Grand Finale: Mahler – Lenárd
The 90th concert season of the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra will reach a climax at the Rudolfinum’s Dvořák Hall on 19 June. Under the baton of chief conductor Ondrej Lenárd and with the cooperation of soprano Kateřina Kalvachová, mezzo soprano Veronika Hajnová and the Czech Philharmonic Choir helmed by Petr Fiala the concert will feature Gustav Mahler’s majestic Second Symphony in C minor, known as the “Resurrection” Symphony.
Work on the piece took the composer eight long years. While Mahler was already a respected and well-known conductor by this time, he was just starting out in the field of composing. The public essentially ignored his work while critics described his First Symphony in D major as a boring piece full of dissonance and endless dull sections.
Despite this Mahler soon began, in 1888, at the age of 28, to work on his Second Symphony. His initial idea was to build on the First Symphony and the first movement, a kind of remembrance ceremony for the hero Titan, bore the title “Funeral Celebration” in the original version.
When the composer played it to his friend the conductor Hans von Bülow, who was famous throughout Europe, he responded with apparent concerned horror: “If that is still music, then I don’t understand it at all.” Despite this, Mahler retained his stubbornness and militant determination. However, he needed time…
He returned to the piece in 1893. He locked himself away in a summerhouse by the Attersee lake, where nobody could disturb him, and produced the second and third movements, which he characterised as episodes from the life of the famous hero.
The fourth movement, entitled Urlicht (Primeval Light), is for solo alto. The central song is from the Des Knaben Wunderhorn collection and was described by Mahler as “a soul’s struggle and the questioning of God.”
Later the essential question of how to make the work climb in intensity, and bring it to a close, arose in a curious manner. Mahler thought about it long and patiently, coming up with the solution during a funeral mass for the aforementioned conductor Hans von Bülow.
When at the funeral Mahler heard a boys choir sing an ode based on the words of Klopstock he understood that he had found the long-sought text for the final part. A text declaring “I die that I can live!”, a text with the motif of the resurrection! Mahler’s music delivers blissful calm; everything is pervaded by a warm, welcoming light and consciousness of divine presence and all-encompassing love.
A major piece concerning death and resurrection, a symphony of hope, was born. And because there is never enough beautiful music or hope, we trust that you will make room for such priceless values on the evening of 19 June, either at the Dvořák Hall itself or via a live transmission on the Vltava radio station from 19:30.