Conducting Mahler / I Have Lost Touch with the World

Some videos offer some footage related to
rehearsals, as with the bonus disc that is part of the recent release of
Bernstein’s performances of the entire cycle of Mahler’s
symphonies. On rare occasions, it is possible to find some films that offer
more than filmed concerts, such as Jason Starr’s DVD about Third
Symphony, which includes some background on that work. In contrast, the
present DVD contains two films about the reception of Mahler’s music by
the internationally recognized director Frank Scheffer, Conducting
and I Have Lost Touch with the World.

The first of the two films, Conducting Mahler, documents the work
of several world-renowned conductors at a festival of the composer’s
music that was held in Amsterdam in 1995. In Conducting Mahler
Scheffer focuses on the performers who participated, specifically Claudio
Abbado, Bernard Haitink, Riccardo Chailly, Sir Simon Rattle, and Riccardo
Muti, along with the Concertgebouw Orchestra, The Berlin Philharmonic
Orchestra, and the Vienna Philharmonic. Scheffer wisely used his opportunity
to document the music in this vivid way and in this release a decade after
the event, the intensity of these musicians emerges convincingly in film.

In an effective combination of materials from rehearsals, performances,
and conversations, Scheffer draws from his subjects a sense of the personal
involvement that draws these conductors to Mahler’s music. Beyond any
factual revelations that might occur in a project like this, Scheffer
captures various aspects of the conductors’ emotional relationship to
their task of conveying Mahler’s score. At times the interview segments
may seem stilted, since the film includes what appear to be responses to
questions from an absent interviewer. (The liner notes mention the British
Mahler specialist Donald Mitchell interviewed Muti, and it can be inferred
that he also spoke with the others.)

While it is not difficult to reason out the questions, the lack of a
persona on screen to interact with the conductors puts a different slant on
the scenes. Since the settings for the interviews are often well-appointed
spaces in various halls, the sometimes personal nature of various responses
seems out of place in such open places. This kind of approach certainly
points to the inferred intimacy that can exist when the camera captures the
interview interacting with the subject, and the rapport that underlies such a
scene. Nevertheless, the conversations with the conductors form, essentially,
one layer of Conducting Mahler, and function as the springboard for
approaching the scenes from various rehearsals in which conductors give shape
the music.

No doubt, the performers were aware that the documentary was being made,
so that the rehearsals may seem, at times, a bit artificial. Head shots of
conductors are more common than views that capture various sections of the
orchestra, and that accentuates the message of the title Conducting
. While the spoken part of the film is primarily in English, it is
important to note the various places where the various conductors use German
and other languages to convey their instructions. Beyond the various
rehearsal segments, some passages are illustrated by behind-the-scene shots
of musicians carrying instruments and the various preparations for the
festival. This “social heart” of the film, as Scheffer apparently
intended to show, helps to enhance the perspectives he brings to this video,
which ultimately captures a sense of the 1995 Festival.

The excerpts from the music are essentially presented in chronological
order, with the earlier works occurring first, and later ones toward the end
of the film. While the various clips are, by necessity, out of context, they
are useful in reinforcing the point of Scheffer’s film, Mahler’s
music. Excerpts like these are sometimes difficult to assess, yet they do
contains some memorable moments. The attention that Chailly devoted to chorus
in Mahler’s Eighth Symphony is certainly worth noting. Likewise,
Haitink’s approach to the Adagio Mahler composed for his Tenth Symphony
is moving and the esteem the Orchestra accorded him in rehearsal is preserved
this film. Ultimately, it is the music that dominates the film, with its
selection of a number of memorable passages and informed commentary.
Conducting Mahler may persuade those interested in the works to
listen further to the recordings and, perhaps, use the scores, to explore the
works that have created the personal commitments of the fine conductors and
other musicians documented in this film.

