When I learned that the first concert of my new position in the American Youth Symphony would be Mahler Symphony No. 2, I was expecting it to be 2010. Gustav Mahler is commonly known for his very lengthy symphonies, and I wasn't sure that I would enjoy it at all. I ended up actually loving the piece, and it's made me want to listen and perform more of his works. The conductor of the orchestra, at the dress rehearsal, said that when playing Mahler it's very important to keep your focus, because unlike other pieces by other composers, once you're gone, you're gone, so you have to stay in the game. When I perform music I enjoy painting a picture of a story in my head to keep focus, so on that note, I decided to "stay in the game" with a story I'm sure Mahler didn't intend.
The picture I painted in my mind about this symphony is about two rival high schools at homecoming, let's call them the Pirates and the Bears. The Pirates are from a rich, private school and the Bears are from an urban, public school. The beginning of the symphony opens abruptly and angrily, which makes the setting for a late night meeting of the two football teams at their respective secret meeting places on a stormy night. They're discussing what can be done to beat the opposing team at the football game on Friday night. Different things are considered, and they come up with plans on how they can ruffle the feathers of the other school by playing pranks (very serious pranks). When the music in this movement gets light and airy, I consider it to be thoughts of the team captains about their girlfriends, who they hope will be the homecoming queens of their schools. When the meetings are dismissed they walk home in groups, and the two opposing teams happen to run into each other on the street, resulting in a brawl (this is the middle section of the first movement where the music is very loud and angry), but it is soon broken up by the police. The Pirates follow the advice of the officers and go to their homes, but the Bears are unhappy with this. The music of this movement ends very menacing, and this is where the Bears decide on something more to do to the Pirates. The go to the Pirate's school that same night to steal the mascot, but set off the alarm and are forced to leave. The two pizzicati that end the movement represent the thought that "this ain't over yet".
The 2 and 3rd movements are simply the homecoming dances of the Pirates and Bears, respectively. I chose the 2 movement for the Pirates because it sounds like more of a proper, elegant waltz - fitting for a rich private school, and the 3rd movement for the Bears because it sounds more rustic. In the 2 movement after the main theme is played the music gets softer and more mysterious, and this is a discussion by a couple of the football players on what they think is going on over at the Bear's high school. The music gets angry when the captain's girlfriend hears that they are planning to do something to the Bears, but he eventually woos her and they dance during the string pizzicati section. As expected, she is crowned homecoming queen and the Pirate homecoming dance ends happily. It's similar for the Bears dance, but it's a little more rowdy, as is the music of the 3rd movement. The dance goes well, but when it's time for the homecoming queen to be crowned the Pirates show up at the dance and cause chaos! Administrators come and force them off campus so that the crowning of the Bear's captain's girlfriend can commence. The third movement ends with a very dark , held by and low strings, and this is the Bear's team captain secretly planning for his revenge on Friday night.
The 4 movement, in my opinion is the most beautiful, but I think this is simply represented in my story by the national anthem at the football game. We see retrospective scenes from the school year during this movement, led by solo alto voice. We see the hopeful fans in the stand, the two teams in the locker rooms, and even the angry student mobs preparing for what they'll do if their teams loses.
I'm going to pull a Scheherazade here and not tell you my thoughts on the final movement, so you'll have to listen to the piece and create your own ending. The off-stage musicians in this movement, in my mind, are clearly represented by the two marching bands at the game, and the chorus as the fans for the two teams. There's scandal, drama, injury, and victory in this movement's story, but I'll leave it to you to decide who won the game.
As much as I enjoy creating stories in my mind about music, I would never consider myself a , but more of a Formalist, when it comes to music and musicians. I encourange you, though, to create a sort of music video in your mind when listening to classical music if you can't enjoy and appreciate it on its contructs alone. :-)
Listening to: $ha, Take It Off