11-02b: Mahler 6 "Tragic" Mitropoulos 1959 - Decapitated : Winds of Creation 2000 - Mississippi John Hurt 1928 - Berlioz Romeo & Juiliette | Debussy La Mer | Strauss Dance of 7 Veils / Mitropolous

1960 – Dimitri Mitropoulos (Greek conductor and composer)
Felice Lattuada (Italian composer)
1966 – Mississippi John Hurt (American blues singer & guitarist)
Ernst Hess (Swiss composer)
Fran Stevens (American singer & actress)
Pete Pitterson (Jamaican-born British jazz trumpeter)
1996 – Eva Cassidy (American roots-music singer & pianist)
2007 – Vitek Kiełtyka (Polish death metal drummer, Decapitated)
2011 – Sickan Carlsson (Swedish actress & singer)

No, cause of death does not generally figure into our lists around here. Vitek Kiełtyka was killed in a car accident, but he was not decapitated. That was the name of the band he drummed for. When Decapitated recorded their first album, Vitek was just 15 years old.

Somebody once said that Beethoven's symphonies are all different from each other, while Mahler's symphonies are different from all others. Well, what a crock of crap. It makes it sound like all Mahler's symphonies are similar to each other, as compared to Beethoven's symphonies. That's an evaluation that might fit a symphonist like Bruckner, but not Mahler. Mahler's symphonies are in some ways radically different from one another. It's hard to imagine, for instance, that two symphonies more different from one another than his 3rd and 4th could come from the pen of the same composer.

And so, Mahlerstodfest 19112011 continues. We've heard all now but symphonies nos. 7, 9, and today's offering, 6. So, what makes the 6th so special, as compared, say, to the 5th and the 7th? Well, the comparison is quite apposite, in fact. Mahler's 5th and 7th are both progressive, rhapsodic, "modernistic" works, and both are in five movements. Both begin and end in keys that are relatively remote from one another, given what one expects from a symphony. And both represent the transition from darkness to light whose symphonic expression was first and most famously manifest in Beethoven's 5th Symphony. And in fact they're in some ways the two Mahler symphonies that are most similar to one another.

The 6th is not like those at all. It seems, viewed from a distance, like a "normal," "conventional" symphony. It both begins and ends in the same key, A minor. It's in the traditional four movements. Only, the movements are massive. And they're played by a massive orchestra, the largest Mahler was ever to use for one of his purely instrumental symphonies. There are about 20 each of woodwind and brass instruments (as compared to only 14 of each for the 5th), and a very large percussion section that includes an infamous large non-metallic hammer which strikes two or three blows (depending on the conductor's preference - Mitropoulos does three, and makes the third the loudest) during the finale. The exact implement used for this is not specified by Mahler, and is generally improvised for any given performance; however, something like this is what one often finds:

What is Mahler's 6th symphony "about," then? Well, from its subtitle, "Tragic," we know from the outset that this symphony is going to be a huge downer. And it is! Quite devastatingly so! It's the apotheosis of tragedy itself - a grandiose orchestral catharsis that leaves one drained and pale, 80 minutes later, from a roller-coaster ride of emotions that culminate in the merciless, inexorable destiny of a final and irreversible defeat. Enjoy!

(Oh, and don't miss out on Mississippi John - the sweetest damned country-folk blues you ever did hear!)


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