I thought I was coming to a conclusion yesterday as I finally got around to re-listening to the Symphony No. 9 of Mahler, but suddenly today I realize that there are quite a few gaps I need to fill in. I never intended to listen to every symphony, just the ones that mattered. But there are quite a few that "matter" in the 20th century that I am barely aware of! For example, at this very moment I am listening to the Symphony No. 4, subtitled "Los Angeles" of Arvo Pärt:
Until five minutes ago, I didn't even realize this piece existed (it was premiered in 2010). Very interesting music. Also just ran across the name of Eduard Tubin (1905 - 1982), an Estonian composer transplanted to Sweden, who wrote eleven symphonies. Then there is, of course, Shostakovich's Polish friend, Mieczysław Weinberg, whom I have mentioned a few times on this blog, but I certainly haven't listened to his symphonies in any systematic way. I may be a ways from being done (if ever)!
As I said, yesterday I got around to a re-listen to the Mahler Symphony No. 9. I'm sorry, but I just don't like Mahler very much. At the risk of offending some, I find his music somehow neurotic, insincere and false. I don't know how I would go about showing exactly why I think this, and I apologize to Mahler lovers for that omission! But it is an impression that I have whenever I listen to the symphonies. The gestures always seem too much, too protracted and without real foundation. Then I put on the Symphony No. 7 of Bruckner for confirmation and, as before, I prefer Bruckner. He may have been a simple, eccentric soul, too enamored of Wagner, but his music does seem to have the sincerity and authenticity (sorry to have to use that much-maligned word) that Mahler lacks. By "authenticity" I just mean that Bruckner's gestures don't seem calibrated just to punch certain buttons in the audience's response, but just flow from his emotional makeup. I don't quite know how to go about evaluating and substantiating this response. But it is the one I have.
While I have you here, let me just put up a couple of those symphonies that I have got to get around to. First, here is the Symphony No. 4 of Eduard Tubin:
Almost reminds you of Vaughan Williams, doesn't it? And here is the Lento from the Symphony No. 21 of Mieczysław Weinberg:
UPDATE: I think the word that correctly describes how I perceive the symphonies of Mahler is that I sense that they are "contrived". Too much effect for what supports it.