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Thread: Bruckner vs. Mahler

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    Senior Member Falstaft's Avatar
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    Question Bruckner vs. Mahler

    Inspired by Tapkaara's thread *contrasting* Sibelius to Mahler, I'd like to pose the question to this board. Of the following supremely self-conscious symphonists, whose music do you prefer?:
    .... or ....

    *The obsessive-compulsive, devoutly religious, socially inept Anton Bruckner, or...

    *The anxious, thrice-homeless, irredemiably nostalgic Gustav Mahler.

    Both wrote 9 (+ 2-3 depending on who you ask) symphonies and varying amounts of large scale vocal music. Both inhabit basically the same stylistic idiom (atonal hints in late Mahler 9 notwithstanding) and share many of the same aesthetic preoccupations. And it's certainly not hard to hear the influence of the former on the latter. So what draws you to one over the other (even if you can't get enough of both!).

    I'd like to emphasize the personal preference angle for this thread. Sure I'm interested in hearing whose symphonies you think are objectively better, but I'm more curious in hearing what you think it says about you that you prefer one to the other. For example (all things being equal), what is it in your musical taste or personality that leads you to treasure, say, the jagged scherzi of Bruckner or the Ländler-infused fast movements in Mahler? I think because there is such respect and love for these two on these boards, we could keep this a largely positive thread. If you hate one or both, perhaps suggest another late romantic composer of similar style (Zemlinsky, Strauss, Schmidt, Hausseger, Elgar, Langgaard, Atterberg come to mind).

    For me, the broad, slow waves of Bruckner tap something deeper in me than generally does Mahler. That is not to say I don't adore Mahler's symphonies, especially moments of the eerie calm he is able to achieve throughout his work. I think what I like in Mahler is the morbidity -- constant funeral marches, weird orchestrations, snatches of melodies he wrote 20 years ago now cloaked in bitter irony and regret. But sometimes the irony in Mahler is too much to take. At no point (even in the ridiculous scherzo of the 9th) do I think Bruckner isn't being upfront and honest with me. Perhaps that means at the core I prefer straightforward emotion to masked or layered emotion. But I'm not trying to say Bruckner's naive (although perhaps I am!). More, I find his inability to lie musically very appealing.

    I'm also drawn to his colossal and sturdy grasp of form, his harmonic gravitas, and those goddamn aching slow movements -- I'll take the Adagio of the 8th over the Adagietto of the 5th any day. I'm not sure I would take him over Mahler as a spinner of tunes, but as a spinner of *sequences* there is surely no better.

    So what do you all think?
    Last edited by Falstaft; May-15-2010 at 14:25. Reason: semantics ;)

  2. #2
    Senior Member Art Rock's Avatar
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    Playing Bruckner's 6th as I am reading this (as part of my re-play all bruckner symphonies within a few days project), I still prefer Mahler. I find him more emotional and in the end that is what good music is about for me: it touches me inside. I also notice in my current project that when I really really like Bruckner (a lot of times), it is in the passages that foreshadow Mahler.
    Und Morgen wird die Sonne wieder scheinen.....

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    Senior Member Tapkaara's Avatar
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    I prefer Mahler.

    ***And by the way, I was not so much "comparing" Sibelius to Mahler in an earlier thread, but contrasting them more than anything. They are very different composers with different ideas to express. The premise of the thread was based on a famous conversation they had on the nature of the symphony. Their ideas were in sharp contrast to each other.***
    "Music is not philosophy." --Akira Ifukube

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    Most would probably think Mahler's 1st is better than Bruckner's (I'm not counting his symphony No0), but from then on it's probably a matter of taste.

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    Mamamamamammhler.

    How many times did I share my dislike to Bruckner and even greater dislike to Mahler which eventually turned into indescribable admiration and love for the latter?

    I don't think Bruckner is more difficult than Mahler, so I guess that appreciating him after understanding Mahler is unlikely.

    Except of stricte-musical aspects of Bruckner's music that I dislike so much I may also be repulsed by it's background, ideas and Bruckner himself. I'm sure that if I wouldn't know any of them and if I would get two short notes about their lifes and music, then just after comparing them I would know for sure that I want to listen to Mahler, not Bruckner.

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    Senior Member Sebastien Melmoth's Avatar
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    Mahler, nervous and unhinged; Bruckner, sane and stolid.

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    Senior Member joen_cph's Avatar
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    Bruckner 00
    Bruckner 0
    Mahler 1
    Mahler 2
    Bruckner 3
    Bruckner 4
    Mahler 5
    Bruckner 6
    Mahler 7
    Bruckner 8
    Mahler 9
    Mahler 10
    Vocal works: Mahler
    Chamber + instrumental: Bruckner

    Overall: Bruckner wins 7 posts, Mahler wins 7 posts = a draw
    julianoq likes this.

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    Senior Member Sebastien Melmoth's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by joen_cph View Post
    Bruckner 3
    Bruckner 4
    Mahler 5
    Bruckner 6
    Mahler 7
    Mahler 9
    Overall: = a draw

    Although the funereal Adagio of Bruckner's No. 4 is exquisite, overall Mahler's No. 4 is a superior work.

    Bruckner's No. 5 beats Mahler's No. 5 hands down.

    Important critics rate Mahler's No. 6 as his greatest (non-vocal) symphony.

    Bruckner's No. 7 is superior to Mahler's No. 7.

    Bruckner's No. 9 is superior to Mahler's No. 9.

