Clef Notes: How Gustav Mahler saved my life, and other reflections on the composer's 150th birthday - The Baltimore Sun’s classical music critic Tim Smith blogs about the sonic art, local and beyond - baltimoresun.com.
Happy Birthday Mahler.
Though I was already in music school at Peabody Conservatory, the first time I heard Mahler's 4th symphony changed and focused my love of music. I realized there was music out there as emotional (and neurotic!) as I often felt. Mahler's exalting scale, the incredible detail, the wild emotions and depth of character, all spoke to me.
Here is an excerpt from the excellent personal story of Baltimore Sun music writer Tim Smith, who switched majors from Political Science to music after hearing Mahler:
I happened to see "Death in Venice," the film by Luchino Visconti based on the Thomas Mann novella. I frequently bore people by describing the extraordinary sensation I felt as the movie opened. There was no discernable image on the screen at first, only the sound of harp and strings playing the Adagietto (as I subsequently learned) from Mahler's Symphony No. 5. Gradually, the sight of gentle waves appeared and, as the music swelled, I felt myself drawn as forcibly into that sound-world as into the gorgeous film.
When I read Mahler’s name in the credits, I set out to learn more about him. I found a recording of that Adagietto, then decided I had to hear all of the Fifth Symphony. I was blown away. I did not know music could do that, could go where Mahler took it, could hit me in some deep emotional place that hadn’t been awakened before.
I had barely begun to digest that symphony when, by coincidence, I tuned to a classical music station in DC on my car radio one evening on the way home and heard a wildly dramatic bit of music that I sensed must be by Mahler. When I got home, I couldn’t bring myself to leave the car, lest I miss a note, so I stayed outside listening (and wearing down the battery) for more than an hour, until the shattering conclusion of what I found out was the Sixth Symphony. That did it.
But, to this day, Mahler simply touches me in a different way. I feel as if he’s talking to me, living my life, not just his. I feel like I can see what he sees, the darkest and brightest elements of this life, the glimmers and shadows and promises of the next one.