In yesterday’s song, Lou Reed declaims Sittin' down by the fire / Ooo, the radio does play / A little classical music there… Hey, good idea! The fourth movement of Symphony No. 9 by Gustav Mahler is labeled IV. Adagio. Sehr langsam und noch zurückhaltend. The German means something like “Very slowly, with reserve” and it’s slow all right but it’s not reserved at all, it’s full of wrenching howls of emotion.
The symphony is massive, typically eighty-plus minutes or more to play, and frankly I’ve no particular love for the first three movements. They’re tuneful in places but bombastic in others, with no movement, no feeling that they know where they’re going and want to take me along. Actually, I have a problem like this with lots of late-Romantic and early-modern stuff.
But that last movement (warning, 20+ minutes), wow. It’s gracefully and massively sad, painting a dark picture on a soft dark background, the huge orchestra splashing strokes of sorrow so huge they fill any hall this is played in; or any room you’re in, particularly if you turn the volume way, way up.
Audiophile note: The sound of a full orchestra is way harder to reproduce than any electric music, but if your speakers can manage it, you really ought to take this one as loud as your amp will go without structural damage.
Highly personal note: I remember like yesterday playing this for a woman I loved, but it was becoming clear that night it wasn’t going to work out for us; she bent over weeping and fell from her seat to her knees on the floor, head to the carpet. There is sadness and there is sadness.
I have a live Karajan/BPO version that I’m very fond of, but it’s the only one I’ve listened to seriously so I can’t say it’s the best.
Links · Spotify playlist. This tune on Amazon (album link, they break the 4th movement into 8 tracks), iTunes (likewise) Spotify (likewise). Now as for live video, I kind of hate to link to the Vienna orchestra because last time I checked they were still a boys’ club, but this performance (link is to 4th movement) led by Leonard Bernstein is something very, very special.