Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Cover Graphics for Mahler's Symphony No.1

I plan to release my rendition of Gustav Mahler's Symphony No.1 as an "album" online. For this I need of course a cover graphic. When looking at many of the classical music CD, many of the covers are quite unimaginitive: often a painting by Gustav Klimt, representing the fin-de-siecle in Vienna, or some alpine mountains. But Mahler's Symphony No.1 contains so much more... and I wanted to express this.

Especially I wanted to express the personal background which contributed to Gustav Mahler's emotional state while writing this music. And of strong predominance were the two unhappy love affairs he had in 1884 (Johanna Richter) and 1888 (Marion von Weber) - there is a lot of source material about this in the literature.

First I selected van Gogh's painting "The Harvest" as a main background image. This painting was created in 1888 and therefore fits right into the timely context. It shows a rural countryside in harmony, with sunny fields, and I found this represents well the mood of "Ging heut morgen uebers Feld" (went this morning over the field), which is a theme in the first movement. Also the Laendler movement with its bucolic dances fit in my opinion well to the sunny and optimistic mood of this picture.

Then I used the wood cut by Moritz Schwind "Hunter's Funeral" which was a direct inspiration for the 3rd movement "Stranded".

In order to represent the personal unhappy love stories, I put two faint profiles of women there, and overlaid the whole picture with a pair of blue eyes. This represented the reference to "die zwei blauen Augen von meinem Schatz" (the two blue eyes of my darling) which is part of the lyrical middle section of the 3rd movement.

I basically had a nice graphics representing movement 1-3, but then I worked on the rendition of movement 4, and this overall sunny mood was no longer representative for the symphony as a whole. So I added a dark thunderstorm background with lightning and added some fire flames in the foreground. This seemed to work well now. In addition I added a cuckoo bird, a trumpet and a French horn. Finally, with the inclusion of "Blumine", I added a bunch of blue flowers. And of course, a Gustav from a photo from about 1888 in the foreground.

In my initial draft the two women shapes were facing each other, but then I realised it would be better if they faced away from Gustav, representing the rejection of his affection.

Happy 150th Birthday, Gustav!

Today 150 years ago, Gustav Mahler was born in the small town of Kalitsch (with is today located in Czechia, but at the time was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire). On my VPO website I have tried to give reasons why I like his music so much. So this anniversary today was for me the opportunity to express gratitude for the music he has written and given to the world.

A few years ago I thought about how to commemorate this 150th anniversary of his birth, and I decided that I would create a rendition of one of his symphonies. Time passed by, and suddenly it was March 2010 - the Mahler-year had already begun. In the meantime I had revived the VPO website and had upgraded my music creation setup. So it was time to pick up that thought of creating a rendition of a whole symphony. Since I already had a rough recording of the 3rd movement of Symphony No.1, it would be this one.

Symphony No.1 is - after the "Songs of a Wayfarer" the first large-scale public musical expression by the young composer Gustav. I personally find this music is the very first music of the 20th century. Just compare what kind of music other composers wrote around the same time... and then you can see the radicality of this composition. In my view, Mahler goes further than Wagner in his musical approach and language, going beyond the musical borders of the 19th century. Wagner pointed the way - with his complete filling out of these borders and the Tristan chord as an indication of what to come. But Mahler went beyond, exploring the area behind these borders where musical certainty is suddenly put into question. Where Wagner dominates, Mahler questions. In Mahler's music is irony and sometimes a little "twinkle in the eyes", something that is completely absent in Wagner's music.

Symphony No.1 was a start of all this. Feeding and literally quoting from the earlier work "Songs of a Wayfarer", the emotional event through which Gustav went during 1884 and 1888 have shaped this symphony. It is a very varied work: a homage to nature ("wie ein Naturlaut", the cuckoo motif throughout the symphony), to bucolic simple life, then also irony and sarcasm, and thundering emotions, tearing the soul apart, but finally being resolved in a triumphant Finale.

