Sunday, June 12, 2011

Mahler on Pentecost.

Here's something for the Feast of Pentecost, celebrated today. The Roman Catholic convert Gustav Mahler is not known for his liturgical compositions - in fact, he never wrote any music intended for the liturgy - but he did produce a very fine musical setting of the Pentecost hymn Veni Creator Spiritus. Mahler's Veni Creator Spiritus forms the first part of his colossal Symphony No. 8, dubbed the "Symphony of a Thousand" on account of the alleged size of the choral and orchestral forces massed for the work's 1910 premiere. If Mahler had ever actually written a Mass, perhaps it would sound something like his setting of the Veni Creator Spiritus.

In the recording featured above, Leonard Bernstein leads the Wiener Philharmoniker together with the combined choral forces of the Konzertvereinigung Wiener Staatsopernchor, the Wiener Singverein, and the Wiener Sängerknaben, joined by soloists Edda Moser, Judith Blegen, Gerti Zeumer, Ingrid Mayr, Agnes Baltsa, Kenneth Riegel, Hermann Prey, and José van Dam. The combination of multiple choirs, assorted soloists and a thunderous organ all contribute to an exceptionally powerful listening experience; I once heard the work live (performed by the Staatskapelle Berlin, led by Pierre Boulez and joined by most of the same soloists captured on this CD) and I can testify that Mahler's 8th makes an even stronger impression in person.

For more on the Veni Creator Spiritus, check Wikipedia for the Latin text, a loose English translation and some historical notes and take a look at this page on the website of the REC Music Foundation for Mahler's version of the Latin (slightly different from the original) and a rather better English translation. I'd like to write more about all of this, but I need to get ready to fly from Cincinnati to New Orleans this afternoon for the next stop on my busy summer itinerary. Until next time, please know of my prayers for a blessed Pentecost. AMDG.


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