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In episode 6 of Weight of Sound, Toledo Symphony Orchestra Principal Trumpet Lauraine Carpenter walks us through the highlights of Mahler Symphony No. 2 with comments and detailed demonstrations.
The first movement is based on Klopstock’s hymn, “Rise Again” and it’s played in the very beginning, it’s played by the oboe [Music], and then you’ll hear it sung by the choir in the fifth movement. So you have to wait for a long time before it’s resurrected again — it’s a little joke.
So that comes back in the trumpet later in the movement, just a little variation. [Music] So you hear that. More of a triumphant call, but it’s kind of a variation on the oboe call.[Music] In this movement, toward the end, there’s some descending triplets of plotting in the basses and the cello. It sounds like a funeral march, which is what this is intended to be. You get that sort of heavy grief-filled motif that Mahler introduced.
There is also the Dies irae, you know, Berlioz used, so many composers used, you know that theme. [Music] Mahler uses that in the first symphony, and again with a little variation. [Music] So much happier. It’s like sad, happy, sad.
Toward the end of the first movement, he does this descending triple line, fortissimo, and then it ends with three pizzicato notes, pianissimo, played by woodwind, strings, and the bass drum. And what’s interesting about these triplet motifs as they come back later. I think it’s the third movement, the deaf shriek.
So between the first and second movement, Mahler wanted to have a five-minute pause. I guess to just, you know, feel the expansiveness of the piece. Well, that’s never done. I think the break now just lets the soloist come on stage and get settled.
Second movement of Mahler is very sweet. It’s the remembrance of a joyful life of the deceased. Bittersweet is how I think of it.
Third movement, now we are getting interesting. [Music] They’re actually duets between the first and the second trumpet, and they’re so cool. [Music] That’s so Klezmer sounding if you put on any Klezmer record. Music from European Jews, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Latvia, it’s very clarinet-trumpet-violin-drums. It just really goes back to Mahler’s Jewish roots.
And then later in this movement, Mahler kind of quotes himself in his first symphony because not only is the symphony about death and resurrection, but it’s also about nature and Mahler’s love of nature. So you’ll hear a quote from his first Symphony in the same key actually. [Music]
This is the movement that has the death shriek. Remember the descending line. Just this [Music].
And now we get to the movement that I really wanted to talk about, the fourth movement. It’s called Urlicht, which is prime light. And it’s based on a poem from Mahler’s Wunderhorn series that he wrote for voice and piano or voice and orchestra.
O little red rose!
Man lies in greatest need!
Man lies in greatest suffering!
How much rather would I be in heaven?
I came upon a broad road
there came an angel and wanted to block my way.
Ah no! I did not let myself be turned away!
I am of God and to God I shall return!
Dear God will grant me a small light,
will light my way to eternal blissful life!
We did it most recently with Susan Platts who’s an amazing singer, just thinking about her singing and I get goosebumps. This movement was like [deep breath]. There’s this beautiful three trumpet choral. [Music]
When I read the email asking us to think about moments in music that just take our breath away. I could come up with so many examples of listening to my colleagues and hearing them, offer those moments because as brass players, we can’t really hear a lot of other things when we are playing. So, you know, I listened. And all of the harp is beautiful and like oh my gosh oh strings, woodwinds so like there’s all these aha beautiful moments, but I am like I have to come up with one for trumpet. Oh, that’s tricky, so I came up with this one because it’s just this expansive broad quiet lush moment.
And then the fifth movement, of course, he finally brings in the choir, and that’s also an amazing moment. [Music]
I mean that’s basically the symphony, but it’s 90 minutes long. There’s a lot of things I actually didn’t talk about. I thought it was important to really get a feel of what was coming before. You get the funeral, you get the, you know, remembrance of a friend. You get that death shriek, you know, fighting against death, and then you get death and you get “take me, take me, Lord”, And so you can’t really say “take me, Lord”, unless you know everything that’s come before, so I needed to give you a little taste of each movement.
It’s a cycle that we all have to do. We all live. And then we all die. Whatever belief or nonbelief we have as individuals, we can’t fight the fact that we’re all going to die. So I think what we can do is try to make life on Earth better. And so for me, it’s a symphony of hope. Whether it’s, you know, hope for the afterlife or hope for reincarnation or whatever one’s belief is, we still have to make this world better.
Featured excerpts of live performance from:
Mahler Symphony No. 2
May 18, 2019
Toledo Museum of Art Peristyle
Alain Trudel, conductor
Sarah Shafer, soprano
Susan Platts, mezzo soprano
Recordings courtesy of the Toledo Symphony Orchestra. Special thanks to Keith McWatters (Orchestra Manager) and Rachel Schultz (Director of Education & Community Engagement) for access, permission, and support.