Category Archives: Gustav Mahler

Mahler’s 3rd Symphony: Why It’s Awesome

So the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra will be performing Mahler’s 3rd Symphony today and tomorrow. It is Mahler’s longest symphony and one of the longest in the symphonic repertoire. So make sure your bladders are empty and prepare for the next 100 minutes of awesomeness.

The singular thing that is interesting about the 3rd symphony is how Mahler structured it as part of his world-view, in fact not just world-view but how he looks at existence. In the 19th century, the science of evolution was really a hot topic and put into the mix people like Nietzsche, Wagner and Schopenhauer, it is really a big pot of intellectual stew.

The symphony is presented in two parts, Part 1 is the first movement whilst Part 2 consists of 5 movements as follows:

Part 1:

1. Pan Awakes. Summer Marches In

Part 2:

2. What the Flowers in the Meadow Tell Me

3. What the Animals in the Forest Tell Me

4. What Mankind Tells Me

5. What the Angels Tell Me

6. What Love Tells Me

From the above structure, you can see how Mahler is presenting the upwards movement from the beginning of inanimate nature when Pan Awakes and then the flowers, then the Animals, then Mankind, Angels and finally Love. Initially, Mahler wrote What God Tells Me but then finally changed in to What Love Tells Me because he views God through Love.

For a conductor to be able to present this work convincingly, he must look at this symphony in this manner, i.e. a progression and not treat each and every movement separately. Also, the first movement is clearly in its own separate part and the first movement is wild! The second part is tender and soft. It is almost like Part 1 is the Old Testament and Part 2 is the New Testament. So if the conductor tries to smoothen out Part 1 so that it is rounder and nice and be more in tune with Part 2, then he is making a big mistake.

Let’s see if the conductor tonight makes this mistake or not. But tonite we have Edo de Waart and he is not foreign to Mahler’s work having recorded for instance the box set with the Netherlands Radio Symphonic, although it is not a particularly inspiring set.

That aside, another interesting note about the Third Symphony is how Mahler almost called it My Happy Science.

From the above program you will notice that there is movement titled What Mankind Tells Me and this is a song setting on Nietzsche’s “Midnight Song” from his Also sprach Zarathustra. There are many associations made between Mahler and Nietzsche but there is a stark contrast between Mahler’s world view and Nietzsche’s world view.

For Nietzsche, it is a Godless world and the heavenly kingdom does not exist and what exists is only earthly kingdom. God is essentially dead and mankind has to be on their own and has to be strong, so strong he becomes an overman, or superman, and controls his own fate.

For Mahler, it is the opposite. As you can see from the progression, Mankind ascends into Heavenly Kingdom, God expressed through Love. In fact, this love is for all mankind and he almost called his work My Happy Science as opposed to Nietzsche’s The Happy Science (or The Gay Science).

In some aspects of it, Mahler’s view is that one finds happiness in love. For him God and Love is synonymous. In fact, like Schopenhauer, to him all love roots in compassion. To quote Schopenhauer,

“It means that we cannot be completely happy as long as there are others who are unhappy”

And for a Mahayana Buddhist, this rings true for a Boddhisatva, for how can one attain Nirvana whilst there are so many others that are still suffering? And as such, the Boddisatva postpones his/her attainment of Nirvana and comes back to the world to help others.

That’s all I wanted to say and to all of you attending the concert tonight and tomorrow, enjoy!!

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Vienna, a Tribute to Gustav Mahler. Movies.

Vienna has always been sort of a teenage dream. At that time, I only knew it was the land of classical music. Only later did I know it has so much more but then again, it was how all the dream to visit Vienna started, i.e. it being a musical dreamland. Then in my twenties, Vienna is a must visit place, sort of like a personal pilgrimage, to pay respects to none other than the great Gustav Mahler.

I cannot remember how I got so deep into Mahler. Something about his music speaks to me. I remember Ted Dorall from the New Straits Times whom I have gotten quite close to at that time (like 13 years ago?) asked me why such a great fascination for Mahler but I cannot remember exactly how I answered him although I remembered then going into a discussion on THE CATCHER IN THE RYE and why he didn’t like Holden and thereafter went into a bit of Hemingway’s A MOVEABLE FEAST. The last time I saw him, he was moving to Penang and gave me a compilation of Hemingway’s short stories as a parting gift.

Continuing from the previous travel journal, we took a train from Prague to Vienna. The first thing we did after checking into the hotel was to go and see the Wiener Staatsoper, the famous Vienna State Opera. Of course it has such great history but for me, all that was in my mind that evening was Gustav Mahler and his time there. It is a dream come true, to be standing at the place where Mahler stood.


Nothing beats being in the hall itself and having bought the ticket to Mozart’s LA CLEMENZA DI TITO, we indulged in an evening of musical extravaganza. This opera by Mozart is from his later period and is much less well known compared to the likes of THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO or THE MAGIC FLUTE but I felt that opera to be quite deep and engaging. It seems that this opera which was previously believed to be an inferior opera is now beginning to get a revival and was also favorably performed by The Metropolitan Opera in New York.

IMG_0279The little LED panel (blue light) at the back of the seats let’s you choose subtitles for the opera.

IMG_0292The orchestra pit right in front of the stage. I can’t help but imagine Mahler conducting there, although it is now different from Mahler’s time.

staatsbackWe also went for a tour of the opera house and was shown around, including a room named after Mahler. The picture above is the backstage.

A Mahlerite’s visit to Vienna cannot be complete without paying respects to Mahler at Grinzing where he was buried. I sat there by his grave and listened to the whole of his 5th Symphony. It was a wonderful day. The sky was clear and there was light breeze. The weather was slightly cool but not too cold. The place was quite empty and sitting there with his music, I cannot help but shed a few tears.

Woody Allen in his film MANHATTAN asked what makes life worth living.

For me, what makes life worth living comprises of moments like this. Sitting there, I try to figure out what life is all about. I still don’t know but at the moment, and many other moments, I felt it. What makes life worth living is the immense depth of the human spirit and the immense possibility to experience and enjoy them, be part of that human movement. What makes life worth living is the people that makes it worth living. Family and friends. Together appreciating these wonderful human creation and spirit, be it the making and/or appreciation of music, films, art, literature, food, poetry, playing GO….. and hopefully be part of this spirit, contributing whatever little we can to this human world.


Besides the many sightings of Mahler, e.g. a bronze plate here and there, a street named after him, he also has his own section in the House of Music (Haus der Musik). There are many memorabilia there, including his favorite cap and some letters in his own handwriting. Although it is not a very large exhibition, there is enough Mahler there for me to spend some time.


All in all, we had a great time with Mahler in Vienna.

Besides Mahler, we also indulged in some movie experience and the best was to go down the Viennese sewers just like Carol Reed’s movie THE THIRD MAN. It is truly an out of the world experience! It has to be a once in a lifetime experience and a must-do if you are a movie fan. Uber-cool.

3rd1Going down into the sewers.


The guide who knows the movie inside out.

3rd2A picture inside the sewers in black and white.

Besides THE THIRD MAN experience, we were lucky that the Vienna International Film Festival is being held there. And there is a retrospective on Fritz Lang. We immediately bought tickets to his DR. MABUSE THE GAMBLER. It was a 4 hour show in Black and White. Not to mention a silent movie! The pianist did a magnificent job, accompanying the show for 4 hours without rest. It was a new experience for me doing that, and at some point in time, it was also hard for me although Fritz Lang is not a stranger to me having watched METROPOLIS and M, two of his most famous works.



IMG_3551Waiting to go into the screening hall.

There is so much to Vienna that such a short time cannot do justice to it. There are still many things to explore. I am not talking about buildings and monuments and such. Those things are what many tourists do. They visit a place and takes as many pictures of buildings and monuments as they can.

What I am saying is to have more time to explore the place a bit. Stay there and work there for a while if possible. To know the people and what they really do. Then to dig deeper into the culture and food. But as tourists, it is very hard to do that. But any touring cannot just be visiting buildings and monuments but with whatever little time, one needs to explore the arts and culture, not to mention exploring local food.

If not, why not just stay at home and watch Discovery Channel and if there is a need, use Photoshop and paste your own picture on those buildings and monuments? That way, it saves a lot of money.

(some photo credit many thanks to Kit Liew!)

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Things come in Circles

It is now almost one year that I have left this blog unattended. Besides spending most of my online social time on Facebook, some of you may also know that I have spent some time to write Go lessons published on a separate blog site. Those lessons do indeed take a lot of time and I am still struggling to find time to write more lessons.

So what happened during the year of absence? I am not sure if many people is interested in that but since this blog also acts like a diary, perhaps it is okay for me to just write.

2011 first and foremost, is the centenary of my favourite composers death anniversary. And of course my favourite composer is Gustav Mahler. To commemorate it, I bought two items. The first is a biography of him by Jens Malte Fisher. It was first published in Germany back in 2003 but took some time to be translated to English, and just in time for me to purchase and read in this meaningful year. The second item I bought is the 16-CD set 150th Anniversary Box set published in 2010 to mark the 150th anniversary of Mahler who was born in 1860. Although I have all the recordings on individual CDs in my collection, I went ahead and purchased the set anyways. Crazy. I hope my wife doesn’t read this blog.


Besides Mahler, I have also been very much into the 18xx boardgame series. Not to be confused with anything pornographic, the 18xx series is a game system where players invest in railroad companies. At the end of the game, the player that has the highest net worth in terms of cash and investment is the winner. The 18xx games are quite sophisticated games and involve many strategies. It has a stock market mechanism and also a map where companies can operate. In one of the variant, 1817, there are many financial tools that players can use such as short-selling, leveraging the company with loans, mergers and acquisitions, etc. In others such as 1841, companies can invest in other companies and this bring about very complex chain of command since these companies can merge and do all sorts of creative things.

There are, however, some more stable variants which does not allow outrageous stock manipulations. This is the kind that I prefer to play because you spend many hours on the game and the last thing you want is for someone to be able to trash you out to oblivion. In this variant, my favourite is 1844. 1844 has a solid gameplay where companies can have long term strategies. It has a very interesting map. The stock market aspect of it is slightly tamed down but is still superb because it still punishes badly managed companies.

I have played many games of 18xx series this year. Among the new ones that I have played, 1844, 1817, 1880, 1861, 1860 and 1841 stands out brilliantly.


Of course, besides all those, one of the biggest event for me, if not the biggest, is my participation in the 32nd World Amateur Go Championship in Matsue, Japan. It is my dream when I started playing Go to be able to participate in this event. It is like a pilgrimage. I believe it is every Go player’s dream to have a chance to participate in this. I represented Malaysia and have had a great time there, knowing many new friends. The organizers are superb and the locals in Matsue, together with the environment, made me wanting to migrate to this nice place. The weather is mild, the locals are all very nice and orderly, it is a very cultured place, with frequent musical and theatrical performances, not to mention Go related activities. It has a great castle and a very nice and soothing lake. The perfect place to live.


Then towards the end of the year, we went on a trip to Yogyakarta to visit the volcano mountain, the temples. It is a legendary place. The food is also very nice. We enjoyed the Nasi Gudeg very much.

The Borobudor is quite an amazing sight. It is huge and has such detailed carvings. It is said that it was the center for Buddhist studies and a site of pilgrimage. The carvings on the walls tells us the stories, of Buddha’s life, of the Buddhist philosophy told through many tales, such as from the Jataka tales.

Compared to Angkor Wat, it is a very different experience. Angkor Wat felt more adventurous but Borobudor is no less grand. Both places are must visits if you are in this part of the world.


The book at I am immersing myself in now is Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84. Murakami is one of my favourite authors as some of you may know and 1Q84 is a monster. I like Murakami for his natural prose style and his vivid imagination. The events and characters in his novels are not only fantastical, it is often also historical. The contents are rich not only in its story and storytelling but also the cross reference to music, travel, books etc. I learn a lot through reading Murakami.