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    it depends on the mood I'm in. Currently I am not in either a Bruckner or Mahler mood. But I did name my 7 yr old after Bruckner.
    That being said, because Bruckner sticks to the classical structure much more than Mahler I will give him the edge in preference.

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    Senior Member joen_cph's Avatar
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    Although the funereal Adagio of Bruckner's No. 4 is exquisite, overall Mahler's No. 4 is a superior work.

    Bruckner's No. 5 beats Mahler's No. 5 hands down.

    Important critics rate Mahler's No. 6 as his greatest (non-vocal) symphony.

    Bruckner's No. 7 is superior to Mahler's No. 7.

    Bruckner's No. 9 is superior to Mahler's No. 9.
    These are just my preferences, and I´m not pretending to be magisterical here. So won´t discuss the details or the exact criteria for each valuation here, like you aren´t doing either ... :-).
    But as regards VII for instance, I´ve heard both the Anton and the Gustav perhaps at least 40 times, and I have come to the conclusion that I would prefer to keep the varied and original sound world in Gustav´s work, especially the Nachtmusiks (the Kubelik recording), provided that I could keep the other symphonies on the list. Agree that the Bruckner is a luminous and serene work in his oeuvre, but it is slightly too simple in its material - IMHO - if compared to the other selected symphonies on the list. Obviously the Mahler has some very weak points, the Finale is nowhere near to Bruckner´s, I agree.
    As the regards IV, I disagree with you explodingly, though - like it was the case of the evaluation of Michael Nyman as one of today´s finest composers ... :-)
    Last edited by joen_cph; May-15-2010 at 16:18.

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    Senior Member Frasier's Avatar
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    It's difficult to understand why or how these composers are bracketed together these days for any kind of comparison. Based on my limited analytical knowledge of Mahler's symphonies, they are stylistically different. I have yet to make sense of any Mahler symphony - considering one need devote a fair amount of time. The 8th makes vague sense and does seem to portray Mahler caught between the humanist and the ecclesiastical. He doesn't seem to have quite the command of counterpoint that Bruckner enjoyed and until late in life, didn't display Bruckner's skill with the orchestra - but then Bruckner spent time studying both form and orchestration before penning his "Study symphony". On the other hand, Mahler is somewhat more adventurous and exciting than Bruckner.

    I have no trouble with Bruckner's symphonies except in the sense of the "Bruckner problem", the revisions, editions; and I'm in two minds about "Bruckner's first thoughts" as the original versions are claimed to be. There's a body of opinion that suggests Bruckner was right to make certain revisions.

    Bruckner's symphonic music allows a fair latitude of interpretation so listeners inevitably gravitate toward their favourite conductors/orchestras. I have yet to find a conductor able to give excellent recorded performances of all the symphonies so I pick and choose among single issues. Although older recordings, Horenstein seems to be the most consistently satisfying.

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    I love both composers, and there's no use comparing apples and oranges.
    There are definite similarities and close connections between the music of both composers, despite the vast differences.
    The symphonies of both composers are full of the influence of Austrian folk music .
    Mahler's orchestration is on a superficial level more colorful,perhaps.
    Mahler was not strictly speaking a pupil of Bruckner, but he did frequently attend the older composers lectures at the conservatoire in Vienna, and the two spent time together conversing about musical matters.
    I just can't choose between the two. They're not at all mutually exclusive, and I love all their symphonies, as well as the songs of Mahler, and the great choral works of Bruckner.

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    Senior Member HarpsichordConcerto's Avatar
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    I don't know either of their works as well as I do other favourite composers. But well enough. Probably lean towards Mahler. (At least Mahler didn't get turned on by corpses ...)

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    Quote Originally Posted by Sebastien Melmoth View Post
    Although the funereal Adagio of Bruckner's No. 4 is exquisite, overall Mahler's No. 4 is a superior work.

    Bruckner's No. 5 beats Mahler's No. 5 hands down.

    Important critics rate Mahler's No. 6 as his greatest (non-vocal) symphony.

    Bruckner's No. 7 is superior to Mahler's No. 7.

    Bruckner's No. 9 is superior to Mahler's No. 9.
    Having to pick one of each I'd probably go with Mahler through Symphony 3, and Bruckner sweeps after there except for 6.

    That doesn't mean I prefer Bruckner necessarily. I don't like that Bruckner sticks to the same tired format in each and every symphony he wrote, but I also don't like that Mahler recycled themes like no other. Mahler 3, 7, 9, and 10 (if you will) are Frankenstein pieces. Not to say there aren't original parts of them that aren't incredible, but as a whole I think his legacy would be better if he never wrote them. Well maybe not 9. So Mahler was far more innovative than Bruckner, and Bruckner could write a heart-melting adagio like no other, I still have to say

    Mahler

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    Senior Member World Violist's Avatar
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    I like both very much. Bruckner kind of makes more sense to me than does Mahler, though, or at least recently he has. The thing with Bruckner is that, like the music of Arvo Part (whom I also very much like), he lets the music breath and does not let religion get in the way; actually, I'd compare Bruckner to Bach in their "religion-that-transcends-religion" thing. Mahler I like a lot especially once he actually lets the music breath (2nd, 8th, 10th symphonies and Das Lied) but otherwise he can sound a bit cluttered or too "big".

    If forced to choose between the two I'd actually have to choose Bruckner.
    You get a frog in your throat, you sound hoarse.

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