Beyond the Mahler Solo

Discussion in 'Orchestral Technique [DB]' started by Sevitzky, Aug 4, 2009.

  1. Sevitzky

    Sevitzky Supporting Member

    It's interesting. 3 pages of replies on the recent Mahler solo thread, and yet, I did a search and couldn't find a single instance of the word "folk" or "antecedent/consequent". Those would be two very helpful approaches to learning the solo....

    My point is, and this is directed to the original poster and all younger students, that you'll encounter many opinions reflecting the mentally inbred attitude that the "bass world" carries towards this solo: the anxiety of exposure, judgment, and self-doubt that come from trying to create music
    ----- VS -----

    Most talk about the mahler solo is born of an audition-based world view, and will not serve anyone beyond the myopic microworld of bass auditions. I understand that winning auditions is important, but to the student: do you want to be a well-trained bass-monkey or a musician?

    I would rather hear Daniel Barenboim 'sight-read' this at the piano than hear Hal Robinson's rendition.

    Shed all this bullsh1t and take the opportunity to learn about Mahler:

    His folk-music influences. The fact that this solo is a clear quotation of a children's tune. As such, study his vocal writing - listen to some songs. Even better, his songs w/ orchestral accompaniment (there you have it!). Do you know the words yet? If you're playing a song originally with words - best to learn the words, so you hear the enunciation, the cadences, the breaths, no?

    If you seek out performative advice, I'd say go to singers, pianists, and conductors, in that order. Why would you ask a segment of the musical population that knows 1 mahler solo phrase, when you can ask a segment that knows many many many mahler phrases?
    Singers: breath, cadence, enunciation, tone
    Pianists: see how they deal with antecedent consequent phrases (ask them to play simple Mozart phrases. then listen.)
    Conductors: to contextualize the solo. It's not about the bass, it's about the symphony.

    MOST IMPORTANTLY - Do not be afraid to study the solo and develop your own *informed* way of playing it. It's not a license to be a crazyman, but you will stand head and shoulders above most instrumentalists, as an budding ARTIST.

    From Grove Music:
    While the term ‘Gesang’ was already signifying a more artful and expressively naturalistic lyric form, requiring a through-composed and less regularly periodic folksong style to that of the lied (e.g. Erinnerung in volume i of the Lieder und Gesänge), the dominant manner of Mahler's songs is defined by a rhetoric of arch naivety, masking considerable complexity of musical detail and symbolic meaning.

    Dance forms, serenades, children's songs, military signals and marches contribute to a complex vocabulary of signification in these songs, where stylistic and generic allusion is usually employed in preference to the establishment of a clearly defined and expressively engaged authorial voice

    [regarding the 3rd mvt of the 1st symphony]
    the most experimental of the symphony's four movements: an ironic funeral march based on the children's round Bruder Martin (‘Frère Jacques’), whose trio-like interpolations include one of Mahler's most explicit evocations of the Bohemian street musicians encountered in his childhood; the pungent, chromatically inflected orchestral timbre is appropriately enriched (at a point marked ‘Mit Parodie’) with a percussion part for a bass drum with Turkish cymbals attached, to be played by a single musician. Only in the symphony's finale does Mahler mobilize all the resources of the post-Wagnerian orchestra in a large-scale dramatic narrative.


    Don't mull over the minutae too much. Learn the big picture and then fit it in. Or you will end up like a woman who stares at herself in the mirror, trying to pedantically decide if she needs more lipstick here, a little more eye shadow here, oops, (need vibrato on every note!), (Avoid the D String!), and she leaves the house 5 hours later looking like an fvcking space creature.

    When you're a junior in college, you will have plenty of time to learn this in a non-offensive audition style. Until then, put the bananas down and play music.
  2. futurebass77


    Aug 2, 2007
    thank you
  3. ILIA


    Jan 27, 2006
    Well-said and I'm sure it goes without saying but it's worth repeating for all the kids looking for a quick internet fix......all the researched musicality and metaphysical artistry won't mean a d**n thing if you play it out-of-tune.
  4. Sevitzky

    Sevitzky Supporting Member

    And vise versa. So, yes, do both.
  5. robobass


    Aug 1, 2005
    Cologne, Germany
    Private Inventor - Bass Capos
    I've been a little afraid to get involved in this one, but here goes: Has it ever been done well? On most classic recordings of the symphony, you have to turn the volume up to ten to hear anything, and what you do get through the background noise is basically embarrassment. I've never heard a recording or live performance of the work where I was really satisfied with the bass solo, and I wouldn't blame a conductor for tossing his baton in the air in rehearsal and saying: "listen, let's just have the principal cellist play it." I have more to say, but I think I need to spread it out.
  6. I've always found this incredibly annoying. I've known a lot of bassists that take great pride in just how quiet they can play... which is a great skill to have to be sure. But if you're playing a solo you must play out! The person in the back row should still be able to hear you.
  7. chicagodoubler


    Aug 7, 2007
    Chicago, that toddling town
    Endorsing Artist: Lakland, Genz Benz
    Hmmmm reminds me of:

    Watch at your own risk, and please be aware that this is associated with Mark's performance art group.
  8. THE SAW


    Sep 14, 2006
    What I hate is the "dead sounding" approach to this solo that conductors ask for.

    you know-no vibrato just Eh, eh, eh-eh-eh-(repeat.

    I don't care if its a funeral march, I want to hear it loud and espressivo.

    F-um (conductors)
  9. I'm trying to learn this solo right now -- this is all quite interesting.
  10. LouisF

    LouisF Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2003
    Los Angeles, CA
  11. I might be an ignorant student, but.. It's "fere jaques" (or Broder Martin in german I think) sung in minor. Just play it like you would play the song, and a very slight emphasis on the minor third because people will expect a major third. The rest is for the conductor to tell you.
  12. PaulCannon


    Jan 24, 2002
    Frankfurt, Germany
    NS Design / AER Endorsing Artist
    Sometimes it's done as a section soli. Mahler's first edition had it marked as such, though he quickly found his bass sections unable to play it in tune. With a good section today, it makes sense as a soli and you won't have any issues with projection. It also makes possible the printed bowing with each bar in a single bow.
  13. mcnaire2004


    Jan 17, 2006
    This is stuff we should all think and talk about when it comes to the music we play. It is also good to not over think things in a performance... Sometimes that comes through in the music.
  14. mjt0229

    mjt0229 Supporting Member

    Aug 8, 2007
    Bellingham, WA
    A few months ago, I used Spotify to take a tour of Mahler 1 solos, and in the end, I didn't care for any that I found there. The best was Ed Barker's with Boston, but I think it could ideally be done with less (or no) vibrato. Many were very difficult to hear at all, and the ones that were soli were tragic.
  15. LouisF

    LouisF Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2003
    Los Angeles, CA
    This may be of interest: