Friday, May 23, 2008

Some meandering reflections on Jeffrey Tucker and Gustav Mahler: Not for the humor-impaired

We here at the New Liturgical Movement are all familiar with the great work that Jeffrey Tucker has done on behalf of Gregorian chant here in America. What many of you may not realize, however, is that Jeffrey Tucker is a heroic figure in many other ways. In fact, I have undertaken to model my life on his. From Jeffrey I have learned how to handle garbage disposal purgatory. I have removed the governor from my showerhead which restricts the flow of water, turned up the temperature on my hot water heater, and I always wear a t-shirt, no matter what. And I stopped using shaving cream nearly two years ago. Heck, I might even wear a bow tie to this year's colloquium.

But, alas, there is one thing in which Jeffrey should not be mimicked. You see, he has this very strange idea that he should not listen to the final three symphonies of Gustav Mahler until he is on his deathbed. Aside from the potential practical difficulties of such a resolution, I have pleaded with Jeffrey, that, while the 7th and 9th symphonies are indeed gory and perhaps best suited to macabre circumstances, the 8th is glorious and he should listen to it immediately. To my knowledge, however, he has yet to do so.

My point about all this was proven in a most powerful way a few weeks ago when the Philadelphia orchestra performed Mahler's Eighth Symphony for FIVE sold out concerts. I myself stood in a line for well more than an hour to get a ticket in a most regrettable seat, which somehow didn't at all dim the brilliance of the performance. Mahler's Eighth is nicknamed the "Symphony of a Thousand," the description it was given in the advertisements for its premier. Written for full orchestra and chorus, the actual total number of performers at that first concert is believed to be somewhere around a mere 800, somewhat larger than the average church choir.

This symphony's first movement is a setting of the Latin hymn Veni Creator Spiritus. It makes full use of both symphonic and contrapuntal devices in ways that would, perhaps, make Brahms proud. Or maybe not. The second part is a rendering of the final act of Goethe's Faust. That's the version of Faust with a happy ending. The whole thing is glorious, but I myself would never have thought that it would attract so much attention from the general public. Five sold out concerts!

What does this tell us? I think, in a word, it tells us that people still have a need for, and even demand, beauty.

But one question remains: Will Jeffrey dare click on "play" below?

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