1Q84 is a fantastical novel which has a very simple premise. A boy and a girl held hands when they were 10 years old. And the story took almost 1,000 pages to unfold, to tell us how they meet again. It is amazing.

In terms of movies, the more interesting one I saw this year is A SEPARATION by Asghar Farhadi which won numerous awards including the Golden Bear at the 2012 Berlin International Film Festival and nominated for Best Foreign Language Film in the upcoming Oscars (the second Iranian film nominated, the first being Majidi’s CHILDREN OF HEAVEN).

The movie is at the same time a domestic drama and also a criticism of modern day Iran. Shot on handheld, it gives an immediate sense  and feeling of the characters and its environment. Brilliantly acted by the whole cast, it gives one a peek into the minds of the rising middle class of Iranian society.

Last but not least, this Japanese Whisky is incredibly delicious!!!!!

Sweet smelling, flowery with a slight hint of smoke. But it tastes really delicious. Fruity, slight honey and peat. It goes down very well and leaves some smoky flavour. It is wonderful.

Also, a new addition to the house. Dolby my Dobermann Pinscher has a new partner. Her name is Coco! Pictured below with my mom. She is now 1 year old while Dolby is now 2 years old. Got her from Dr. Sunny of the Sunny K9 Academy in Ipoh. Shy but very playful. Unbelievably fierce too!


Maybe this is good for the first post of 2012. I will perhaps start to write this blog again this year.

I wish you all a happy new year and all the best!

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Symphonies of Life and Death

“Why did you live? Why did you suffer? Is it all nothing but a huge, frightful joke?”

Like many people, Gustav Mahler struggled with these questions all his life and his feelings about these questions can be heard in his works, most notably his second, sixth and ninth symphonies. I was just listening to his second symphony this morning, with Leanord Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in 1963, Sony Classical, which is a fine recording, one of the finest among my collection of about 15 of Mahler’s second symphony recordings. Being a rather crazy Mahler fan, I have spent a considerable amount of money collecting recordings of his works plus other stuffs, such as books, concerts, etc. and therefore it is not surprising that I have in my collection more than 10 different recordings of each of his symphonies and several recordings of his song cycles.

Mahler’s second symphony asked if there is really a meaning to life, whether we have lived in vain. Of course, it is always dangerous to try to read the music as music is primarily an emotional experience, not an intellectual one but in Mahler’s music, such an endeavour is possible. In fact, Mahler wrote about this in his programme to the music, although he later sort of regretted in trying to write about the music. As he said, whatever he can write, he will write. But whatever he can’t write but felt deeply about, and all words exhausted him, he put them into his music. However, his general outline of what the music is about will be useful for those who wants to get an idea on what Mahler is trying to reach out to.

The second symphony, also called the “Resurrection” answered these questions in the Christian belief, as is according to his belief at that time. At the end of the tunnel, he thought that Mankind will live forever, will be resurrected and we have not lived in vain. However, in his sixth symphony, titled “Tragic”, this view took a literally tragic turn, that everything, really, is in vain and this is what we have. There is no afterworld, no paradise and mankind is here to live, to be happy, to love, and to suffer and at the end of it, mankind’s fate is tragic, i.e. when he dies, he is extinct.

Then he gave us his ninth symphony, the greatest one in my own experience where he again dealt with the idea of life and death but this time, he seemed to be at peace with himself, taking the reality and facts of life in its stride. He accepted life as it is and came to peace with it, much unlike the stubborn rebel in the sixth symphony. The music of the ninth is peaceful, calm and progressive. I remember listening to this symphony so many times and whenever I listen to this symphony alone, sometimes in the dark, I cannot help but feel the deep emotions welling up inside me and tears begin to form, nodding away in the dark. This is the power of music.

This coming season, the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra will be bringing us again the 6th symphony, together with the hammer blows and all and it will be a great experience.

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Gustav Mahler’s Family (Paternal)

Gustav Mahler’s Family


1. Great-Great Grand Father & Mother


Born (Date, Place)

Died (Date, Place)


Abraham Mahler

1720, Chmelná

9 Jul. 1800, Chmelná

Singer in a synagogue, supported himself by prepraring Jewish food

married to:


Born (Date, Place)

Died (Date, Place)



1731, Chmelná

26 Mar. 1801, Chmelná

2. Great Grand Father & Mother


Born (Date, Place)

Died (Date, Place)


Bernard Mahler



married to:


Born (Date, Place)

Died (Date, Place)


Ludmila (Barbara) Lustig

3. Grand Father and Grand Mother


Born (Date, Place)

Died (Date, Place)


Simon Mahler

1793, Chmelná

14. Jul. 1865, Lipnice

Lease holder, Businessman (owner of wine distiller, also founder of a textile factory)

married to:


Born (Date, Place)

Died (Date, Place)


Marie Bondy


1883, Lipnice

4. Father & Mother


Born (Date, Place)

Died (Date, Place)


Bernard Mahler (Picture)

2 Aug. 1827, Lipnice

18 Feb. 1889, Jihlava

Businessman, wine distiller

married to:


Born (Date, Place)

Died (Date, Place)


Marie Hermann (Picture)

2 March 1837, Ledec

11 Oct. 1889, Jihlava

5. Siblings


Born (Date, Place)

Died (Date, Place)


Isidor Mahler

22 Mar. 1858, Kaliste


Ernst Mahler

18 Mar. 1862, Jihlava

13 Apr. 1875, Jihlava (heart disease)

Leopoldine Mahler (married to Ludwig Quittner)

18 May 1863, Jihlava

27 Sep. 1889, Vienna

Karl Mahler

27 Aug. 1864, Jihlava

28 Dec. 1865, Jihlava

Rudolf Mahler

17 Aug. 1865, Jihlava

21 Feb. 1866, Jihlava

Alois-Louis Mahler

6 Oct. 1867, Jihlava

14 April 1931, Chicago

Bookkeeper and (Sales) Representative for the Heller Candy Company, makers of the Wiener Zuckerl.

