My car is an old VW Golf, it still has a CD player! Not a fancy multi-disk unit, just a single CD at-a-time thing. So I put in a CD and it stays there for months, it is all I listen to. This has been going on for years: Bach’s Goldberg Variations (of course the original Gould recording), Van Morrison’s Born to Sing, no Plan B, the Tous le Matins du Monde soundtrack (which I found in a literal mountain of CDs being sold by some very trashy looking folks in Vermont, which leads me to believe that a, it was stolen or found, or b, I am a bad person who stereotypes people by their looks), Mozart’s Requiem… you get the idea. Well for months I have only listened to Mahler’s symphony No. 5.
Joseph Roth was a turn of the 20th Century German writer. I have read Job, The Story of a Simple Man twice, in 2003 and 2018, The Collected Stories in 2006, and I just finished The Radetzky March.
As I read the book and listened to Mahler, I realized how extraordinarily similar they are in their art. Both artists manage to convey the full spectrum of feelings in a single work, in my example: The Radetzky March and the Symphony No. 5 which is not even considered Mahler’s best work. Of course, his best symphony is a highly debated topic (I would go with No. 2).
This capacity to transmit feelings got me thinking about their similarities, there are a few:
Both lived around the same time Roth 1894 – 1939 and Mahler 1860 – 1911.
Both were Jewish (although Mahler became a Catholic so he could continue working…)
Both lived in Vienna at the turn of the century –although not at the same time- and attended the same university, although neither was originally even Austrian (Mahler was Bohemian, modern day Czech Republic and Roth from Galicia, modern day Poland and Ukraine) but both were in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This is critical since both artists reflect the fall of the empire in their work.
Of course, at the end of the day each artist’s capacity to make the receptor of the art feel something is based on his or her craft and abilities. But let’s just say that reading and listening (not at the same time) I was transported from happiness to sadness, from victory to defeat, from walking in a field in Spring to avoiding enemy fire. Thank you Mahler and Roth.
Here is the Third movement from Mahler 5. It is directed by my dear friend and old colleague Benjamin Zander, a Mahler scholar!!