from Bryan Magee’sÂ Confessions of a Philosopher, p. 269:
What to my mind sets Wagner and Shakespeare apart from other artists is the fact that they deal with everything. Â Their works confront the totality of human experience, and present our emotional life as it is, in its wholeness. Â So much of even the greatest art is aspirational, concerned with, and aiming at, ideals. Â Bach said he was composing his music to the greater glory of God; Beethoven said he was trying to express the highest of human aspirations; and one could multiply these sentiments many times over by quoting from the mouths of some of the greatest of artists. Â Art that springs from such motives can be wonderful, but cannot articulate the realities of human feeling across more than part of its range. Â Wagner’s work, by contrast, is not aspirational but cognitive, truth-telling; and he tells it like it is, down to emotions we disown. Â Shakespeare does the same, across an even bigger canvas. Â If Wagner is enabled to go deeper it is only because his chief expressive medium is music rather than words.
Now me: I think Mahler was aspiring to do what Wagner did naturally (if not heedlessly,) but it comes off as self-conscious and pretentiousÂ in his music instead of id-driven and inexorable as in Wagner’s.
In other news, if you ever get a chance to hear Tchaikovsky’s conservatory dissertation setting of “Ode to Joy”, run for the hills. Â Aside from a precious few lovely moments, it’s just one primitive melody after another, set in a wandering morass of the blandest counterpoint. Â However, I find it deeply gratifying to know that the composer of Pique Dame and the “PathÃ©tique” SymphonyÂ did not springÂ fully formed from the head of Zeus. Â Not every great composer had to start off that way, and that gives hope for the rest of us.
I mention this piece because we’re performing it on a concert with Beethoven’s 9th. Â Beethoven’s music, of course, completely overwhelms the text, tossing itÂ around likeÂ a raft uponÂ a stormy sea.
Luckily forÂ Schiller, one musician set “An die Freude” perfectly, lendingÂ just the right wind to its sails: Franz Schubert.