Justine Mahler (married to Arnold Rosé)

15 Dec. 1868, Jihlava

22 Aug. 1938, Vienna

Arnold Mahler

19 Dec. 1869, Jihlava

15 Dec. 1871, Jihlava

Friedrich Mahler

23 Apr. 1871, Jihlava

15 Dec. 1871, Jihlava

Alfred Mahler

22 Apr. 1872, Jihlava

6 May 1873, Jihlava

Otto Mahler

18 June, 1873, Jihlava

6 Feb. 1895, Vienna (commited suicide)


Emma Mahler (married to Eduard Rosé)

19 Oct. 1875, Jihlava

15 May 1933

Konrad Mahler

17 Apr. 1879, Jihlava

8 Jan. 1881, Jihlava

6. Children


Born (Date, Place)

Died (Date, Place)


Marie Anna (“Putzi”) Mahler (Picture)

3 Nov. 1902, Vienna

5 Jul. 1907, Maiernigg

Anna Justina (“Gucki”) Mahler (Picture)
(married 1. Rup Koller, 2. Ernst Krenek, 3. Paul Zsolnay, 4. Anatol Fistoulari, 5. Albrecht Josef)

15 June 1904, Vienna

9 Jul. 1989, London


7. Grand Children


Born (Date, Place)

Died (Date, Place)


Alma Zsolnay (married German)

5 Oct. 1930, Vienna

Marina Fistoulari (married 1. Paul Glass, 2. Milan Havlicek)

1 Aug. 1943, London

8. Great Grand Children


Born (Date, Place)

Died (Date, Place)


Anna Germany

6 Feb. 1960, Los Angeles

Irene Germany

31 Mar. 1961, London

Alexandra Zdraska Havlicek

1 May 1975

The MAHLER line can be traced back to MAHLER Abraham, a merchant and synagogue singer, the first MAHLER to take that name. (Most Jews did not have fixed hereditary surnames until the early 19th century. Before that, people were known only by their first name and a patronymic, i.e. their father’s given name, e.g. “Yaacov ben Shmuel”, meaning “Yaacov the son of Shmuel”. Jews were required to take surnames at various times: Austrian Empire (1787). [1]


The above information was assembled with documents made available to me by Mr. Henry Mahler. We sincerely thank him for his kindness to allow us access to these information. All errors, however, are completely mine.

Ho Hock Doong (Hock-doong, Ho)
2 March, 2001
Kuala Lumpur.


[1] From:

[2] Iglau (German) is the same as Jihlava (Czech).
[3] Kalischt (German) is the same as Kaliste (Czech).


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Often translated as “The Sorrowful Song”, “The Song of Lamentation”, and “The Plaintiff Song”. Cantata composed in 1880 originally in 3 movements later revised in 1893 and 1899 with the first movement discarded along with changes in orchestration and arrangement to the second and third movements.



Mahler began to write the words of “Das klagende Lied” during the early part of his final year in the Vienna Conservatory where he was a student from 1875 to 1878. The draft text of the 3 movements was dated 18 March, 1878 and musical setting on the text began in the autumn of 1879 and was completed on 1 November, 1880. It was during this time that Mahler fell in love with Josephine Poisl, the daughter of a local postmaster in Iglau (Jihlava) and it is possible that he had her in mind while composing this work (he also composed 3 other works for Josephine and this will be covered in another article).

Beethoven Prize

It is believed that it was the score of this completed 3-movement cantata that he did submit for the Beethoven Prize in the autumn of 1881 with Johannes Brahms being one of the members of the jury. The prize eventually went to Robert Fuchs (1847-1927) for his piano concerto and Mahler was deeply wounded by that decision. Later, he sent the score to Franz Liszt in 1883 hoping that it will be performed but Liszt later sent back the score to Mahler citing “the poem” as the basis for his rejection. After another attempt and subsequent failure to get his work published by the publishing house of B. Schott’s Söhne in Mainz, Mahler decided to revise the work.


The first revision of the work took place in the second half of 1893 with a significant reduction and re-arrangement in orchestration and voices. The revisions, for example, include reducing the number of harps from six to two and the vocal soloists from eleven to four in the first movement. The boys’ voices were also removed. The off-stage orchestra, which played an important role in the work, was also completely removed from the 2nd and 3rd movement. The revision to the opening movement indicated that Mahler did not initially plan to discard the 1st movement. It was only during the autumn of 1893 while his revision was in progress that he decided to omit the 1st movement.

Further revisions were made between September and December of 1898 where Mahler’s initial decision to omit the off-stage parts in the 2nd and 3rd movement was reversed. The revisions were so extensive that Mahler had to write out a new score with only 2 movements, corresponding to the 2nd and 3rd movements of the original score. The first performance of this revised version took place on the 17th February 1901 in Vienna with Mahler himself being the conductor.

Since Then

In 1893, Mahler wrote the outlines of his first revisions into the original 3-movement score and passed it to his sister, Justine who subsequently passed it to her son, Alfred Rosé. Rosé used this score to prepare for the performance of the 1st movement in Brno in 1934 and then a hybrid version with the 1st movement along with the revised 2nd and 3rd movement in Vienna in 1935. Since then, he kept the score in private but later sold it to James M. Osborn in 1969 who later donated it in March the same year to the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University in New Haven.

Since then, the work is generally performed in its entirety, i.e. with the 1st movement along with the revised 2nd and 3rd movement. Lately (since 1997), however, the original first edition of all the three movements is now made available.

The score of the revised 2 movements remained with Alma Mahler-Werfel until her death and was subsequently passed to the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York.


“Das klagende Lied” comprises of 3 movements, being the following:

1. Waldmarchen (Forest Legend)

2. Der Spielmann (The Minstrel)

3. Hochzeitsstück (Wedding Piece)

The work generally lasts for about 60 to 70 minutes.


Waldmarchen (Forest Legend)

This first movement tells of a haughty queen whose beauty is beyond compare but no knight seemed to be to her liking. However, in the forest, there can be found a beautiful red flower and whoever succeeds in finding the flower can have the queen’s hand in marriage. There went two brothers in search of the flower. The younger brother is gentle and mild but the older brother could only curse. The younger brother finally managed to find the flower and feeling a little tired, stuck the flower in his hat and took a nap. His brother continued looking for the flower in vain but alas! saw his brother sleeping with the precious flower in his hat. He took out his sword and there went wasted his younger brother’s life.

Der Spielmann (The Minstrel)

The second movement tells of a minstrel who one day found a bone while passing the forest. Seeing it, he decided to make a flute out of the bone, not knowing that the bone belongs to the younger brother who died under the sword of his own elder brother. He played on the new flute and what sorrowful music came out of it! Music so sorrowful and at the same time so beautiful! He who hears it would melt into tears. Wherever the minstrel went, the song of lament, which tells the whole tragic story, will be heard. Finally, the minstrel decided to play the flute in the palace during the wedding of the queen to the young knight, i.e. the elder brother (now king).

Hochzeitsstück(The Wedding Piece)

This movement tells of the minstrel’s visit to the palace on the wedding day to reveal the whole secret. The whole palace was jubilant and happy until the minstrel played the flute to the new king. The whole story became known and the queen fell to the ground. The musicians fell silent and the knights and ladies flee in terror. The ancient walls collapsed and the lights in the hall became dark. Ah, what happened to the wedding feast? Indeed what happened to the wedding feast?! Ah! Sorrow!

Inspiration/Sources of the Text

It is believed that Mahler drew on several sources for his version of the “Das klagende Lied”. One of the sources could be from an anthology of fairy tales by Ludwig Bechstein (1801-1860) whereby one of the stories was also titled “Das klagende Lied”. Differences between Mahler’s version and Bechstein’s version is, among others, the employment of a minstrel instead of a shepherd to discover the bone and his use of two boys instead of a boy and a girl as in Bechstein’s version.

Another notable source/influence is that of a tale by the Brothers Grimm with the title “Der singende Knochen” (“The Singing Bone”) whereby we can find the idea of the rivalry between two brothers for the favours of a beautiful queen.

The Music

This work is considered by Mahler himself to be his own ‘Opus 1’. Indeed, in this work, one can find the roots to his later works that spans the next 30 years of his career as a composer.

Notable examples are his use of a large-scale orchestra and his fondness of employing non-ordinary instruments such as the D-flat flutes and E-flat cornets in the first movement. It is also apparent that Mahler is bend on composing music which has an underlying story/meaning often based on existing literature. His early symphonies that were based heavily on the Wunderhorn poems stand in testimony of this observation. Note also that Mahler will go to such length as to compose/modify the literature to meet his musical needs as can be seen even in his late work of “Das Lied von der Erde”. It must also be noted that in general, his work is ‘narrative’ in nature, be it a story, a legend, a fairy tale or a philosophical argument and the ultimate narration would of course be that of Mahler’s own life story. It is therefore appropriate for Pierre Boulez to remark that “from the first, Mahler’s musical form tends towards the epic and the novelistic”.

The use of the off-stage band to create a sense of contrast (using “different rhythms and clashing tonalities” as pointed out by Donald Mitchell in the liner notes to the Kent Nagano recording, see below) and irony and also to portray a sense of dimension and distance can also be traced to this work. Notice that this technique was also employed, for example, in the finale of the second symphony.

Cross referencing/quotation between Mahler’s early work can also be observed. Examples are his quotations in “Im Lenz”, the “Lieder eines Fahrenden Gesellen”, the First symphony and the Second symphony. Notice that the tremelo in the opening of “Der Spielmann” followed by the ascending/descending motifs from the lower strings cannot but reminds one of the opening of the first movement of the Second symphony. Incidentally, both of them are also in C minor. Fragments of the “Dies Irae” theme can also be heard in this movement.

As Donald Mitchell pointed out in his essay, one of the “most arresting discoveries has been Mahler’s systematic use… of a motivic-based polyphony.” This technique will also be further refined and employed by Mahler in his future masterpieces.


Speculations has it that one of the reasons for the removal of the first movement was due to Mahler’s desire to suppress his feeling of guilt on the death of his beloved younger brother, Ernst, in 1874. However, another explanation for the removal of this movement is based purely on dramatic reasons in that the first movement was deemed redundant since the story was told again in “Der Spielmann” and made clearer still when the king (his brother) played on the flute in the “Hochzeitsstück” movement. What is missed out if the first movement is removed is the motive for getting the flower in the forest which subsequently led to the fratricide, a part which I think is important to elucidate the meaning of the whole work.

The work can also be taken a step further from its explicit themes of love, rivalry, murder, revenge and justice. The choice of a minstrel to reveal the secret and thus bring about justice can also be taken to indicate the belief in the power of music to transform society.


15 different recordings were listed in Vincent Mouret’s site. Notable recordings include one by Wyn Morris with the New Philharmonia Orchestra recorded in 1967 for Nimbus. This version comprises of only the revised 2nd and 3rd movements.

The first recording incorporating the 1st movement but bundled with the revised 2nd and 3rd movements is one by Pierre Boulez recorded in 1970 for CBS (now Sony Classical). Other notable recordings of this hybrid version include that by Riccardo Chailly with the Radio Sinfonie Orchester Berlin made in 1989 for Decca and Michael Tilson Thomas with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra made in 1996 for RCA.

The original 1880, 3-movement version is now available on recording. However, only 2 recordings of this original version are currently available. The first is by Kent Nagano with the Hallé Orchestra made in 1997 for Erato and the second is by Harmut Haenchen with the Nederlands Philharmonisch Orkest made in 2000 for NedPho.

Ho Hock Doong (Hock-doong, Ho)

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

13 March, 2001

Please send your comments to:


– “On Wednesday Evening at Half Past Seven” The Young Gustav Mahler and his circle of friends in Vienna, Herta Blaukopf

– “Das klagende Lied” Genesis-Sources-Versions, Reinhold Kubik

– Das klagende Lied: Mahler’s ‘Opus 1’, Donald Mitchell

– “Das klagende Lied” written by Edward R. Reilly for the American Symphony Orchestra’s “Dialogues and Extensions” section of their website.

