Sometimes I go to the piano and try to produce a round sound, or a square note. I never succeed.
My piano, a grand piano, is rectangular in the front and finishes in a curve. Perhaps I should try an oval sound?
That seems more appropriate for the little daughter of the American President.

It happens always when I have read a critique of a musical performance. When the critic speaks of the violins, which weren‘t able to produce that deep round sound or of the trumpeter, whose playing was characterized by merely square tones.
Once a critique of a piano sonata of Beethoven had such a warm voice: the player rose above his self, the quality of the sound so round, never a square tone.
Immediately I phoned the retailer who sold me the piano.
> For God‘s sake, tell me, how do I produce a round sound. And how can I prevent square tones?
> I can‘t tell you sir, but we can give a call to the factory and ask them.
> Oh, leave it.

I came upon this because of the page Met de muziek mee where I mentioned the finale of the Fifth of Mahler. I have a book here: New Sounds, New Century subtitle Mahler‘s Fifth Symphony and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (which I laid hand on some years ago, but at the time didn‘t give a second thought). Editor in chief Donald Mitchell, the great Mahler scholar, delivered a paper Eternity or Nothingness, which is full of this stuff. ... the means by which he [Mahler] achieves the brilliant, continuous discontinuity ...
The preface of the book starts with an obsolete question: How, one might ask, is it possible to find anything new to say? The answer should be as obvious as the question is obsolete: well, you are never short of new sounds using these kinds of phrases, are you?!
The first chapter of the book is a dialogue between Riccardo Chailly, at the time chief-conductor of the RCO, and the above mentioned Donald Mitchell - a dialogue starting in Heaven, of all places!
The book is full of curious remarks, but first curiosities first.

I have another book: the score for four hands of this symphony. When I was idly paging through the textbook, full of all those higher thoughts about the masters, mastering the music of the master, I stumbled on a name: Otto Singer. That‘s the composer who made the arrangement for piano, which I have in my possession. And there it was: he was the man who was commissioned to make the arrangement. He discussed his arrangement with the composer. And only two editions were printed. A photograph of the title-page of the second edition is in the book of Donald Mitchell. This is not, I repeat NOT identically with the title-page of the book I mention above.
Do I have a first edition of such an important work of history in my house?
Is it possible that I own a first print of this history-breaking masterpiece: ... the new music of the new century, the end of which we are just about to reach and the beginning of which was initiated in Mahler‘s Fifth?

The fourth symphony concludes with the song Das himmlische Leben. Therefore Chailly likes to start the dialogue in Heaven. A good idea, I should say. No better illustration for the direction the dialogue takes: from eternity to nothingness.
We know of dialogues between deaf people. Is such a dialogue possible between two men who share the same love, speak the same language?
My answer would definitely be: yes, that‘s possible.
Not only turning a blind eye on the other‘s enormity, not just confirming it Yes, Riccardo, you are absolutely right ... but trying to rise a bit higher But of course Donald, you see, the point is ...
Donald Mitchell speaks of a duet of ... Indeed, it is a duet. In clichés. Striving for éclat, arriving at hackneydom.
What to pick out of all this humbug?

Starting in Heaven, at the end of the (fourth) symphony the music describes Verklärung (Transfiguration) but Verklärung in a spiritual and positive sense [sic]...
Yes Riccardo, it is perfectly understandable how it might have felt that everything now would go wonderfully well in future.
(At that moment, we learn later on in the same book - Mitchell‘s book! - the Fourth had had a bitter reception!)
The same year Rosa Luxemburg was called for her first imprisonment. She was probably thinking about how wonderfully things could go - if there only was a bit of justice. A war between Russia and Japan was going on. A mass strike in Italy. There was a list of 200 top dangerous people, nowadays we would call them terrorists - Domela Nieuwenhuis, a Dutch socialist leader, #9 on the list, was arrested when travelling from Paris to Amsterdam.
At the moment Rosa Luxemburg only felt that one, emperial catastrophe would finish in a democratic catastrophe, in which they would beat her to death, and turn in a dictatorial catastrophe, the biggest of the century, culminating in the death of millions, not only soldiers in the battle, but outright murder on civilians.
Of course she couldn‘t know, but Donald and Riccardo do know. And they know also that the narcotizing, conscience deafening feeling of how wonderfully things were going, took place during a relatively short time in the twenties.

[P]art of Mahler‘s genius [was] that, however innovative the music was ... - allowing us glimpses of extraordinary future [...] - (Heaven?) nonetheless[sic] his music succeeded in speaking to humankind. And then Riccardo and Donald speak of the importance of memory by listening to music, understanding the relationship between movements.
Yes Riccardo, if I may pick you up there ... there are affinities, of course variations, there are those extraordinary quotations ... no composer in the nineteenth century ... No composer like that? Bruckner, to name only one who was spiritually present during the conversation!
And even the memoria atavica, which descends from remote ancestors, is vital in Mahler‘s music! The last climax at the end of the Trauermarsch is delirium-like, a fortissimo which collapses, as you say [Donald], into a kind of oblivion ... one really seems to plunge into the abyss.

Of course there was also creative destruction. Mahler was a destroyer - he destroyed the classical symphony and built something completely new out of the debris.
Oh really? Why then the three parts? Why is there still a Scherzo? A Rondo-Finale? The chorales and other melodic forms?
Why is it then that Mahler‘s mania for Bach was so very much alive and present in those years. Why is it that in none of his other symphonies does Bach play such an important role?
As Alma Mahler tells us: he didn‘t like the concept, of the (first) Vienna school, of Klankfarbenmelodie.

The great Scherzo! And with it, as Mitchell tells us, a proclamation of D major! A big risk, don‘t you agree?
Indeed, that‘s why Mahler prescribes a long silence “fölgt lange Pause”. It is a must that has to be respected.
Oh yeah? I never heard it on CD!

Chailly, an Italian, reminds us that adagietto means a piccolo adagio.
And Mitchell could not agree more. The tempo should also reflect the designation of a piccolo adagio.
In front of them they have the score. They are not only deaf, they are completely blind.
It is lying there on the table. Riccardo points his pencil at the very place.
Sehr langsam! Molto adagio.
It is there also in the handwriting of Alma - a photograph of which is next to the preface.

The difference between sentiment and sentimental. According to Chailly Visconti‘s movie Death in Venice has contributed greatly to the distortion of the Adagietto.
But the music was the score as written by Mahler. The performance was by the orchestra of the Accademia di Santa Cecila (Roma) which was only one year behind Amsterdam in performance of the newly composed Adagietto. Conducted by ...? Yes, by Mahler himself!
Ever heard of sentimentality of the wedding march of Mendelssohn, because of the tears of the aspirant mother in law?
Wasn‘t it all about memory? And affinities?
Speaking of Mendelssohn, Chailly compares the adagietto with the purity and noble simplicity of the canto senza parole.
Which Mitchell surpasses with the character of the Adagietto is, to me, a wordless Rückert-song.

Who is demonstrating sentimentality here?
Where is the destroyer?

What about all this wordsmithing?


I do not have the slightest intention to go and look for the value of that possibly first edition of my piano score for four hands.
Of course it is possible.
But I do not have the courage.
Better keep thinking that I own something of immeasurable value than knowing ...
For God‘s sake: all the signs are there.
Chattering classes.
The omen is bad. The caldron remains silent!
Delusion is the companion of enchantment - from the beginning!