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Thread: Comparing Beethoven to Mahler

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    Default Comparing Beethoven to Mahler

    Hello all,

    I'm currently working towards my IB (International Baccalaureate) diploma, and as a part of which I need to write what is called an Extended Essay. The Extended Essay is a lengthy research essay on a topic of my choice.

    One of the possible topics I've come up with is comparing the Symphonies of Beethoven to the music of Mahler, the biggest trouble at the moment being that I am really rather unfamiliar with both. I've heard most of Beethoven's symphonies, but have only listened to his 5th Symphony in depth. Mahler, on the other hand, I've only heard his 3rd and 5th Symphonies, but I've studied his 3rd Symphony for quite some time and have a brilliant CD which includes Benjamin Zander talking about each movement.

    So I have a few questions that I hope someone with a larger knowledge of the music of these two composers will be able to help me with.

    1. Is this comparison worthy of a 4000 word essay? The idea came to me when I read that Mahler considered his music to have real progression, and that he thought the only other composers who had real progression within their music were Wagner and Beethoven. So I'm not even sure whether there is enough to compare between the two.

    2. If I were to choose 2 symphonies for each composer in addition to Mahlers 3rd and Beethoven's 5th so as to narrow the scope of my essay, which symphonies would you recommend?

    Thanks!

    King.

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    Senior Member linz's Avatar
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    Of course comparing them is worth 4000 words! First of all Mahler believed he would one day be perfomed as often as Beethoven, which turned out prophetic. Mahler 2nd 'The Ressurection' is typically thought of as his most famous symphony and his first great success. His 8th symphony influenced the German writer Thomas Mann and was a smashing success at its premiere in Munich. Anton Bruckner should probably be mention in your essay as linking symphonic development from Beethoven to Mahler. Bruckner and Mahler were both very influenced by the harmonies of Wagner. Mahler was influenced as a child by Marching bands and folk music, (perhaps Jewish folk music). In Mahler's 9th we see an increase in Atonality and extreme 'Chromatism'. Mahler was a supporter of Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg, and Anton Webern, (The Second Vienna School). Alban Berg was highly influenced by Gustav Mahler.

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    Senior Member Hexameron's Avatar
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    1. I share linz's enthusiasm: this kind of comparison is both feasible and worthy. You can find countless sources on comparisons, criticisms, and analysis of Mahler's symphonies and how he progressed the entire symphony as a form better than anyone else in his time.

    2. This is a tough one... For Beethoven I would first *listen* to these and pick one in addition to the fifth: 3rd, 6th, 7th or 9th. Here's my suggestion - With Mahler, you could choose Symphony No. 2 to compare with Beethoven's 9th as they both have choral parts, which could be used as a springboard for comparison.

    Some further comments - A comparison sounds like a fine topic for an essay but it seems like your unfamiliarity with all of Beethoven's and Mahler's symphonies might prove to be a handicap. If you're going to write on such a matter, I think it would help to hear all of these symphonies at least once. And when you say, "comparison," do you mean the fundamental compare/contrast essay, or something more abstract? You can chose from a vast array of theses: How did both Mahler and Beethoven push the symphony further than anyone else in their time? What does the spiritual/emotional content of each symphony have in common; ie. Beethoven's 5th wrestling with fate and triumphant in the end as opposed to one of Mahler's? What patterns do both symphonists use in their symphonies with the bricks and mortar as far as tonality, rhythm, melody, texture, and harmony etc..?

    Well, I can't give you my own personal opinions of each of Mahler's symphonies because I uh *cough* haven't heard them all (too busy with Brahms and Mendelssohn atm) but I can at least declare you have plenty of resource material. Bruno Walter would be the ultimate reference for Mahler (he arranged some of Mahler's symphonies for piano and he has some authority in analyzing those symphonies very deeply). For Beethoven, just search "beethoven symphonies" in the Book category of Amazon and you'll find many "companions," and study material.

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    IAmKing: My advice is not to compare Beethoven with Mahler, but to take a much more general swipe at this in terms of the "Development of the Symphony" from Haydn through to Sibelius or possibly Shostakovich. This is a much more interesting story, and one very much easier to write about given the body of literature that exists.

    There's tons of stuff to crib from on Wikipedia alone. Also, if you click on the link in Kurkikohtaus's posts (here) this will take you to the "Sibelius forum" of which he is the Administrator. There is a discussion of the development of the symphony on there, although I haven't looked at it.

    If you merely compare Beethoven with Mahler you would be making things difficult for yourself. First, you would be missing out on the opportunity to explain how Mozart improved upon the basic Haydn model, and how Beethoven made a very significant step forward with the "Eroica" (No 3). Second, you might give the reader (and yourself) the wrong impression that there was nothing much in between Beethoven and Mahler, or after Mahler.

    Although I very much like some Mahler, I think you would making a big mistake to suggest that he is the next best symphonist after Beethoven. I would very much disagree with such a view, as too would many others. I think there are better (or as good) symphonists both before and after Mahler. Among earlier composers, Schumann, Brahms, Tchaikovsky are better in my view. Some would say Bruckner was better too. As for later composers, in my view Sibelius was better, and some would say Shostakovich (even later) was better still, although I find much of the latter's symphonic output lack lustre, too long, too varied or cacophonous (film music).

    Finally, you ought at least to have heard a few of these symphonies!!!

    Try:

    Haydn S 45
    Mozart S 41
    Beethoven S 1, S 3, S 5
    Schumann S 3
    Bruckner S 4
    Brahms S 3
    Tchaikovsky S 6
    Mahler S 1, 2, 5
    Sibelius S 5
    Shostakovich S 5

    This lot say it all (to all intents and purposes). You'll see the development.