– Synopsis summarised from poem in liner notes, Sony Classical, Sony Music Entertainment Inc.

– Vincent Mouret’s site at


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A Mahlerite’s Starter Kit – Guide to Gustav Mahler

A Mahlerite’s Starter Kit

A Personal View


I have written this (way back in 2001) to help the newcomer to Mahler’s music to find his/her way through so many choices of literature and recordings related to Gustav Mahler. As you will notice shortly, no choices have been offered for each individual work since it is assumed that a ‘newcomer’ by definition will not be able to know how to choose between the works (no offense) and also so that the newcomer will not be confused. The suggestions here have been carefully considered and I am quite confident that the newcomer will not be too far wrong if these suggestions are followed. There will surely be some enthusiasts who would not be agreeable to this selection and I would like to emphasize that this is a personal view and therefore to be taken with a grain of salt for people who are confident to trust this selection.

It is my desire that you explore Mahler at your own pace, enjoying every moment of your new discovery and find your moment in Mahler’s music. Collect all of these at your own pace too because as experience had taught me, one can easily go bankrupt (both financially and mentally) trying to accumulate all these at one go! If you have trouble locating any of these materials, please just send me an e-mail and I’ll see what I can do for you (try to source it for you or just to lend you my copy etc.)

It occurs to me that you might have a problem knowing with which work you should start. It is likely that you have heard Mahler’s music, in a concert hall or in some of those CD compilations. Let me try (I said ‘try’) to help you by attempting to categorise roughly Mahler’s work to suit your particular taste.

Listeners can generally be divided into 2 categories as far as Mahler’s works are concerned, the first being those who like vocal music and the second being those who like orchestral music.

For people who likes to listen to vocal music, e.g. fans of Schubert’s lieder , you might like to start with Mahler’s lieder . His songs can generally be categorised into (a) pieces grouped together to reflect a collection of songs with common themes/origins/composed around the same time period and (b) song cycles, i.e. several songs inter-related to each other. Examples of the first type will be the collection of songs in Des knaben Wunderhorn and examples of the second type will be like the Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen . You might like to try out these two works first. You might also be interested to know that Mahler did compose a cantata called Das klagende Lied , a work he composed at around the age of 20 but which is already matured with a lot of his Mahlerian styles firmly established. There are also many other excellent and charming lieder that Mahler had composed and if you do not want to start with the works mentioned above, you might like to try his earlier compositions now compiled under Lieder und Gesänge . A particularly good recording is the one on Hyperion with Dame Janet Baker as mezzo soprano and Geoffrey Parsons on the piano. The ultimate Mahler ‘lied’ is of course his Das Lied von der Erde , where he fused symphony and song into a Song-Symphony, an exhilarating and rejuvenating experience for the listener.

Touching on Song-Symphony, Das Lied von der Erde is not the first work in which Mahler used voices in his symphony. In fact, he used voices in his 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 8th symphonies, so if you like this style, you might like to venture from a lied fan to a Song-Symphony fan.

Now, for listeners who like to listen to symphonic works. Let me very casually try to categorise Mahler’s symphonies. Of all the 11 symphonies (10 numbered symphonies with the 10th unfinished and Das Lied von der Erde ), the 1st and the 4th are the lightest. So if you like light symphonies, you might like to start here. Be fore-warned that Mahler’s symphonies are never ‘light’ as in pure, meaningless music with easy to listen melodies but the word ‘light’ here is used relative to his other works. If you like music a la the second Viennese school, you might want to start with his 7th symphony which displays very interesting musical experimentation and innovations, besides a very well-balanced structure (his 10th is also in this league). Interesting musical innovations can also be found in his 5th (with a lovely adagietto movement) and 6th (called ‘Tragic’, a dramatic and heavy work which uses a large hammer in the percussion section!) symphonies, especially his experiments with counterpoint and polyphony. As I said above, if you like grand voices within a symphony, you might like to try his 2nd and 8th symphonies. The second is nick-named ‘Resurrection’, with very powerful and yet subtle music and part II of the 8th is set on Goethe’s Faust . Both are very heavenly, grand and very positive works, as powerful, if not more powerful than Beethoven’s 9th. Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde , his 9th and 10th symphonies are very ‘spiritual’ works, if I may use that word. They are full of introspection and its music inspires a level of ‘enlightenment’ not found in his earlier works. I would like to call it ‘Zen-like’, for simplicity’s sake. If you like deep, spiritual, introspective music, you might like to start with these 3 works.

A word of caution though. Mahler’s works are very tightly related to each other and what I have done, i.e. dissecting/categorising his works in this manner is really not right. So, while I try to help you categorise the works to suit your taste, please bear this in mind. One can never fully appreciate Mahler if all his works (save some juvenile/lost works) are not heard because unlike many other composers, each one of his work is significant and has something to say.

Mahler’s music can generally be categorised into 3 distinct periods (I know some of you will not agree). The first is his Wunderhorn period, characterised by his greater use of the materials from the poem collections called Des knaben Wunderhorn where he set a lot of the text to music as in the recommendations noted earlier in the preceding paragraphs. The first 4 symphonies can be said to belong to this period, therefore easier to listen to. The second period is where he broke with his established style (not completely though) and experimented more daringly with music. His 5th, 6th and 7th symphonies can be said to belong here. His 8th symphony can be seen as the culmination of his success and all his work so far. The 3rd and final period started when his life begin to fall apart, with three tragic incidences affecting his whole life. He became more introspective, more ‘spiritual’. His Das Lied von der Erde , 9th and 10th symphonies can be said to belong to this category.

Well, that’s all I can say now. I will be sure to revise this some time soon to correct errors (if any) or to add more insights once I have them but meanwhile, I hope it is useful to you. And finally, I hope that you will enjoy listening to Mahler’s music, finding in them something special that you will hold dear many years to come. I envy you because you can explore Mahler’s music in all its freshness and excitement. I hope you will feel as excited and elevated as I was when I was once at your position.

