“What Love Tells Me”

Mahler blog

Gustav Mahler’s Third Symphony (A5 sketchbook page, ink and collage, 2016)

For my birthday last month I was given a turntable and can now revisit some of those old gramophone records in the attic. Amongst the survivors of several moves around three countries is a complete set of Gustav Mahler’s symphonies conducted by Bernard Haitink.

Completed in 1896 but years ahead of its time, Mahler’s Third Symphony would be my ultimate desert island disc. Composed in a modest hut overlooking an Austrian lake during his summer breaks from conducting at the Vienna Opera, its six movements were initially given programmatic titles, such as “What the flowers of the field tell me”, “What the angels tell me” and “What Love tells me” which Mahler later dropped, letting the music speak for itself. Yet the source of its inspiration remains apparent. When the conductor, Bruno Walter, arrived at Mahler’s summer retreat he was told, “Don’t bother admiring the landscape, it’s all in my music!”

Listening to the symphony again recently, I wondered how someone could compose something so monumentally beautiful: from the sometimes dissonant terrors of the opening movement to the exquisite Romanticism of the long finale, it seems too complex, too other-wordly, to have been written by one man in a shed. Mahler seems more like a conduit for the mystical power of Nature itself and hearing it is, to me, approaching a spiritual experience.

“Today I became horribly aware that the first movement will last half a hour, perhaps longer,” he wrote, “What are people going to say to that? They won’t leave a hair on my head. This work is truly concise, even brief, though it lasts two hours…It is though the torrent of creation has proved to be an irrisitable force, having been pent up for years; there is no escape!”

My drawing shows the composer sifting some of the elements that went into this mighty symphony. I wanted to do something to celebrate Mahler, and it would either have to be a drawing like this or some wall-high painting that would take about a year to complete. Until I have the time and ability to produce the latter, this will have to do.

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23 thoughts on ““What Love Tells Me”

  1. The Film ‘Death in Venice’ begins with the 5th symphony played over a slow panning shot from darkness in to the first dawn light and the arrival of the composer on a steamboat. It is a magical Romantic visualisation.

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  2. The whole decade of my twenties was me crawling along in a long, dark tunnel, with very occasional respite where I’d find myself in a concert hall, letting Mahler’s 3rd wrap her arms around me and I’d be weeping in the balcony with newfound hope Gustav left in my heart. Thank you for this tribute.

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  3. I must get a hold of this Third Symphony; not sure if I’d heard it before but I desperately want to hear it after reading your post!

    Your illustration is marvelous not only because of your drawing but t also for your use of stamps (the used to collect stamps and still appreciate their beauty)!

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  4. Michael, once again your post is inspiring. The art is wonderful and the love with which you write is passionate. I related to your line “Mahler seems more like a conduit for the mystical power of Nature itself…” in that I often feel that my art is not really mine but is more the universe moving through me. My job is to listen. You inspire me with your eclectic suggestions and I will have to create a “Recommended by Michael Richards” list so that I don’t lose any. 🙂

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    • Dear LuAnne, that’s so kind. I often wonder why some feel the need to create and others – equally skilled – do not. What drives that mysterious impulse? I’m pleased you find some of this stuff of interest. I sometimes feel I’m pressing my obsessions onto everyone! Thank you for a lovely start to my day.

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  5. I’ve just spent a delightful pre cooking dinner interlude reading your recent posts and enjoying your art so much. I love the daffodils in pastel and the bergamot oranges. And the fragment of the dog’s body.
    And yes, I felt that little shift away from cats to dogs on the internet! Well done!
    cheers, your blog friend, Sarah

    Liked by 1 person

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