    Topaz
    Last edited by Topaz; Dec-05-2006 at 14:26.

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    Linz and Hexameron: Thanks so much! Great posts. Lots of points that I can look into with regards to research. Also, Hexameron, yes, the topic is very much open to being refined and/or reduced to provide something a little more specific.

    Topaz: Thanks also. However, I was not at all indicating that Beethoven and Mahler were all one needs to consider with regards to the symphony. While the topic you suggested would probably be easier with regards to FINDING sources, and probably be more interesting, it would also be far too broad a topic to justify with merely 4000 words.

    Thanks all of you for your replies. Can't say I was expecting anything that constructive

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    Senior Member Tapkaara's Avatar
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    This is an old discussion, but I could not resist.

    Linking Mahler directly to Beethoven is a hard one for me. Don't get me wrong, I like Mahler, but Mahler did not do as much as Sibelius did to take symphonic form and move forward with it. Sibelius, in my most humble and human opinion, is a much better "link" to the Beethoven legacy.

    This is always such an interesting (and sometimes heated) discussion and Sibelius and Mahler were, in a sense, arch rivals who had very different views on the substance of a symphony. (Insert quote about their famous discussion here.)

    Mahler's symphonies play better on a viceral, emotional level, more than Sibelius. But on a substantive, structural level, Sibelius has him beat. The "organic" growth of Sibbe's material and the concision of his idiom certainly cannot be compared to Mahler's structures, which, perhaps, collapse undert their own sprawling weight.

    Sibelius once remarked that "every note should live" within a work. Does every note really live in Mahler? I'm not sure. I think Mahler could have cut off a lot of excess from his symphonies and they wouldn't lose any power or impact. Perhaps, they would gain some.

    Please everyone, I am down putting Mahler down. I enjoy Mahler immensley. But as a true link to the structure and innovations of Beethoven...I think it's a dubious statement at best.
    "Music is not philosophy." --Akira Ifukube

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    Senior Member purple99's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by IAmKing View Post
    Is this comparison worthy of a 4000 word essay?
    Should that read '40,000'?

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    Finally, you ought at least to have heard a few of these symphonies!!!
    Surely, he should listen to all the Mahler and Beethoven symphonies? And also listen to any relative works (With Mahler that would mean his entire opus), with Beethoven dunno, probably his early sketches of the Ode to Joy etc.

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    I think it is an interesting subject, but I think you should have a great knowledge of the two composers before attempting it.

    To me the essential difference between the composers is that despite what he said, there was no significant progression in the musical language of Mahler, apart from the fact that his later music became more complex. Beethoven, however, developed both a new musical aesthetic (subjective rather than objective) and also a whole new musical language which started in the classical period and went through to the late romantic in his later works.

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    Mahler was the end product of Germanic symphonic music and bridged the music of the
    19th and 20th century. Beethoven or perhaps late Mozart began this evolution and Mahler completed it. Not everyone can appreciate the music of Mahler but pity those who do not. They are missing the end product of symphonic music development. The first time I heard the music of Mahler was when I took a course in music appreciation in college in 1961. I instantly realized that he had written among the greatest music ever composed.

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    Beethoven or perhaps late Mozart began this evolution and Mahler completed it. Not everyone can appreciate the music of Mahler but pity those who do not. They are missing the end product of symphonic music development. The first time I heard the music of Mahler was when I took a course in music appreciation in college in 1961. I instantly realized that he had written among the greatest music ever composed.
    I believe late Mozart began the "tradition". His music started getting very emotional and grand.

    It could be argued that although (obviously) influenced strongly by Russian music, Shostakovich took the German tradition even further. It is well known how his symphonies are influenced by Mahler.

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    Senior Member David C Coleman's Avatar
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    I love both composers, I probably can't add anything that hasn't already been said here except they were both revolutionary in their own way. Mahler influenced twentieth century thinking in music as Beethoven did to nineteenth. They were seperated, roughly by a complete century. Mahler, I would say brought the Romantic Symphonic form to a pinnacle, being influenced greatly by Beethoven's Ninth....

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    Junior Member Zombo's Avatar
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    ah I remember the EE, I did my own 5 years ago I think on spywares.

    You don't have to worry too much about the length. Usually people think it's a lot, then they start writing and they realize they have too much most of the time.

    How much effort you put on it will depend largely on your supervisor I think. Mine mostly had a laissez-faire attitude so I wrote what I want very quickly.

    Also you can pick your own topic, so maybe you should pick something you're more knowledgable about? Unless you're willing to put the effort to know these two composers.

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    Senior Member World Violist's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Yagan Kiely View Post
    It could be argued that although (obviously) influenced strongly by Russian music, Shostakovich took the German tradition even further. It is well known how his symphonies are influenced by Mahler.
    I was very tempted to mention Shostakovich actually. His symphonies, I think, are the continuation, as you suggest, of the expressionistic symphonists (from late Mozart/Beethoven through to Schumann and then Mahler), and he takes it in an entirely different direction as well. As Vladimir Ashkenazy once said in an interview, the Shostakovich symphonies are not at all self-pitying, like some of Mahler; rather, they are hardened, more determined. And yet still, like Beethoven, Shostakovich wrote much of his most expressive work in the string quartets.
    You get a frog in your throat, you sound hoarse.

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    I honestly think it would be more productive to compare Schubert and Mahler. Mahler edited and arranged many of his pieces and drew a lot of inspiration from his music versus he feared comparison to Bethoveen, especially with his 2nd symphony.

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