The rest is up to you.

To Read

Gustav Mahler : The Symphonies by Constantin Floros, Vernon Wicker (Translator), Jutta Wicker (Translator)

Comments: “Constantin Floros undertakes a precise and detailed exploration of each of the symphonic works [including the 10th], bringing to light their programmatic and personal aspects, as well as Mahler’s musical techniques. [He] also examines the history and autobiographical origins of each work and discusses the personal events that profoundly influenced the composer’s writing”

Mahler : A Biography by Jonathan Carr

Comments: A highly readable and informative biography, examining and challenging pre-established views on Mahler and offering an alternative point of view.

To Listen

Mahler: Symphony No. 1, Lieder / Rafael Kubelik, Fischer-Dieskau

Conductor: Rafael Kubelik
Performer: Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau
Uni/Deutsche Grammophon – #449735
Audio CD (May 13, 1997)

Mahler – Symphony No.2 ‘Resurrection’

Conductor: Simon Rattle, Arleen Auger
Performer: Janet Baker, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Chorus
Emd/Emi Classics – #47962
Audio CD (November 6, 1987)
Number of Discs: 2

Mahler: Symphony No.3

Conductor: Jascha Horenstein
Performer: Ambrosian Singers, Wandsworth School Boys’ Choir, et al.
Unicorn-Kanchana (UK) – #2006
Audio CD (August 16, 1993)
Number of Discs: 2

Mahler: Symphony No.4/Songs Of A Wayfarer

Conductor: Cleveland Orchestra, George Szell
Performer: Judith Raskin, London Philharmonic Orchestra
Sony Classics – #46535
Audio CD (August 13, 1991)

Mahler: Symphony No5

Conductor: Sir John Barbirolli
Emd/Emi Classics – #66962
Audio CD (January 12, 1999)

Mahler: Symphony No6

Conductor: Herbert von Karajan
Performer: Christa Ludwig
Uni/Deutsche Grammophon – #457716
Audio CD (May 12, 1998)
Number of Discs: 2

Mahler: Symphony No. 7

Conductor: Michael Tilson Thomas
Performer: Ian Bousfield
Bmg/Rca Victor – #63510
Audio CD (September 14, 1999)
Number of Discs: 2

Mahler – Symphony No. 8

Performer: Sir Georg Solti, Arleen Auger, et al.
Uni/Decca – #460972
Audio CD (August 10, 1999)

Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde

Conductor: Otto Klemperer
Performer: Christa Ludwig, Fritz Wunderlich
Emd/Emi Classics – #66944
Audio CD (January 12, 1999)

Mahler:Symphony No.9

Conductor: Leonard Bernstein
Uni/Deutsche Grammophon – #19208
Audio CD (July 7, 1987)
Number of Discs: 2

Mahler – Symphony 10

Conductor: Simon Rattle
Emd/Emi Classics – #56972
Audio CD (June 6, 2000)

Mahler: Kindertotenlieder/Rückertlieder/Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen

Conductor: Sir John Barbirolli
Performer: Dame Janet Baker
Ensemble: Halle Orchestra
Emd/Emi Classics – #66996
Audio CD (May 4, 1999)

Mahler: Das Klagende Lied

Conductor: Kent Nagano
Performer: Eva Urbanová, Jadwiga Rappé et. al.
Ensemble: Halle Orchestra & Choir
Wea/Atlantic/Erato – #21664
Audio CD (July 14, 1998)

Mahler Lieder: Des Knaben Wunderhorn

Conductor: Wilhelm Furtwangler, Rudolf Kempe
Performer: Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau
Emd/Emi Classics – #67557
Audio CD (April 10, 2001)

Mahler’s Songs of Youth

Performer: Dame Janet Baker, Geoffrey Parsons
Hyperion (UK) – #66100
Audio CD (February 28, 1988)

To Watch

Mahler (1974)

Starring: Robert Powell, Georgina Hale, et al.
Director: Ken Russell


Chicago Mahlerites

The Mahler Symphonies

The International Gustav Mahler Society

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A Wagner Mahler Monday

In an afternoon on a post-Christmas day, it is so nice to just sit at home. The weather is not too hot and not too cold. Just perfect with some wind gently sending the leaves and the norens dancing in a very graceful way. The neighbourhood is quiet, with an occasional “twang” from some avid golfers teeing off in the golf course nearby. Add to that symphony, some birds chirping happily around the trees. Chirping, mind you. Not winding spring thank you very much.

It has been some time now that I have been to any performances by the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra (MPO) and it is such an excitement waiting for the performance of “Das Lied von der Erde” this coming March. This is one of my very favourite Mahler pieces, but then again, all of Mahler’s pieces are favourites of mine, just that I tend to like his later symphonies more. Mahler’s 9th symphony is such a great work, I still seem to funnily find some tears welling up everytime I listen to it seriously.

On looking at the booklet of programmes for the 05/06 season, it is sad to note that not even one piece by Wagner was programmed. Of course I am not asking them to programme an opera but at least some overtures from his great operas will do the great master some justice. No? Why this has happened, I could not understand. Perhaps the programming people at the MPO do not like Wagner.

On thinking of Mahler and Wagner, I can’t help but think of the great surge of geniuses during the era and the spin-offs from these people. Norman Lebrect’s “Mahler Remembered”, noted the following people, among many others, in the Chronology of Contemporary Events which was put side by side the Chronology of Mahler’s life and work:

Wagner completing “Tristan and Isolde”, Tolstoy completing “War and Peace” and “Anna Karenina”, Alexander Graham Bell invents the telephone, Mark Twain completing “Tom Sawyer”, Dostoevsky publishing “The Brothers Karamazov”, Nietzsche publishing “Also Sprach Zarathustra”, Freud publishing “The Interpretation of Dreams”, Richard Strauss completing “Salome”, Schoenberg completing “Pelleas et Melisande”, Einstien publishing his first theory of relativity, the Wright Brothers flying their aeroplane, Picasso painting the “portrait of Gertrude Stein”, Henry Ford produces the first Model T, Marcel Proust begins “A la recherche du temps perdu”, Stravinsky completing “The Firebird”, etc.

