Sunday, December 04, 2005

Finding the music - zwei bild

I could go on and on about the things I saw and did for just 36 hours. I have plenty of video shots for anyone who might be interested. I would not do justice to my trip if I didn't cap it off with the Haus der Musik, a museum dedicated to the wonderful history of Vienna and music. I deliberately saved this to last, because I wanted it to pull it all together for me.

I had noticed throughout my journey around the city that there are monuments to Mozart, Strauss, and Beethoven all over the place. But, not one sign of Gustav Mahler, my personal and enthusiastic favorite. I figured that the Haus der Musik had to include him. To my great satisfaction, I purchased my ticket, almost ran up the flight of stairs only to find the bust of Mahler as the first thing to greet me.

I was just about to take this picture when a young attendant walked up and saw my camera, "Excuse me, sir, you can't take pictures in the museum." I looked at her with woeful eyes and said, "Just one - I promise." She winked, "As long as I don't see it," as she passed into another room.

Without camera, I proceeded through the museum, which tells the story of the Vienna Philharmonic, its commitment to relatively democratic ideals in performance, and to the incredible list of conductors of the orchestra for the last two hundred years. I enjoyed the exhibit about the orchestra but was very anxious to get through this section, through the section on how sound is created and forms music, and various experimental and contemporary forms of music. I was ready for the 4th floor - the section on great composers. I patiently plodded through the composers most people worship, waiting at each turn to find Mahler. When I got there it was like entering a sanctuary. There was another person in the room who was equally taken but the pictures, artifacts, and the beautiful music playing in the background - some of Mahler's most profoundly beautiful pieces, including the adagietto from Symphony No. 5, his love prayer to his wife, Alma.

Mahler was born in 1860 of a Jewish peasant family. His parents were difficult and had health problems. He was not a good student, struggling with traditional studies. Nevertheless, he taught himself what he needed to know and found early on that he had a great gift for music. His father was urged to take Gustav to Vienna, which he did. From that time on, Mahler's life of composing and conducting unfolded in both meteoric and tempestual ways. His creative genius was such that he had difficulty in relationships, struggling to find the love of his life until he found Alma. He rose to be the conductor of the Vienna Opera House orchestra when he directed the Beethoven No. 9 by memory, effectively putting his predecessor out on the street in one night. Periods of isolation and brooding, coupled with the loss of his eldest daughter and eventual unfaithfulness of Alma, pushed him deeper into depression and finally therapy with none other than the man himself, Sigmund Freud. Ultimately, Mahler left Vienna, posting his resignation on the Opera House door and walking out. His last performance in Vienna was his Symphony No. 2, "The Resurrection." He served as the director of the New York Philharmonic, only to return to Vienna within a short time. He died in 1911 of heart complications. The details of Mahler's life reinforced some of what I had known, but telling more about the very difficult life story of an artistic genius who never really found a home.

As I was about to end my time at the Haus der Musik, I saw the same attendant who winked at my picture taking earlier in the evening. I asked her why there was so little about Mahler around the city, other than what I found in this museum. She said that the truth is that Vienna is very ambivalent about Mahler. She said that for most of the 20th century Mahler was not played at all in the city. Several years ago, "The Resurrection" was performed again. My fantasy is that it might have been a sort of "welcome home, Gustav" concert. I had known that Mahler was buried in Vienna and I asked the attendant where. She described a small cemetery quite a ways out of the city. I got the directions, tried to figure out if I could negotiate the transportation and if I had the time to go visit the burial site of my favorite of composers. As fate would have it, I didn't go. In retrospect, I think it's best. I don't know if I could have stood there in the darkness with him alone.

I will come back...

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