Conversation ｗith Dr. Chosei Komatsu about Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No.2, “Ressurection”
Q 1：Maestro Komatsu, what is this symphony about?
A trembling soul, after his death, lies in greatest pain and need. The soul goes through hellish darkness and fear of the Apocalypse. The soul then hears the healing voices of angels. With wings, the soul will fly into the eternal light to live again.
Q 2 : This symphony is very long. How long is it, and how many movements does it have?
It is about 85 minutes long and consists of five movements. The first movement (25 min.) and the fifth (35 min.) are very long. In contrast, the fourth movement with mezzo-soprano lasts only five minutes.
Q 3 : Would you describe each movement?
The soul who has just left this world asks, with fear and anger, “What was this life? Is there a hereafter for us? Why did I have to suffer? Was there meaning for my life? Was my life totally wasted?” (celli and bass). The march serves juxtaposed functions as a funeral march by mourners on earth and as a procession of the soul toward Judgment Day in the afterworld. The soul witnesses both a sublime beauty as well as the Apocalypse viewed along the way.
In this slow waltz of southern Germany, the soul recollects his innocent and ambitious youth. He remembers that, even in those days, the fear of death and punishment periodically worried him.
St. Anthony’s sermon to the fishes serves as a metaphor for poor human beings. The pike (representing thievery), the eels (lewdness), the cod (stupidity), and others keep swimming in a dizzying dance. St. Anthony vividly describes scenes of both Hell and Heaven. The fishes are awed by the view and applaud. However, very soon they completely forget his sermon and continue their silly dance forever. The scenes of Hell and Heaven will return on a fuller scale at the opening of the fifth movement.
The opening phrase, sung at a pianissimo level, “O Roschen rot! (Oh, little rose!)” indicates that, by noticing a little red rose left by mourners, the soul realizes he has died and left the word. He hears his funeral chorale: “Man lies in the great need; man lies in great pain.” As the departed soul walks in darkness, he encounters an angel. The angel tries to turn him away from Heaven, but the soul responds, “Oh, no. I will not be sent away. I am from God and will return to God. The dear God will give me light, and will light my way to eternal blissful life.”
The vivid, almost Hollywood-movie-like description of Hell and Heaven opens this gigantic finale, followed by what the soul sees during Judgment Day. In the middle section, one can visualize the earth shaking and graves opening up. The pitiful cries of terrified souls can be heard. However, based upon the “Dies Irae” theme, the march symbolizes the brave fight of the departed soul, who is determined to return to eternal light.
Still hearing the Apocalypse in the distance, the wounded soul is called by voices of angels. The mezzo-soprano solo reassures the trembling soul, telling him, “Oh believe, my dear, nothing will be lost.” The chorus follows, encouraging the soul to, “Stop trembling! Prepare yourself to live!” Now, many freed souls appear from all around, flying joyfully. They declare, “I will die so as to live,” and they all merge into blissful eternal light.
Q 4 : Mahler used a back-stage banda (brass and percussion) in the 5th movement. What is its role?
The horn calls are to announce Judgment Day. Right before the chorus enters, Mahler uses four trumpets back-stage. Meanwhile, the piccolo and flute on-stage symbolize the presence of angels. This juxtaposition of these instruments portrays Matthew 24:31, which states that, “At the Apocalypse, the angel of the Lord will gather his chosen from the four winds, one end of heaven to the other.”
Q 5 : What is the purpose of the chorus in the last movement?
These are the voices of angels, who console the trembling, departed souls and guide them to eternal light.
Q 6 : Maestro, the mezzo-soprano solo appears both in the 4th and 5th movements. Would you tell us about her role?
In the fourth movement, this is the voice of the suffering soul. In the fifth movement, both the mezzo-soprano and soprano are voices of the angels.
Q 7 : From the beginning to the end, listeners can’t help but notice the use of tremolos by the strings.
There are two distinctive roles here for the use for tremolos. One, as in the opening of the first movement, is to indicate trembling and shaking of the poor, departed soul – with both anger and tremendous fear. In contrast, the tremolos that appear toward the end of the finale are used to depict shimmering eternal light.
Q 8 : Maestro Komatsu, what does it mean to you to conduct this composition?
This symphony compels the performers to face themselves and the fundamental issues of the human race. Also, it forces us to go all the way, to the very limit, both emotionally and physically. Therefore, we cannot hide or escape to an easy way. Our performance itself should be a courageous challenge and fight, similar to the one the departed soul takes in the composition. I strongly believe that a dedicated and powerful performance of this piece can heal many souls in the universe, both souls in the afterworld and those remaining on earth who continue to struggle and grieve the loss of their departed loved ones. It reminds us all of the words in John 3:15, “That whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life”, and John 3:17, “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.”