It was an era of great literary and scientific breakthrough in the West and solidifies the West’s dominion of the world. Come to think of it now on this quiet and windy Monday morning, Mahler’s lifetime is truly an amazing period in the history of our World.

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The Tale of Two Mahlers

Another weekend gone. Another one deducted from fifty two.

It was a rather packed weekend again. In two days, I would have listened to Mahler’s 6th symphony twice, watched two movies (“Green Chair” & “Shanghai Blues”) and started reading a new novel (Murakami’s “The Wind-up Bird Chronicle”).

The Mahler concert was superb. It was a fitting finale to the 04/05 season and most of all, a fitting finale to Kees Bakels’ tenure as music director of the MPO. Kees is a Mahlerian and the MPO is a Mahlerian orchestra, in my opinion. It has played Mahler really well. Perhaps this is due to the young orchestra, both in terms of the age of the orchestra as well as the average age of the players. Its playing is edgy and daring at times. In true Mahlerian spirit.

I was going through my CD shelve to look for the Mahler 6th that is in my collection. Being a compulsive Mahlerian at a point, I have a couple of hundred of CDs of Mahler’s work alone. And it surpises me to notice that I do not actually have a lot of recordings of Mahler’s 6th. Perhaps Mahler 6th is not a work that I liked that much. I certainly love Mahler 9th and it can still make me cry when I listen to it.

Anyways, the purpose of me searching for my Mahler 6th CDs is to compare the various timing of the recordings. Here are the CDs that are in my collection and their various timing for each movement:-

1. Benjamin Zander. Philharmonia Orchestra. 25.27, 12.29, 16.23, 31.59. [version 1]
2. Leonard Bernstein. New York Philharmonic. 21.29, 12.27, 15.19, 28.45. [version 1]
3. Pierre Boulez. Vienna Philharmonic. 23.06, 12.19, 14.47, 29.10. [version 1]
4. Klaus Tennstedt. London Philharmonic. 23.36, 13.04, 17.21, 32.57. [version 1]
5. Herbert von Karajan. Berlin Philharmonic. 22.09, 13.16, 17.03, 30.00. [version 1]
6. Heinz Rogner. Berlin Radio Symphony. 24.52, 12.00, 14.52, 30.33. [version 2]
7. Simon Rattle. City of Birmingham Symphony. 25.36, 13.18, 16.51, 30.32. [version 2]
8. George Szell. Cleveland Orchestra. 17.45, 13.11, 13.30, 28.56. [version 1]
9. Seiji Ozawa. Boston Symphony. 23.33, 13.36, 15.02, 30.40. [version 1]
10. Leonard Bernstein. Vienna Philharmonic. [version 1]
11. Klaus Tennstedt (live version). London Philharmonic. 25.33, 14.12, 17.45, 33.33 [version 1]
12. John Barbirolli. New Philharmonia. 21.19, 13.59, 16.03, 32.47. [version 1]

Version 1 = scherzo, then andante. Version 2 is the reverse.

The MPO booklet said that they shall play different versions for each of the performance. I attended the Saturday and the Sunday performance. On Saturday, they played version 1 with 3 hammerblows. That’s the version that I liked best and I was really excited. On Sunday, the booklet said that they will play version 2 but on that day, Kees said that the orchestra and himself felt that the right way to play it is really to play the scherzo first, then the andante.

I absolutely, totally, unequivocally agree.

And so they played.

The first movement started off on an excellent tempo, not as slow and heavy as Barbirolli and not as fast and rushed as Szell. Based on my watch, the first movement clocked almost 24 minutes. That’s about right. The tempo that I liked. The Alma Theme was sweeping and lifted the heavy thumping of the fate motif to a brighter ground. There is hope. Our Hero’s time is not up yet. There is still Love. And Hope.

The second movement, the scherzo, started off with an “imitation” of the fate thumping motif heard in the first movement but slowly again to be replaced with some sort of a dance that Mahler loved. Some sort of a Danse Macabre, heard already even in his first symphony. The clarinets and oboes were playing and teasing, sometimes playful, sometimes eerie. The MPO performed that superbly well.

And the beautiful, reassuring andante followed. It is poetry in itself, declaring love and hope, only to note that it is sometimes at the verge of sinking into darkness, but yet still afloat. Major key and minor key interplayed seamlessly. It can make you feel warm and be in heaven at one time. And at another time, it made you feel like what Nietzsche said, “…and if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.” The MPO strings and woodwind section is just simply superb.

The finale belongs to the hammer and the brass section. Fiery, wild and hard, the Hero fights his way up, overcoming various obstacles only to have all his hope smashed by a hammerblow. He fights once again and there is a glimpse of hope, then again, the second hammerblow descended upon him. And we see that he tried to pick himself up from the crumble, from all the cruelties, and as he has merely accumulated a pinch of hope, the final hammerblow descended on him. This time, he could not get up. Our Hero cannot rise again. He has no strength. He is spent and completely exhausted. He is waiting for death. Shivering helplessly. He does not want to carry on anymore. The brass section, playing the octave motif, bid him farewell. And his eyes shone for one last time as the orchestra played in fortissimo. And then we hear his final heartbeat. He has gone.

The MPO principal percussionist built a wooden hammer and struck on some crates that he has also created. The effect as Mahler required is some sort of a thud sound. The MPO did fairly well with the hammer but being an obsessive Mahlerite, I would certainly wished the thud to be more thudful! This MPO hammerblow is loud, but the thud is just not thud enough! I loved what Benjamin Zander did in his recording and also what Bernstein did with the Vienna Philharmonic. You can really feel our Hero falling to the ground. And your heart went down with him.

But overall, it was a great performance. Kudos to the MPO. We are indeed fortunate to have such a good orchestra here in KL.

Next season, they are playing Mahler’s 5th (again!! – come on, not this already) and also Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth). Das Lied is one of my favourite piece by Mahler. Looking forward to that very much.

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