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Great Composers - MAHLER
Chapter 1: Early Life: Piano Quartet (Jupiter Quartet); Das klagende Lied
Chapter 2: Early Symphonies: Symphony No.1 - 1st and 3rd movements; Des Knaben Wunderhorn - Wer hat dies Liedlein erdacht?; Symphony No.2; Symphony No.3 - 1st movement
Chapter 3: Vienna: Symphony No.1 – Finale; Symphony No.4 - 1st movement; Symphony No.5 - 2nd movement, Finale, Adagietto
Chapter 4: Haunted by Death: Symphony No.5 - 1st movement; Symphony No.6 - Opening and Finale; Symphony No.7 - 2nd movement; Kindertotenlieder No.5; Symphony No.6 – Finale
Chapter 5: Das Lied von der Erde: Das Lied von der Erde - Last movement; Symphony No.9 - 4th movement
Chapter 6: Tenth Symphony: Symphony No.8 - 1st movement; Symphony No.10 - 1st and 5th movements; Symphony No.9 - 4th movement
Chapter 7: Credits
Kenneth Branagh (narrator)
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Sir Georg Solti
WARNER MUSIC VISION 50-51011-5453-2-0 [58:00]

Mahler is a new addition to the composers featured in the BBC Great Composers series of documentaries, joining Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner, Puccini and Tchaikovsky. Directed by Kriss Rusmanis, this is a standard documentary-style mixture of short dramatic reconstructions of events in his life (particularly his earlier years – the reconstructions rather fizzled out later on), biographical narrative and interviews with prominent historians, biographers and musicians. The DVD had an impressive line-up of the latter, including Norman Lebrecht, Michael Tilson Thomas, Donald Mitchell, Michael Kennedy, Georg Solti, Thomas Hampson and Riccardo Chailly, as well as the composer’s granddaughter, who gave some particularly insightful comments.

As well as providing an all-round view of the man and his music, the film focuses on trying to explain why Mahler included certain quirky aspects in his works, and why he wrote the music that he did. It looks for links between his life and resulting output. For example, it accounts for his juxtapositions of the musically banal and intense or tragic by recollecting how the young Mahler ran out of the house from a violent dispute between his parents, to be confronted by an organ grinder playing a tune in the street outside. The interviewees and narrator (Kenneth Branagh) lay a great deal of emphasis on Mahler’s innovative qualities, and how he created sounds and sound-worlds that no-one else had ever done before.

When the camera is not focused on interviewees, we are presented with many shots of orchestras or soloists performing the music, of places – alpine scenes and Mahler’s houses and composing huts, and photographs of the man himself, his wife, Alma, and his children.

I found only two small causes for complaint and criticism – the first a mild irritation that the opening camera shots rushing above trees made one feel rather dizzy(!), and secondly, the presence of a couple of dancers in white, who appeared twice, first during an excerpt from the Adagietto of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony and who whirled and writhed about trying to look graceful and portray the music’s emotions in movement. I found that this touch did not add anything and had only the effect of appearing rather twee and silly.

On the whole, however, this is an interesting and well-presented documentary, extremely informative without ever seeming didactic or at all dry. The attempt to put the music in the context of the man’s life worked well, and the ending was (as might be expected!) fairly moving.

Em Marshall



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