corbynwool.jogAfter a worryingly slow start, the ‘reader stats’ for my latest posting about the ‘mainstream’ media have picked up — and bits of feedback (always welcome!) have started to arrive. Intriguingly, among the messages is a request not often encountered in such communications — or anywhere else, for that matter — as it’s basically a request for more and less at the same time…

‘Since there will be lots of people who’d like to see the Jeremy Corbyn part [of that posting] without having to go through all the other stuff [sic], couldn’t you make a piece that only has that in it?’, asks my correspondent.

Well, yes, that’s easy enough to do; and since there will no doubt be many thousands of Labour members and voters who’d be interested in reading the Corbyn part without all the other ‘stuff’ [sic] — and since I suddenly and unexpectedly have an hour free! — here we go

The story began late on August 20th, when one of my spies (they are legion — and they are everywhere!) informed me that Jeremy Corbyn — still leader of the Labour Party in spite of everything the BBC has done to try and unseat him — had been observed in the audience at that evening’s ‘Prom’ concert at the Royal Albert Hall.

After going online and looking on the Proms website (I didn’t know about the concert prior to that — because I no longer pay attention to what the BBC puts out), I found that the programme contained three works…

corbynprogramme left me wondering: what was it that Jez had gone to hear? Was he there as a totally up-to-date contemporary music buff, wanting to hear the Grisey premiere ‘live’…? Or was he more interested in the five Mahler songs from 1901-2…? Or was it perhaps the much older Mozart Mass — with its orchestra, chorus, and vocal soloists — that he had mainly gone to see…? Perhaps he is actually the kind of classical music omnivore who would be deeply interested in all three…? Or maybe he is the kind of enthusiastic adventurer who’ll go to any classical concert at all, whatever is being done, whenever he happens to have a spare evening…? Or, then again, maybe he is entirely uninterested in classical music, and was only there at the behest of his PR ‘handlers’, so that some kind of political advantage could be gained via a ‘photo opportunity’ or a ‘personal appearance’…?

I had no way of answering any of those questions — so I simply kept wondering…

Then, on August 27th —  just a week later! — came an email from a friendly acquaintance, telling me that Corbyn was being quoted (or mis-quoted) in the pages of The Times on the subject of off-putting cultural ‘elitism’ (I didn’t know about the article prior to that — because I no longer pay attention to what the Murdoch machine puts out).

Anyhow, I went and had a read (the Times website is ‘paywalled’ — but there is a way…) — and what I found was a report of a speech Corbyn had given in Edinburgh the day before. Inevitably, the Times writer had twisted the story to create yet another distracting outpouring of billionaire-press hate-speech (Headline: ‘I’m not wealthy says Corbyn, despite £138,000 salary‘…); but there were just enough plausible-seeming quotations in the text to convey a flavour of what Corbyn must have said (added emphasis is mine)…

The Labour leader told an audience in Edinburgh he wanted to fight against the elitism which, he claimed, made it appear as if only the wealthy could enjoy so-called ‘highbrow’ culture.

He said that he had a deep affection for the work of Mahler and liked other “pretty heavy classical music” — and believed this should be available to all.

“I hate the elitism [that says] only the wealthy can go to ballet, only the wealthy can go to opera, only the wealthy can go to Glyndebourne, only the wealthy can enjoy what’s termed highbrow music,” he said.

“I don’t consider myself highbrow or wealthy, but I still enjoy some aspects of classical music. I want everybody to have that attitude and that same experience.”

Gustav Mahler (1860-1911)

Well, that seems to answer my questions and solve the mystery: if Corbyn is a Mahler fan who’s happy to be known as a Mahler fan, then at that ‘Prom’ he was presumably most interested in hearing the so-called RückertLieder (I say ‘so-called’ because it wasn’t Mahler who called them that…).

In case anyone has never heard this little group of five songs (originally part of a seven-song set), let me present a YouTube video of one of them — the one that is called ‘I am Lost to the World’ (‘Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen’). It only really needs two small words of introduction from me. First, I think I ought to warn people that it is almost too beautiful to bear; secondly, people might like to know that the lyrics (from the German poet Friedrich Rückert [1788–1866]) translate more or less as follows…

I am lost to the world
with which I used to waste so much time,
It has heard nothing from me for so long
that it may very well believe that I am dead!

