The Symphony No. 2 by Gustav Mahler is the biggest, most epic symphonic statement since Beethoven’s 9th. It’s subtitled “Resurrection,” and the work climaxes with the words:
O Pain, You piercer of all things,
From you, I have been wrested!
O Death, You conqueror of all things,
Now, are you conquered!
With wings which I have won for myself,
In love’s fierce striving,
I shall soar upwards
To the light which no eye has penetrated!
Die shall I in order to live.
Rise again, yes, rise again,
Will you, my heart, in an instant!
That for which you suffered,
To God shall it carry you!
Mahler wrote the text himself and set it to the most glorious, heaven-storming music that had ever been written.
Here’s what it sounds like:
No doubt, Bernstein is the best. He seems to be genuinely reacting to the ecstasy of the moment. As you can imagine, such an epic musical and poetic statement elicits an incredible amount of podium histrionics from various conductors. A close second to Bernstein, in terms of raw emotional choreography, is Sir Simon Rattle.
You’d think Gustavo Dudamel would have a similarly crazy reaction to this music–after all, one of the great inspirations in his life is Leonard Bernstein–but here, he is remarkably restrained.
Oh, sure, he’s still into the music, but not with his trademark unbridled passion.
If there’s one general consistency throughout conductors’ interpretations of Mahler 2, it’s that the mouth must be open. From typically reserved Claudio Abbado…
…to the exuberance of Zubin Mehta.
Valery Gergiev (not famous for being a Mahler conductor) tries to keep his mouth closed…and, it seems, choke back some tears.
Myung-whun Chung has ice in his veins and wields his baton with the precision of a surgeon.
Pierre Boulez has steely resolve that borders on stoicism. (Would you expect anything else from Pierre Boulez?)
Mariss Jansons wins the award for Best Facial Expression.
Christoph Eschenbach wins the award for Best Head Movement.
And Riccardo Chailly wins the award for Most Deranged.
So, there you have it. The many faces of the ecstasy and bliss that is Mahler’s Second Symphony. Now, go listen to a complete performance of it. I suggest this one: