It has been heartening to see that the Parliament Choir has been keeping its head while all around are losing theirs, and I am looking forward now to having more members back next week, given that something that apparently happened now actually never happened. More than ever, I think, Parly Choir offers a little bit of sanity and sanctuary for those who work at Westminster.
In the middle of all of this we have a concert in November, and rehearsals are continuing to go well, our Dream Of Gerontius sounded dreamy where necessary and appropriately hellish elsewhere. On we go, therefore.
Talking of that dreamy/hellish thing, I spent yesterday morning talking about Mahler’s 6th Symphony, which is a staggering piece whose aggression and brutality is offset by that beautiful and eloquent second (or should it be third?) movement. Even Mahler himself was not sure where it should lie, but it acts as an oasis of calm in an otherwise troubling work.
That extraordinary move in the first movement where an A major chord (loud trumpets, soft oboes) transforms into an A minor chord (soft trumpets, loud oboes) over what might be termed a ‘Fate’ rhythm is so strong, so emphatic, that by the time of the scherzo I found myself hearing each major triad, however fleeting, with the nervous fear of somebody whose house of cards is being subjected to a strong breeze. Here comes the minor I would think and, inevitably, there it came. Only in the slow movement, and subtly, does the opposite happen, minor third inflections moving upwards towards major thirds, and not for nothing is its key (Eb major) as far away as one can get from the A minor of the other three movements.
The symphony ends negatively, that major to minor move stripped of its first chord as if to emphasise that all hope is lost, but somehow the moments of bucolic calm scattered throughout the work, cow bells clanking in the distance, are enough to see us through. Mahler’s hero of the sixth is defeated by three hammer blows of fate in the finale – granted, he removed the third in the revision – and the year following the work’s première the composer did indeed suffer three hammer blows, which makes one wonder about fears becoming reality. I think my symphony, if and when it comes, will be a positive affair. In The Shawshank Redeption Red tells Andy that “hope is a dangerous thing.” I disagree.