It is of no consequence to me
Whether it thinks me dead;
I cannot deny it,
for I really am dead to the world.

I am dead to the world’s tumult,
And I rest in a quiet realm!
I live alone in my heaven,
In my love and in my song!

If that leaves any reader wondering about the other four Mahler songs Corbyn and the rest of the audience heard at that concert, they’ll find that it’s easy to locate performances of them on YouTube; what I want to do here is mention that anyone who found that one song particularly appealing will find a remarkably similar mood in the following piece — taken from the same composer’s Fifth Symphony, written at about the same time. It’s probably not going too far to say that this — the ‘Adagietto’,  as everyone calls it — is Mahler’s best-known piece of music, since it was used (and I employ the word advisedly…) in a famous 1971 Italian-French drama film — and any reader who knows what film it was scores an instant ten points

Hang on, though… On second thoughts, I probably shouldn’t have called that ‘Mahler’s best-known piece of music’ — because there is another bit from one of his symphonies that has been heard over and over again in the living-rooms of hundreds of millions of people around he world. Yes: this music is also by Mahler…

Hang on again, though… At this point I’m worrying that by including three bits of Mahler that are all relatively restrained and contemplative, I might be creating the impression that Mahler’s music is all like that…

So let me emphasise that it isn’t. The following, for example, could hardly be more different — even though it is from the same symphony as that ‘Adagietto’. And, yes, it’s a funeral march: I imagine that when Corbyn said that some of the music he liked was ‘pretty heavy’, he had in mind music like this…

(The clip is 4 minutes long: I’ve included a bit of the exciting ‘pre-concert atmosphere’ just in case anyone who’s watching hasn’t yet been to a live classical performance and felt the ‘buzz’ before everything begins…)

Are you ready for some heavy…? Okay then…

Well, I’m not going to drown you in Mahler clips; but since you’ve now heard two chunks of the same Mahler symphony — one mostly soft and gentle, the other very definitely not, I want to let everyone hear one more idea from the work — in two contrasting appearances.

Yes, I said ‘two contrasting appearances’. You see, one of the things that makes Mahler fans so passionate about his symphonies is the sheer emotional range of the enormous journeys he takes you on — and it’s not at all unknown for an idea from one part of a work to return in another part … at which point it may take everything — and you along with it! — in a different direction entirely

Here’s a tiny chunk that comes from between the two bits you’ve now heard: it’s from after the funeral march, but before the ‘Adagietto’……

And, just to rub it in a little — so that everyone is easily able to remember not just that majestic, hymn-like idea itself, but also what happened to it as it finished — here is another performance of the same music, starting about a minute earlier, and finishing a few seconds later…

And now, here is what happens when our idea returns, on the far side of that ‘Adagietto’, and around 45 minutes later — yes, Mahler is playing a long game here… And as I indicated, when Mahler brings back a musical idea from earlier, it’s often because … oh, never mind: you’ll hear it all for yourself…

Well, that’s my ‘Jeremy Corbyn is a Mahler Fan!‘ report, fleshed out here and there with a few extra clips for people who haven’t encountered much in the way of Mahler before. Or indeed much in the way of Labour leaders with actual Labour values before: yes, sometimes it’s hard to decide which of these two unpredictable miracles is the more astounding…

corbynDo, please, share this posting, folks (shortlink here: ): there are probably lots and lots of people out there who’d be interested. On top of which, everything Corbyn said in that Edinburgh speech about ‘highbrow’ culture and the way people are made to feel that ‘it isn’t for them’ is dead right. Don’t let them keep the good stuff from you!


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7 thoughts on “jer-e-mī′ad…

  1. Five points for answering the film music question correctly? Is this out of 100? Surely, one of the best-known (if far from universally admired) uses of pre-existing “classical” music in films of the sound era. Perhaps the next posting could include a 10-pointer… Or a list of the top five best-known uses (so you do the work, rather than the readers)? (Mind you, I still haven’t worked my way through the 28 August posting yet, so let’s not have too many questions!)


  2. Great post. I like Mahler too – one of my favourite classical composers. My sister lives in a city called Pesc, 300 miles from Budapest and it’s quite normal for people of all backgrounds to experience classical concerts on a regular basis.


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