Tone Poem Tuesday

Wow, am I stretching the idea of a tone poem to the breaking point today. This isn’t even an entire work, just an excerpt from one…and it’s not even a complete excerpt, just a part of the excerpt! Let me sum up:

As the Covid-19 disaster has brought the arts to a standstill just as it has so many other aspects of our lives, people who work in those fields have looked for alternate ways to keep making meaningful art. One thing that’s become popular is “socially isolated” musical performances, where individual musicians record their own part, and then the entire thing is stitched together into a larger performance. I’ve seen a bunch of these over the last few weeks, ranging from performances of the Neil Diamond song “Sweet Caroline” to Ravel’s Bolero to…this.

Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, subtitled “The Resurrection,” is a gigantic work. It’s scored for a huge orchestra, full chorus, a soprano and an alto soloist. It takes around an hour and a half to perform, and it runs an astonishing emotional gamut, from stormy and angst-filled passages to meditations on mortality to mysterious passages of solemn power, until it all ends in mystical vastness that is nearly impossible to describe.

About an hour into the symphony, the entire brass section plays a chorale that marks the beginning of the symphony’s third act. The strings aren’t silenced, but this section belongs to the brass, and I can only imagine what this symphony must sound like in a concert hall with good acoustics. So here we have the brass players of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra (plus a snare drummer and a contrabassoonist) playing the chorale theme from the last movement. It’s a fascinating listen, even if it is incomplete.

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