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Masterpieces by Mahler and Liszt
fill Dec. 3 Purdue orchestras
Purdue’s orchestras will accentuate December’s mood of celebration, and add counterpoint to it, at its Saturday, Dec. 3 concert featuring Mahler’s “Heavenly Life” symphony and Liszt’s “Totentanz” or “Dance of Death.”
The event, featuring the Purdue Philharmonic and the Purdue Symphony Orchestra, is set for 8 p.m. Dec. 3 at the Long Center, 111 N. Sixth St., Lafayette. Admission is free.
The worlds of song and symphony are intertwined in the work of Gustav Mahler, especially his “Symphony No. 4” which draws its “Heavenly” nickname from one small song, “Das himmlische Leben” (Heavenly Life), that serves as the finale for this symphony which debuted at the turn on the 20th century.
Bach Chorale soloist, soprano Karen Goff, will be featured with the Purdue Philharmonic, under the direction of Andrew King.
Although the Fourth is viewed as one of the all-time masterworks in classical literature, it wasn’t universally acclaimed when first presented in 1901 in Munich, Germany. History records that event as disastrous and that critics were shocked by this symphony and immediately panned its composer for his inability to compose a coherent symphony.
Mahler had a reputation as a composer of monumental symphonies, employing massive orchestra and vocal forces as well as providing written descriptions for the audience to follow at the performances to better understand his music.
For The Fourth Symphony, he consciously chose to compose a much shorter piece with fewer instruments, a clearer form and just one solo soprano in the final movement. He also did away with descriptive programs. The result was confusing to the public who expected something grander. It’s the conjecture of music historians that audiences felt Mahler was making fun of them by simplifying so many aspects of his musical language and by keeping any explanation from them.
But its rocky beginning would not stop the Fourth from finding a successful niche in classical music. Philharmonic Director King is breaking with one of the Mahler’s original decisions and will be distributing program notes for the symphony along with a translation of “Das himmlische Leben” that Goff will sing.
The Purdue Symphony’s portion of the program will feature works by Brahms, Liszt and Wagner. Pianist Minju Choi, will be featured in Liszt’s “Totentanz” of “Dance of Death,” a set of variations for piano and orchestra. Many of Liszt’s works show the composer’s obsession with death, with religion and with heaven and hell. The composer was known to frequent Parisian hospitals, gambling casinos and asylums in the early 1930s, and even went into prison dungeons in order to see those condemned to die.
Not unlike the Mahler’s Fourth, Liszt’s “Totentanz” was considered outrageous by some when in premiered in 1865. It demonstrates the romantic composer’s search for new sound colors.
Wagner’s “Prelude to Die Meistersinger,” which the Purdue Symphony performs, outlines the themes of a fairy tale like opera. Brahms “Tragic Overture” is one of two concert overtures he composed as a contrasting pair in the summer of 1880.
The Dec. 3 orchestra concert is sponsored by Purdue Bands & Orchestras as part of an extensive season of jazz, concert band and orchestra concerts. For more information visit www.purdue.edu/bands
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