Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Oh....That Mahler's 9th

The most obvious explanation is that my mental faculties are somewhat addled. In fact, that's the only explanation that comes to mind. However, since my mental faculties are apparently somewhat addled, it's possible that I'm missing something.


For a while now, my brother has been getting on me to listen to Mahler's Ninth Symphony. He'll ask me if I know the piece, and I'll say, I'm sure I must have listened to it but I don't think I'm particularly familiar with it.

So, yesterday I had some driving to do and I thought, today's the day, I'll grab my Mahler 9 CD and give it a good listen in the car. The first thing that struck me was that the CD case and the CD itself seemed fairly well worn--not beaten up or anything, but clearly listened to more than once or twice.

I pop the CD into the player and it turns out that this isn't some piece I'm mabye kinda sorta passingly acquainted with. The first notes come in with the cello and then the horn, and I immediately realize that I'm intimately familiar with this recording. The version I have is Bruno Walter's live 1938 recording with the Vienna Philharmonic. I MUST know this recording because I find myself giving a cue to the audience member who coughs on the second note of the harp entrance in measure 3 of the first movement. The LP (78 I assume) crackles and pops that suddenly appear in the last two minutes of the final movement as the music gets devastatingly quiet, and the accompanying outbreak of tuburculosis that seems to occur in the audience at the same point--and then the way the coughs suddenly stop as the violins wind down to pppp--I imagine that no one in this hall in 1938 dares even to breathe at this point. These sounds are all old friends to me.

But it's not just the coughs and the crackles. There are moments in this music, more so than perhaps any other piece I can think of (which is perhaps not saying much, given my clearly limited capacity for remembering such things), where I get a sense of what synesthesia must be like. There are certain climaxes and plateaus, particularly in the first and last movements, where I find myself moving across boundaries of sense. I'm not seeing colors or anything, but there is some sense being triggered--not one the five usual suspects, and unfortunately, not one I have any words to describe--but Mahler is taking my brain (and body, to a degree) on a small trip into uncharted territory here.

And this is kind of bugging me. I mean, now that I think it through, I can kind of recall that this CD is one of the first CDs I ever bought. I know I got it at the Tower Records on Newbury Street in Boston probably around 1989 or 1990 (sadly, that store has been gone for a decade). And it's obvious to me I played this thing A LOT. So here I have this path to a transforming, quasi-religious experience from 20+ years ago and then I went and put it on a shelf and TOTALLY FORGOT ABOUT IT!! Thanks Brain. Your a real pal. What else have I forgotten? Do I know Latin? Are there some secrets of the universe that I figured out back in '98 but just put on the side so I could watch Seinfeld? Maybe speak up a little next time, huh?

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