The second of Scheffer’s films on this DVD, Gustav Mahler
— I Have Lost Touch with the World
is an exploration of the
composer’s late works, specifically the Ninth Symphony and Das Lied
von der Erde
. Those familiar with Mahler’s music may find in its
title a paraphrase of one of the composer’s settings of R¸ckert’s
poems, Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen. In either case, the phrase
suggests a sort of departure, an idea that inevitably emerges in various
considerations of Mahler’s late works, and which the biographer
Henry-Louis de La Grange challenges convincingly in the commentary he offers
in this film.

Of Mahler’s major works, two were completed in full score yet were
not performed until after their composer’s death in 1911, Das Lied
von der Erde
and the Ninth Symphony. Unveiled posthumously, the two
compositions have always had a sort of mystique, like a message left unsent
for years and only later discovered. As La Grange points out, it has become
difficult to dissociate Mahler’s life from his music, and his death
influences the interpretations of both of those two works, thus creating the
myth of the dying composer when, in fact, Mahler was not obsessed with his
own passing. This film provides an opportunity to contemplate the music from
a different perspective, which not only benefits from La Grange’s
informed comments, but also the rehearsals of Riccardo Chailly and the

The explanation of Mahler’s emotional stated after the death of his
elder daughter is an important point in establishing the context for the work
he pursued afterward. In paying particular attention to the last movement of
Das Lied von der Erde, the extended orchestral song “Der
Abschied,” La Grange expresses its relationship to Mahler’s life.
Yet the artistic accomplishment that a composer of Mahler’s stature can
bring to any kind of personal catharsis is to create a work that stands apart
from his own circumstances and serve to arouse other associations in
performances. In this regard, the personal involvement of the composer does
not create a kind of program music that forces the music into a biographical
mode, but a creative work that can be understood on its own terms. Das
Lied von der Erde
is memorable for evoking such universal associations
that its meanings do not hinge off any single fact for audiences to
appreciate the music.

Beyond the orientalism that is brought into discussions of the aesthetics
of the text of “Der Abschied” and the other songs in the cycle,
its text is the product of a German poet whose work attracted the attention
of Mahler. And Mahler, in turn, revised the text to suit his needs. Those who
take the time to compare the source with Mahler’s poetry may find that
the composer shaped some of the more memorable passages of the text, which he
then used in setting the music. This is, in a sense, one of the more
heightened examples of romanticism because of Mahler’s thorough
absorption with the material he used as his point of inspiration, and it is,
perhaps this very involvement that allowed him to create a piece that stands
apart from any commentaries and succeeds in various interpretations through
its continuing relevance to audiences.

As part of Ideale-Internationale’s series of Juxtapositions, this
DVD makes available two related films that reflect the reception of
Mahler’s music by such a noted filmmaker as Frank Scheffer. In dealing
with the performances surrounding a festival of the composer’s work
that took place in 1995, Conducting Mahler preserves some aspects of
the intensity of the performances and the personal stake each conductor has
in interpreting the music. The other film, I Have Lost Touch with the
is connected to Chailly’s own departure from the
Concertgebouw, and it was an opportunity to focus on the intriguing final
works. Beyond the inevitable associations that are made between the music and
Mahler’s life, the latter film offers some glimpses into the level of
performance that Chailly brought to the Concertgebouw Orchestra. Split
between the interview with La Grange and the rehearsals, the film offers
various perspectives that may persuade viewers into spending time with either
aspect of the video. In both cases, the personal dimension that Scheffer
brings to his subject emerges clearer in the films, and it should help those
interested in Mahler’s music to become immersed more deeply into it.

James L. Zychowicz
Madison, Wisconsin

image_description=Conducting Mahler / I Have Lost Touch with the World
product_title=Conducting Mahler / I Have Lost Touch with the World
product_by=Conducting Mahler: Directed by Frank Scheffer with Bernard Haitink, Riccardo Chailly, Riccardo Muti, Claudio Abbado and Simon Rattle.

I Have Lost Touch with the World : Directed by Frank Scheffer with Riccardo Chailly and Henry-Louis de la Grange.
product_id=Juxtapositions DVD9DS11 [DVD]