As I mentioned, images of Mahler are strongly evocative of the stately composure of fin de siècle Vienna. There is an aspect of the grandiose European nineteenth century architecture in the music of the time, and Mahler’s music is to the Musikeverein in Vienna and the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam what Bruckner’s music is to the spiritual spaces of the cathedrals of Mittleuropa. Both composers’ music explore acoustical space, in the same way Boulez says of Debussy’s music.
Back to the images of Mahler. In each portrait of the composer, a particular profile is exposed and open to the viewer; the combination of all these portraits provides an insight into Mahler’s physicality. The portrait above is particularly striking in that the body is positioned to the left of the frame whilst the suggestive glance, betokening a subversive quality and level of knowing, is directed right. Such spatial coordinates convey utter composure and control, against which the often simulated frenzy and wild expression in the music is the ultimate foil. The material of Mahler’s music is rigorously controlled at all times, of course; another point made by Boulez of his own music is that all chaos in the end is organised. When I hear the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra perform Mahler’s music, I am reminded of the photographs of Mahler, much in the same way that Otto Welik’s line drawing of Mahler refers (as far as I am concerned) to Mahler’s modernism. The vast and ultra-sensitive acoustic of Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw houses and reverberates Mahler’s music in a way like no other concert hall in the world. Such is the evocativeness of the portraits of Mahler like the one above, I can imagine the horns heard from far back in the auditorium (most probably the Musikverein) of the building in one of whose rooms the photographs were taken. This act of the imagination is embedded in Mahler’s music, of course, like those many instances in the symphonies when the brass is heard from afar; the reverberations through time and memory of the landscapes in which Mahler grew up and wrote his music, where provincial brass bands and the cacophony of nature conspired to overrule the composer’s hyper-aware sensibilities.