I have heard this symphony many times, by various conductors and orchestras. For creating my own rendition, I wanted to keep my mind free of any other explicit influences and did not listen to any other recordings of this work for quite a while. In March 2010 I used the rendition of the 3rd movement which I had done in the years 1995/1998/2003 and began adapting it for the Garritan Personal Orchestra 4 samples. This was done in a relatively short time, so I moved on to the 2nd movement. This was straight-forward and took a few weeks to complete. The first movement took about a month: it was relatively complex, and it was not easy to determine the right pace. But the most challenging movement was the last one: a plethora of instruments, 7 horns, 4 trombones, two timpany... I often hesitated to work on it, because of the many difficulties I had to overcome each time I did some work on the rendition. Needed to add more and more tracks, to accommodate all the different instruments. In the end it took about 3 weeks - I had started on 17.June, and completed the rendition just in time for the birthday anniversary - on 5.July.

Now I had a rendition of the symphony as it was usually being performed - with just 4 movements. However, in a forum a musician and Mahler-fan mentioned the movement "Blumine" - about which I did not know anything before. When I did some background research, I uncovered the story of this movement, which originally had been a part of this symphony but was then removed by Gustav, as he received strong criticism about this Symphony 1. Since then this "Blumine" movement which had originally been the 2nd movement of a 5-movement work was not included anymore and was lost, before it was rediscovered in 1966.

Many orchestras and conductors do not include this movement in their performances and recordings of this symphony, out of respect for Mahler's decision to remove it. But I was thinking, why one only should respect "the old Mahler" and not the young Mahler? Gustav had good reasons for setting up this work as a 2-part work in 5 movements; there was a program, based loosely on a novel by Jean-Paul; and there was a strong personal attachment, as "Blumine" was the nickname for a woman Gustav was in live with: Johanna Richter. So I became intrigued to include this movement into the symphony and to recreate the original structure as it had been intended by Gustav during 1884-1888.

But time was short: just on the evening of 5.July I had completed the 4-movement symphony, and I already had given up creating a rendition of Blumine in time for the birthday anniversary. But on the evening of 6.July I thought that I would give it a try. I had never before heard this music, and I resisted the temptation of listening to examples on YouTube where a few recordings of this music are available: I was curious how the result would be if I would only have a music score as a source and would then be required to use only this score as a musical reference, without having any pre-conceived sound image in my head.

I started to work on this at 18:30. Sat straight on it, and the whole movement was completed at 2:30 on 7.7.2010. I had done it - the 5-part Symphony No 1 was completed. Now I still had to spend about 2 hours on uploading, changing the website and the mp3 playlists, finalising the cover graphics, and in addition I uncovered a technical problem with the special site I had prepared for this project - it had worked ok from my local computer, but once the page was on the server, it did not load... so after a while of bug-fixing I was able to locate the problem and get everything sorted, and the site for this special project was ready and online.

Got then only 3 hours of sleep... but the effort was well worth it.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Mahler Symphony No 1 Completed!

Yesterday night I completed the first release of the 4th movement of Gustav Mahler's Symphony No 1. This movement has been the most challenging rendition I ever did: 731 bars, 70 pages, lots of trills and percussion rolls, many instruments in each group. It took me about 3 weeks to do this. No major technical hurdles were faced, except that the Garritan Personal Orchestra does not include the whole range of instrument notes which are required by Mahler's composition.

This release concludes the recording of the complete Symphony No 1 by Gustav Mahler. All the files are accessible on my VPO website. I have now also created MP3 versions of each of the 4 movements, to be more platform compatible - those MP3 files are longer than the WMA files, at a comparable quality.

I am glad that I managed to complete this symphony in time for Gustav Mahler's 150th birthday tomorrow - I will have a special page dedicated to this event.

A pity that I was not able to complete the "Blumine" movement, the long-lost 2nd movement... I intend to add this one at a later time.

Enjoy Mahler's grandious work!