Charles Dutoit conducting. According to one colorful review of the concert at Trrill.com, this is a performance that “will knock your dick in the dirt.” Which might come in handy for some of those castrati roles. Or something like that. In another fine clip she plays the part of La Cieca (the Blindwoman) singing Voce di donna o d’angelo from Ponchielli’s La Gioconda. No testicles required there. Or eyes, come to think of it.

And if you can’t make it to Julius Caesar, she’ll be back in Seattle at the end of June to sing Mahler’s 3rd Symphony, a performance that promises to be as anatomically destructive as anything we’ve seen her do yet.