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I was given a task. To listen to ALL of Mahler’s nine symphonies in just one day, with no interruptions. A Mahlerthon, if you will. Things got weird quite quickly.
Tip: start early
Having been set the challenge, I rose early (at 6AM) to give myself a fighting chance of finishing the challenge within the confines of a working day.
You know what? Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 is actually a really nice way to start the day.
Current status: tranquil, cuckoo sounds, light orchestral swelling, tea. Might have a Yorkie button. #mahlerthon— Daniel Ross (@danielross85) February 19, 2016
And after the breathless finale, it was time for a biggie. The ‘Resurrection’, in fact. And 7AM is a strange time to be experiencing it.
In those early symphonies, broadly speaking, it’s easy to be swept up and carried off into Mahler’s idyll, a kind of blissful-yet-terrifying netherworld where the more important something is, the louder you play it. The second symphony is unquestionably a masterpiece, and as such, it’s a delight to experience in the early morning, when you’re at your most lucid.
But as early as the third symphony, my mind started to quiver with fatigue:
I became preoccupied with the non-musical aspects:
The final movement of no. 3 has the tempo marking 'Keck im ausdruck', which seems a bit aggressive. #mahlerthon— Daniel Ross (@danielross85) February 19, 2016
'How's that symphony going?'— Daniel Ross (@danielross85) February 19, 2016
'Totally kecking it in the ausdruck.' #mahlerthon
No. 4 caused some consternation with a housemate:
No. 5 made my face go weird:
But then, the joy that is Symphony No. 6 came along to revive me around lunchtime
No. 6 is probably my personal favourite among Mahler’s symphonies (I was lucky enough to play a lowly second clarinet part when I was in my late teens) and, although I’m a Mahler fan anyway, it was really heartening to connect with something familiar at this point.
But still, I wasn’t totally able to stop my mind from wandering. I think this is the moment when the music began to get too much for me to properly process:
So, I figured a change of scenery was in order:
Then I popped to the shops, which was slightly less tranquil:
Again, on my return home, I found that my concentration was beginning to wander. Specifically, it wandered into the realm of speculative biscuit choice:
Serious question: what biscuit would Mahler have with a cup of tea? #mahlerthon— Daniel Ross (@danielross85) February 19, 2016
A vote for integrity. https://t.co/YlGErbbeOk— Daniel Ross (@danielross85) February 19, 2016
Surprisingly whimsical. Could see it working. 'Alma, give me one of those... ach, what are they called... jam...' https://t.co/TGzkzGiJmS— Daniel Ross (@danielross85) February 19, 2016
I had to Google these but this is definitely the best answer yet. https://t.co/EWCuXoEkyD— Daniel Ross (@danielross85) February 19, 2016
By this point, around no. 8, the end was in sight. In fact, the Symphony of a Thousand was easily one of the high points of the whole Mahlerthon. Well, for me, anyway.
I found that as we approached the end of the whole Mahlerthon, my mental state became much more volatile. I was prone to flights of fancy (even more than the biscuit thing) and became a mite despairing.
The worst thing about this tweet is that it should’ve said ‘Why must it?’, but my face and brain and hands were liquid and the words weren’t really forming correctly in my head.
I'm struggling to take it in. I'm aware that instruments are playing but the instruments could be cakes or dogs for all I know #mahlerthon— Daniel Ross (@danielross85) February 19, 2016
The end in sight
But then, mercy upon mercies, it was almost over. I had stowed a beer in the fridge earlier in the day to be opened at 6pm which, fortunately, coincided with the final movement of the 9th symphony. It tasted mighty sweet, I assure you.
Naturally, after such a huge achievement (and don’t try and tell me it’s not a huge achievement), I became philosophical:
People ask mountaineers, why do you climb? 'Because it's there,' they say. #mahlerthon— Daniel Ross (@danielross85) February 19, 2016
Why did I listen to all 9 Mahler symphonies in a day? 'Because they are there. And it meant I could work from home today.' #mahlerthon— Daniel Ross (@danielross85) February 19, 2016
The important thing, though, was that it was done. It was over. I gained some vague insight about Mahler’s artistic progression (he basically got sadder and weirder) and listening to all these works in such a concentrated manner really does force you to contemplate the nature of endurance, no matter how piffling it may be in comparison to real suffering.
Mahler is still one of my favourite composers. We have not fallen out. But, just like the first time you go on holiday with a friend, we might not hang out together for a while as a result of being too close.
If you want to follow the whole experience in excruciating detail, have a look at the hashtag.